Here’s our writers’ picks for the most valuable players in the American League Central.
Chicago White Sox – Philip Humber
Three different White Sox can claim the title of “First half MVP,” but Phil Humber takes the title narrowly over triple-crown threat Paul Konerko and uber-utility and web gem connoisseur Brent Lillibridge. Humber broke camp with the team only because Jake Peavy wasn’t fully healed from his July 2010 surgery to repair a detached lattisimus dorsi muscle under his right shoulder. Humber pitched so well in Peavy’s absence that manager Ozzie Guillen was unable to demote any of his starters once Peavy returned, opting for a six-man rotation. Humber is 8-4 with a 2.69 earned run average and went eight starts from May 6 to June 19 without losing (5-0). He has only been charged with four earned runs twice this year, yielding three earned or less in 15 of his 17 starts. He has been working deep into games and given the White Sox stability as they work out the kinks in other facets of the game *cough* Adam Dunn *cough*. Not only is Humber the White Sox’s first-half MVP, but he’s an All-Star and has risen to the level of staff ace. Eat it, Mets, Twins, Royals and A’s. Phil has come to fruition.
Cleveland Indians – Asdrubal Cabrera
This is a pretty easy one. Asdrubal Cabrera is far and away the Indians MVP. From the shortstop position he is on a .300-25-90 pace and has carried an offense that has struggled to hang runs on the scoreboard since April. Throw in his Gold Glove-caliber defense and this is a no-brainer. He is easily the most consistent player on this team and has kept them in the division race single-handedly. It’s a shame the people are robbing baseball fans by voting Jeter in at short for the AL instead of Asdrubal.
Detroit Tigers – Miguel Cabrera
There are legitimately four or five guys that I could make cases for as first-half MVP of the Tigers. Victor Martinez has stepped in and provided an excellent bat behind Miguel Cabrera, something the team lacked last season. Alex Avila has been the best offensive (and one of the best defensive) catcher in the American League, and Jhonny Peralta and Brennan Boesch have both easily surpassed expectations and have added considerable depth to the lineup. Even taking all of the above into account, the choice still has to be Cabrera.
A glance at Cabrera’s triple crown stats suggest he’s having a very good, but not outstanding, season. But when you also look at his secondary numbers you can see his true value. Cabrera in the top five in the league in batting average (6th), OBP (2nd), OPS (4th), Runs scored (5th), and walks (2nd). He’s also leading the league in intentional walks with 14. For the more saber-minded, he’s also third in the league in wOBA at .427, second in adjusted OPS+ at 187. No matter how you define an MVP player, Cabrera has been not only the Tigers best, but also their most irreplaceable.
Kansas City Royals – Billy Butler
For some reason a vocal group of Royals fans are writing Billy Butler off as nothing more than a glorified singles hitter with no position but they’re overlooking the best hitter on the Royals, and one of the best in the game, period. No, he doesn’t hit for a lot of home run power, but he hits enough to produce, and his ever-increasing walk rate (it’s risen every year since he joined the big leagues) suggests a keen batting eye and patience. Butler’s only 25 years old and is regularly among the league’s leaders in hits and doubles. His combination of hitting ability, patience and durability make him the anchor of the Royals lineup (at least until Eric Hosmer gets in a groove).
Minnesota Twins – Michael Cuddyer
The true MVP of the Twins is head trainer Rick McWane. If the Nobel Prize for Medicine is awarded based on quantity of patients treated, McWane is a shoo-in. Six players from the team’s Opening Day lineup have spent at least a month on the DL so far. And the bullpen and bench have been hit almost as hard. McWane is doing the work of five men this season.
For those traditionalists who insist that the Most Valuable Player has to be an actual player, I respectfully submit the name of Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer’s numbers have not been incredible – .291/.360/.469 with 12 homers and 37 RBI through 79 games – but Cuddyer deserves the award for the simple fact that he’s been a solid presence in the lineup the whole season so far. On the 2011 Twins, that’s no small feat! In fact, for a good portion of the year, the Twins were putting out lineups every day where Cuddyer was the only player who wasn’t in the minors a year ago. He had a poor start, and for a while it seemed he couldn’t buy an RBI (though that was mostly the fault of the weak hitters in front of him), but he got hot in June, hitting .323 with a 1.004 OPS through June 29. Not coincidentally, June is when the Twins started to shake their early season struggles and play like a Major League team again.