Maybe, just maybe, it's dummy-proof this season.
The American League MVP, I mean.
Every year, the voters look for a reason to not vote for Alex Rodriguez.
In 1996, Rodriguez was the best player in the American League, but finished second (behind Juan Gonzalez) because voters are obsessed with RBI men on first-place teams.
In 1998, Rodriguez was the second-best player in the American League (behind Albert Belle), but finished second (behind Juan Gonzalez) because voters are obsessed with RBI men on first-place teams.
And in 2001 and 2002? Same thing as 2000. Alex Rodriguez was not clearly the best player in the American League in either season, but was as good as anybody, and lost out in the MVP balloting to the players on the first-place teams.
Fair enough. I understand that the voters give a bit of extra credit to the players on the first-place teams, and anyway there's only been one season -- 1996 -- when Rodriguez obviously got jobbed. Sure, it's a bit odd that the American League's best player over the last seven seasons hasn't managed to snare the American League's biggest honor, but sometimes that's just the way it works out. Even Barry Bonds once went seven seasons between MVPs, and Willie Mays once went 10 seasons between.
So going seven seasons, or more, without winning isn't a stain on Alex Rodriguez's reputation. Win or lose, he's still the best player in the league.
All that said, shouldn't this be the year?
Purely in terms of production per plate appearance -- as measured by Clay Davenport's Equivalent Average over at Baseball Prospectus -- Rodriguez is not head and shoulders above the field. Manny Ramirez is at the top, just ahead of Nick Johnson and Carlos Delgado, with Rodriguez in a group, just below, that includes Jason Giambi, Melvin Mora, and Trot Nixon.
But you can throw out Johnson, Mora, and Nixon because of their playing time, or rather their lack thereof.
I wouldn't have bothered with this information, except I actually had a note last week from a wild-eyed Red Sox fan, urging me to consider Trot Nixon as the American League's MVP. Uh, no. Nixon's been great this season, but to even be considered he'd need more production, but qualitatively and quantitatively.
Ramirez, Johnson, and Delgado are worthy candidates, and we'll get back to them in a minute ...
In the meantime, there are others to consider; namely, players whose production might not match that of the big sluggers, but who do swing potent sticks and contribute with the glove, too. This group consists of second baseman Bret Boone, third baseman Bill Mueller, catcher Jorge Posada, and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. What's more, all four of these guys do play on first- or second-place teams, so they pass the Meaningful Test.
The problem for them, though, is that they don't pass the Rodriguez Test. One way to compare players is to look at their Runs Above Replacement Position; that is, how many runs do they produce, compared to an average player at their position.
B. Boone 55
Look, I understand why my friends in the scribing game prefer to vote for players on contending teams, and I'm not going to bother arguing with them any more. But how much extra credit do they get? Rodriguez blows Boone, Mueller, and Garciaparra away, (and those guys all play for second-place teams anyway). He's also got a big lead on Posada (let's not eliminate him from the competition just yet, though).
That brings us back to Ramirez, Delgado, and Giambi, who have been the best hitters in the league this season.
Ramirez: Very little defensive value, not going to get any extra credit for his leadership.
Delgado: Very little defensive value, plays for a third-place club.
Giambi: Very little defensive value (including many games as DH), and suffering through a poor (for him) second half.
Looking at Runs Above Replacement Position again ...
M. Ramirez 65
C. Delgado 60
Ja. Giambi 56
Rodriguez is slightly ahead of the left fielder with the questionable attitude, slightly more ahead of the first baseman on the third-place team, and even more ahead of the first-place first baseman who spends nearly half his time on the bench when his teammates are on the field.
Granted, aside from comparing players' hitting stats to those of others at their position, we haven't discussed defense, which of course does count ... but Alex Rodriguez is a Gold Glove shortstop. Now, I don't think he really is the best in the American League, but 1) he is good, and 2) does anybody really want to argue that Bret Boone's or Nomar Garciaparra's defensive contributions can make up the vast difference between their offensive contributions and Rodriguez's?
If they let me vote, here's how I'd rank the top five MVP candidates:
1. Alex Rodriguez
2. Jorge Posada
3. Bret Boone
4. Carlos Delgado
5. Jason Giambi
... with Ramirez and Garciaparra fighting over the sixth slot. And why Posada? Because he's a catcher, and because catchers, who don't play every day, have an inherent disadvantage when we're counting things. I look around the majors and I see only one other catcher (Javy Lopez) who's doing what Posada's doing, and that makes me believe that Posada's a mighty valuable player. Just not as valuable as Alex Rodriguez.
Will Rodriguez win? Yeah, I think he will. Last year, Rodriguez finished second to Miguel Tejada. It was a distant second, but nobody this season has made a splash like Tejada did in the second half last season. There simply isn't any obvious non-Rodriguez candidate this season, so he'll probably sneak through and finally win one.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.