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I have voted for baseball's top awards since 1984. I can't say I've always seen the winners coming.
|LAST 10 AL MVP WINNERS|
|1997||Ken Griffey Jr.|
Here's what I think about this year's AL MVP vote: My best guess says the winner will be Justin Morneau or Jermaine Dye, based on whether the Twins or White Sox go to the playoffs, and the vote is going to be closer than Cagney was to Lacey. If both the Twins and White Sox advance, it could be a dead heat.
Or Derek Jeter could get his Lifetime Achievement Award. We'll see.
I vote, and I await the backlash, which annually comes on two fronts: from outraged fans of runner-up players and from statistical analysts whose computers see things those of us in the Baseball Writers Association of America sometimes miss. Perhaps we are too busy at the ballpark covering games.
Anyway, with that caveat, here's why I think this year's race comes down to Dye versus Morneau, and a look at why Jeter, Frank Thomas, David Ortiz and Johan Santana will fall short (note to Cleveland fans: If you want to push for Travis Hafner, please be advised it is not a five-month season):
(1) You can argue whether this is right or wrong, but MVPs come from playoff teams -- 10 of the last 11 in the AL, with Alex Rodriguez (2003) skewing the equation, and eight of the last 11 in the National League, with Barry Bonds ('01 and '04) and Larry Walker ('97) also skewing the equation. At least two of the top six AL candidates are with teams that won't play in October, maybe three (if the Twins fall short).
(2) Voters love run producers, not guys who score runs and set the table. Eighteen of the last 20 winners have had 100-plus RBI, the exceptions being Bonds in 2003 (90 RBI, 148 walks) and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.
(3) Starting pitchers win the Cy Young, not the MVP. Only four pitchers have won the MVP since 1981, and three of those were relievers, with Roger Clemens (1986) the exception to the rule.
A look at the top candidates, ranked by the current handicapping of the race:
|Justin Morneau, right, set career highs in home runs (34) and RBI (130) in 2006.|
The case for: Voters sometimes seem to be swayed by what happens in September. The Twins have been the most compelling story in the second half of the season, going from 11½ games behind Detroit to only 1½ after Monday's action. If the Twins can overtake the Tigers, it could be hard to ignore their most productive hitter, who is batting .350 since the All-Star break.
The case against: Unwilling to risk regression, manager Ron Gardenhire has kept Morneau in the fifth spot all season, batting Joe Mauer third and Michael Cuddyer cleanup. He probably won't lead the league in any categories, and has never appeared on an MVP ballot before this year.
The case for: Dye has delivered more than his share of big moments for the White Sox's high-powered attack. He's been just as productive on the road as at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular and is batting .359 with men in scoring position. He stepped up when Jim Thome missed time with a strained hamstring, going 13-for-37 with 6 homers and 16 RBI in nine games that Thome missed in August and September.
The case against: A product of the Cosumnes River Community College baseball factory, Dye has averted attention his entire career. He has somehow never appeared on an MVP ballot despite three previous 100-RBI seasons. One of those was in 2001, when he had 59 RBI in 61 games for Oakland after being traded from Kansas City, yet he wasn't among the 25 players receiving votes (among those who did: Doug Mientkiewicz, Kaz Sasaki, Corey Koskie and Mike Sweeney). Critics could say he was hitting in an ideal spot alongside Thome and Paul Konerko.
The case for: It's his time. Jeter is the best player of his era never to win an MVP award, finishing in the top 10 five times but never higher than third. His all-around contributions have never been more vital than this year, when the Yankees played more than half a season without two of their biggest hitters, Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. All of his hitting totals rise in the big situations: men in scoring position (.396), bases loaded (.455), leading off an inning (.366).
The case against: How can you be the MVP when you're the second-best shortstop on your team? It took Alex Rodriguez's erratic play to help elevate Jeter's profile. He's a No. 2 hitter for a reason, and the MVP goes to the guys who hit third or fourth.
|After hitting a career high 54 home runs last season, David Ortiz has hit just 19 homers so far this year.|
The case for: Just stack up Ortiz's offensive numbers and Fenway Park curtain calls.
The case against: No primary designated hitter has ever won an MVP, the closest being Don Baylor, who served as the DH in 65 games for California in 1979. The Red Sox collapsed after losing Jason Varitek, falling out of the playoff picture.
The case for: Oakland's second-half blitz of the West coincides with Thomas' recovering from a one-dimensional start. He had seven home runs through May 20 but was hitting only .178. He's been banging the ball all around the ballpark in the second half, hitting .330-15-51 in 191 at-bats.
The case against: The anti-DH argument applies even more to Thomas than Ortiz, as he hasn't played in the field since 2004. Why bother owning a glove? He rarely scores when he doesn't hit a home run (he has scored 35 of his 71 runs in the 453 plate appearances in which he didn't homer).
The case for: He's been a rock for the league's hottest team in the second half, not losing a game at the Metrodome all season. He could become only the fourth pitcher to lead his league in wins, ERA and strikeouts since Dwight Gooden in 1985.
The case against: While the ballot doesn't distinguish between pitchers and position players, BBWAA voters lean heavily toward everyday players in their voting. Only one starting pitcher has finished in the top three in MVP voting since Clemens won in 1986: Pedro Martinez was a close second to Ivan Rodriguez in 1999.
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com. His book, "Say It's So," a story about the 2005 White Sox, is available at bookstores, through amazon.com or direct order from Triumph Publishing (800-222-4657).