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.

Nick Markakis: ‘I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?’

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Earlier today, the Braves inked veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2020 season worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout. Though Markakis is 35 years old, he’s coming off of a terrific season in which he played in all 162 games and hit .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 705 trips to the plate. Markakis had just completed a four-year, $44 million contract, so he took a substantial pay cut.

Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Markakis asked his kids where they wanted him to play and they said Atlanta. O’Brien also asked Markakis about the pay cut. The outfielder said, “I’m not mad at all. I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?”

This seemingly innocuous comment by Markakis is actually damaging for his peers and for the union. Baseball as a game is indeed a “kids’ game,” but Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar business that has been setting revenue records year over year. The players have seen a smaller and smaller percentage of the money MLB makes since the beginning of the 2000’s. Furthermore, Markakis only gets paid “a lot of money” relative to, say, a first-year teacher or a clerk at a convenience store. Relative to the value of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, and relative to the value of Major League Baseball itself, Markakis’s salary is a drop in the ocean.

That Markakis is happy to take a pay cut is totally fine, but it’s harmful for him to publicly justify that because it creates the expectation that his peers should feel the same way and creates leverage for ownership. His comments mirror those who sympathize first and foremost with billionaire team owners. They are common arguments used to justify paying players less, giving them a smaller and smaller cut of the pie. Because Markakis not only took a pay cut but defended it, front office members of the Braves as well as the 29 other teams can point to him and guilt or shame other players for asking for more money.

“Look at Nick, he’s a team player,” I envision a GM saying to younger Braves player who is seeking a contract extension, or a free agent looking to finally find a home before spring training. “Nick’s stats are as good as yours, so why should you make more money than him?”

Contrast Markakis’s approach with Yasmani Grandal‘s. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer from the Mets early in the offseason and settled for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Grandal said on MLB Network, “I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did. Guys like Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around. I wanted to keep the line moving especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up … to let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from.”

Grandal’s comments are exactly what a member of a union should be saying, unapologetically. The MLBPA needs to get all of its members on the same page when it comes to discussing contracts or labor situations in general publicly. What Markakis said seems selfless and innocent — and I have no doubt he is being genuine without malice — but it could reduce the bargaining power players have across the table from ownership, which means less money. They are already being bamboozled, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. They don’t need to be bamboozled any more.