Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported on Monday evening that Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton -- who nabbed his first-ever Silver Slugger Award last Thursday afternoon -- would likely not garner a single first-place vote for the 2008 American League Most Valuable Player Award from the Baseball Writers Association of America, but would "almost certainly be in every voter's top five."
And who are those purported top five, you ask? According to MLB.com's Tom Singer, Boston's Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, Minnesota's Justin Morneau, Anaheim's Francisco Rodriguez, Chicago's Carlos Quentin and Hamilton comprise the top six candidates for the prestigious distinction, with Cleveland's Grady Sizemore, New York's Alex Rodriguez, Morneau's Twins teammates Joe Mauer and Joe Nathan, and the ever-ominous Vladimir Guerrero lingering on the fringes of the race.
I don't think I have to tell you that the selection of Rodriguez would be downright laughable (62 saves notwithstanding, he wasn't even the third-best closer in his own league in 2008, and was resoundingly blown out in the Cy Young balloting by Cleveland's Cliff Lee and Toronto's Roy Halladay, as he should have been), but how do the offensive candidates stack up against each other?
We could hypothetically churn out a fancy table featuring metrics such as Value Over Replacement Level, Equivalent Average and the like, I suppose, but in the greater interest of both time and simplicity, I've opted to simply reproduce Chris Dial's well-regarded OPD (Offense Plus Defense) results for the 2008 season, which incorporate both offensive and defensive production and attempt to determine just how many runs above-average each player was at their given position. It's not a perfect metric as far as appraising value is concerned, of course (then again, what single metric is?), but it's up there.
Offensive value is determined through Jim Furtado's Extrapolated Runs (XRA+AA), park-adjusted and specific to the number of outs each player used up, while defensive value is determined through Dial's Defensive Runs Saved, which converts zone rating data into a tangible measure of runs saved above-average defensively:
No, you're not seeing things: Mauer, Sizemore and Rodriguez, all of whom have been deemed by Singer -- who generally has a pretty good feel for how awards balloting will turn out -- as major dark-horse candidates, led the American League in OPD. Grant alluded to Pedroia and Youkilis perhaps being near the top of the MVP balloting and almost certainly above Hamilton, and while both were quite competent for the Red Sox and at least belong in the overall MVP argument, neither provided the kind of individual value the triumvirate of Mauer, Sizemore and Rodriguez did in 2008.
And it'll be a crying shame if Milton Bradley doesn't receive at least a few votes, because his bat was simply remarkable -- so remarkable, in fact, that the Toronto front office is evidently throwing caution to the wind and will, according to ESPN.com's Peter Gammons, make Bradley their off-season "priority" in spite of his assorted knee problems, and in spite of the fact that the Blue Jays play half their games on unforgiving turf. Ian Kinsler could have conceivably rivaled his Boston counterpart if not for the sports hernia that cut his 2008 campaign short by a month and a half, though his defense grades out remarkably well here given his struggles in the defensive plus/minus department (15 plays below-average, good for 34th among all Major League second basemen).
As far as Hamilton is concerned, there should be no disappointment in a top five finish. What he gave the Rangers and their long-suffering fan base this past season was more than valuable enough, and he doesn't need a trophy to confirm his immense value to this organization.
[1:15 PM Update: Pedroia has predictably smashed the field, netting 16 first-place votes, 317 points and the MVP hardware. Francisco Rodriguez amusingly edged out Hamilton for sixth place (143 to 112 points), while Bradley (9 points) and Kinsler (1 point) finished 17th and 20th in the balloting, respectively.
Two things: (a) I'm really interested in seeing which BBWAA luminary graced Francisco Rodriguez with a first-place vote, because that's just stupid, and (b) I'm honestly wondering who thought Jason Bartlett was deserving of a fifth-place vote, though I have a pretty good idea of which team said voter covers.
Evan Grant, by the way, was the only voter to leave Pedroia off his ballot entirely, though he has since admitted that the exclusion of the Red Sox second baseman was "probably a mistake [...] in retrospect."]