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Opinion

Morneau could be next AL MVP

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September 25, 2008

Two years ago I sat in my dorm room in Stratton Hall glued to ESPNews. The American League Most Valuable Player announcement was going to flash on the screen any second and I hoped that Justin Morneau would defeat the heavily favored Derek Jeter. The announcement came, and after reading it five or six times in disbelief, I jumped up and screamed in victory. This season, Twins fans may have a similar celebration as Morneau chases his second AL MVP award.

Morneau has turned it up to another level. His main competition for the award would seem to be White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin, Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis and Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. To cut out the fat, let’s look at some of these candidates’ qualifications.

The easiest one to weed out is Quentin. He has had a great season for the White Sox, but he broke his wrist slapping down his bat in frustration after missing a Cliff Lee fastball in early September. Quentin’s stats (.288, 36 HR, 100 RBI) are great, but how can you vote for a guy with such hand-eye coordination?

The other candidate that can go is Rodriguez. Rodriguez broke the single season save record Sept. 13 with his 58th save, but is that really talent? The save record is more luck in my opinion. One’s team must put their closer in a situation to save, so if the team presents enough close games, the closer will rack up saves. If Rodriguez is to be considered, then Twins closer Joe Nathan must be as well. Despite having fewer saves (36), Nathan has a better ERA (1.03 to 2.38) and WHIP (0.92 to 1.27) than Rodriguez in the same number of innings.

Hamilton has a great story. He was addicted to almost every drug on the planet and has come back to fulfill his potential of being a first overall draft pick by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999. Hamilton was all-world before the all-star break (.310, 21 HR, 95 RBI), but has dropped off since then (.291, 10 HR, 29 RBI).

That would leave Morneau against Pedroia and Youkilis. Youkilis has very similar stats to Morneau (.310, 25 HR, 102 RBI), but his team is hurting him. Youkilis has played in 133 games compared to Morneau’s 149 games. The fact is that the Red Sox have so many weapons that Youkilis can have a day off and isn’t as important to the Sox attack as Morneau is to the Twins offense. Remember, the name of the award is Most VALUEABLE Player. Youkilis is a great player, but there are better players around him. What does Youkilis do with Delmon Young hitting behind him rather than David Ortiz?

That leaves Morneau and Pedroia. The Red Sox public relations department (aka ESPN) would say that Pedroia is valuable because he’s turned it on in the second half and it’s pretty sweet to see a 5-feet-9-inch tall guy nearly drop to his knees and smack a double down the line. While Pedroia has great leadoff stats (.327, 17 HR, 78 RBI, .877 OPS), Morneau has even better cleanup hitter stats (.312, 23 HR, 124 RBI, .911 OPS). Think about cleanup hitters around the league. Most of them go up to the plate and try to hit the ball as hard as they can, or strikeout trying (see Ryan Howard). Morneau has a chance to get 200 hits as a cleanup hitter – which doesn’t happen often.

Should Morneau win his second MVP award, he’ll join elite company. Some of those names include Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle.  To be honest, Morneau is one of the special talents in baseball that deserves such a distinction. Without him, the Twins would be radically different.

Chris Schad is a student at UW-River Falls.