I had originally wanted to write an analysis of each Major League Baseball team in every division for the first month of the season. After the AL East was a page and a half I figured I better go in another direction. Even though April is hardly an accurate barometer for success (remember the Nationals last year?) I think talking about who the MVP’s of the first month are may be interesting. This also means we can look back at the end of the season and see how dumb, or genius I am.
Albert Pujols-St. Louis Cardinals, 1B
The consensus best player in the game is proving he is just that. Pujols has gone deep 12 times in only 19 games and is by far (a bunch of people have 9) the leader in the majors in home runs. His 28 RBI’s, 21 runs scored, .969 slugging percentage, and 1.451 OPS all pace the majors. These are ridiculous numbers to start a season. What I don’t understand is why teams are still pitching to this guy, even this early in the year. I believe he has reached Bonds status; you walk him in any critical situation, and even some non-critical ones. Oh yeah, He plays gold-glove defense too. The Cardinals are still the team to beat in this division and this man is going to be the reason they win it.
Jim Thome-Chicago White Sox, DH
Thome has been reborn in Chicago. He has scored in every game the White Sox have played so far. At one point Thome homered in seven straight games. He ranks 3rd or better in home runs, runs, on base percentage, slugging, RBI’s, walks, and OPS. Jim Thome adds so much pop to this former “small-ball” type offense that they are almost guaranteed to go deep in the playoffs if he stays healthy. The defending champs look a lot scarier with Thome mashing for them
Chris Shelton-Detroit Tigers, 1B
Chris Shelton is the feel-good story of the majors so far. Not good enough to make the Pirates when he was drafted 25 year-old Shelton is tied for the AL lead in homers with 9. He is batting a cool .365, even after going 0-9 this past weekend. Chris Shelton ranks 6th in the AL with 18 RBI’s and is leading the offensive minded Tigers. I would say he is earning his $365,000 salary this year. It remains to be seen whether he can keep up this torrid pace and keep the Tigers in the tough AL Central.
Greg Maddux-Chicago Cubs, SP
Is there any doubt that Mad Dog is one of the best pitchers ever? He doesn’t have the power and flash of Clemens and rarely gets mentioned in the same breath as him. But at age 40 Maddux is putting up obscene numbers: 4-0 with a 0.99 ERA and WHIP of 0.73, all lead the majors. His batting average against is a microscopic .163 (also tops in the bigs) and he has walked only 5 batters so far. With Wood and Prior at home on the DL and the young Carlos Zambrano winless, Maddux is carrying the staff.
Johnathan Paplebon-Boston Red Sox, CP
I find it very difficult to award the most valuable player to pitcher, much less a relief pitcher. But this kid has been dynamite as Boston’s closer. Paplebon is a perfect 8 for 8 in save opportunities and has yet to let a batter cross home plate. The young flamethrower has been almost untouchable. Paplebon has shown true guts when runners are on base, getting crucial strikeouts or pop-ups. He has a scoreless innings streak currently over 11 innings, losing a bet with teammates that if he went 10 scoreless he’d sport his current killer Mad Max-ian Mohawk. The Red Sox wouldn’t have won all these one run games this early in the season without Johnathan Paplebon. Whether this kid moves to the rotation or keeps dominating in the closer role, things bode well for him and the Red Sox so far.
These are my top five MVP candidates in this young season. I will probably do another one at the all-star break and then again at the end of the year. Honorable mentions: Curt Schilling, Morgan Ensberg, Andruw Jones, Carlos Delgado, David Ortiz
*April 26, 2006, 4PM