2012 midseason awards: AL MVP

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Josh Hamilton was far and away the AL’s best player for two months, but he’s definitely come back to the pack after hitting just .223 with four homers in June. He struck out 35 times last month, nearly matching his total of 39 times from April and May combined. That said, he still leads the AL in OPS by a significant margin:

1.032 – Josh Hamilton (CF Tex): .316/.386/.646, 26 HR, 74 RBI, 6 SB in 288 AB
.997 – David Ortiz (DH Bos): .302/.391/.607 22 HR, 55 RBI, 0 SB in 295 AB
.871 – Austin Jackson (CF Det): .332/.412/.559, 9 HR, 37 RBI, 7 SB in 238 AB
.960 – Robinson Cano (2B NYY): .316/.375/.585, 20 HR, 50 RBI, 1 SB in 316 AB
.958 – Mike Trout (CF LAA): .348/.403/.555, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 26 SB in 247 AB
.953 – Mark Trumbo (LF LAA): .306/.355/.597,  20 HR, 55 RBI, 4 SB in 278 AB
.949 – Miguel Cabrera (3B Det): .325/.386/.563, 18 HR, 70 RBI, 3 SB in 332 AB
.948 – Paul Konerko (1B CWS): .332/.408/.540, 14 HR, 42 RBI, 0 SB in 274 AB
.943 – Edwin Encarnacion (DH Tor): .295/.379/.564, 22 HR, 56 RBI, 8 SB in 298 AB
.924 – Josh Willingham (LF Min): .269/.380/.545, 18 HR, 59 RBI, 2 SB in 279 AB

That’s everyone in the league above .900. AL home run leader Jose Bautista is 11th at .897.

No catchers made the list, but Joe Mauer (.330/.418/.458 in 74 games) and A.J. Pierzynski (.287/.335/.524 in 70 games) are having outstanding seasons and may deserve down-ballot votes here.

Here’s Baseball-reference WAR’s AL top 10 to date:

5.0 – Brett Lawrie (3B Tor)
4.5 – Trout
4.3 – Chris Sale (LHP CWS)
4.3 – Justin Verlander (RHP Det)
4.0 – Cano
3.8 – Jake Peavy (RHP CWS)
3.5 – Matt Harrison (LHP Tex)
3.5 – Jackson
3.2 – Jason Kipnis (2B Cle)
3.2 – Hamilton

Obviously, rWAR is just crazy about Lawrie’s defense, giving him credit for 3.6 wins. That seems like a totally unrealistic number to me. It says Lawrie, in handling 249 chances at third base this year and making 11 errors, has been as valuable defensively as any American Leaguer has been offensively. The AL’s next most valuable defensive player is Brendan Ryan at 2.6 wins.

Now Fangraphs’ WAR:

4.7 – Trout
4.2 – Cano
4.0 – Jackson
3.8 – Hamilton
3.8 – Verlander
3.5 – Sale
3.2 – Adam Jones (CF Bal)
3.2 – Cabrera
3.1 – Josh Reddick (RF Oak)
3.1 – Alex Gordon (LF KC)

Fangraphs WAR is also fond of Lawrie’s defense, but that still only gets him to 2.8.  Given that he ranks 39th in the AL in OPS, that seems closer to the truth. Fangraphs really loves Gordon’s D, and he is a great left fielder. Still, he’s not much ahead of Lawrie offensively, and I can’t see him in the top 10 on an MVP ballot.

While the two WAR systems have their differences, both agree that Trout, Cano and Jackson have been among the AL’s four most valuable position players, with Hamilton not far behind.

And that sounds about right to me, but I’d still have a tough time giving the award to someone who has played in only three-quarters of his team’s games. Trout and Jackson are both at 61 games played right now. Hamilton has played in 76, while Cano has played in 81. I think that gets Cano the nod here. If it were season’s end and Trout had played in 140 games to Cano’s 160, I’d probably go with him. At this point, though, those 20 extra games have a lot of value.

As for Hamilton, he’s played just as much left field as center field this year, and the numbers say his defense has fallen off. He’s also playing in a friendlier park for hitters than the other candidates, though he’s hitting better on the road than at home. Those two factors put him third on my ballot.

My ballot
1. Cano
2. Trout
3. Hamilton
4. Jackson
5. Verlander
6. Ortiz
7. Mauer
8. Cabrera
9. Pierzynski
10. Jones

I feel pretty good about five through eight. The last two spots are very debatable. Pierzynski might not even be the most valuable White Sox player to date: Sale, Konerko and even Alex Rios all have cases. Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus were right there, too; I like Andrus’ defense more than either WAR does. And then there are all three Blue Jays: Bautista, Encarnacion and Lawrie. I opted for Jones over Beltre in the end, though with his wrist problems, I’m thinking his production will taper off.

The Yankees stopped playing Kate Smith’s version of “God Bless America”

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The Yankees have played “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch since 9/11. The version they play is the most famous version, recorded in 1939 by Kate Smith. As of today they will no longer be playing the Kate Smith version, however.

Why? The New York Daily News reports that it’s because “the Yankees were made aware of Smith’s history of potential racism.” Which is a rather interesting way of putting it, because there’s not much “potential” to this:

Smith was a famous singer before and during WWII who recorded the offensive jingle, “Pickaninny Heaven,” which she directed at “colored children” who should fantasize about an amazing place with “great big watermelons,” among other treats. She shot a video for that song that takes place in an orphanage for black children, and much of the imagery is startlingly racist. She also recorded, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” which included the lyrics, “Someone had to pick the cotton. … That’s why darkies were born.”

I’m guessing this information was available in some Kate Smith biography or is in the memory of some of her big fans who may still be alive, but it was news to the Yankees until recently and once they learned it they decided that going with a version of the song NOT sung by Kate Smith was better. Good call!

Oh, and this was not the first time that the Yankees had to make this kind of call. Ten years ago they fired Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, who used to sing the song at the ballpark during the postseason, after he made anti-Semitic remarks. Precedent, baby.

Anyway, I’m sure someone will complain about this, but I feel like there are better hills to die on than “the Yankees should continue to play the racist lady’s version of the show tune that, despite what we think of it now, was never meant as an actual patriotic anthem.”

If you feel like dying on that hill, be my guest. But please, show your work.