Mike Trout is the runaway favorite to win the American League MVP award for the third time in his eight MLB seasons, but Twins slugger Nelson Cruz should at the very least be included in the conversation – and it's a shame that he's not.
Cruz, 39, is having one of the most impressive seasons of his career, and in 32 fewer games than Trout, he has put up comparable numbers.
- Cruz: .303/.390/.667, 33 HR, 80 RBI, 22 2B, 41 BB, 62 R (89 games)
- Trout: .297/.440/..664, 42 HR, 98 RBI, 27 2B, 98 BB, 101 R (121 games)
Clearly, Trout is the best player in the AL and probably all of baseball, but this is the MVP award, not the best player award.
Cruz has immediately added an immeasurable veteran presence on the field and in locker room while swinging one of the hottest sticks in the world. He's punished, unfairly, because he's a designated hitter, and one dimensional players who aren't starting pitchers simply don't get their due.
But how is Cruz not as valuable to the Twins as Alex Bregman is the Astros or Rafael Devers is to the Red Sox? Bregman and Devers are running second and third, respectively, in the AL MVP race, according to MLB.com.
- Bregman: .279/.407/.555, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 26 2B, 92 BB, 94 R (122 games)
- Devers: .329/.377/.592, 27 HR, 101 RBI, 46 2B, 38 BB, 103 R (124 games)
Devers certainly deserves recognition but Bregman's overall numbers are basically the same as Cruz's, only Bregman has needed 33 more games to get them.
At least Bregman and Cruz are leading first-place teams. Trout's Angels are below .500 and Devers' Red Sox are 10.5 games behind the Twins.
Cruz ranks 4th in home runs, 11th in RBI, and his batting average (6th), slugging percentage (1st) and OPS (2nd) would all rank among the leaders if he had enough at-bats to qualify. And to be sure, he's just shy of officially qualifying.
Oh, and only New York's Aaron Judge (96.9 mph) has a hard average exit velocity than Cruz (94.0 mph), according to Statcast.
He's essentially top 10 in every key offensive metric. More importantly, he's become the hottest hitter on the planet when the Twins need him most as the Indians breath down their neck in the AL Central race.
Since the All-Star break, Cruz, despite missing nine games with a torn tendon in his wrist, is hitting a Babe Ruth-like .360/.443/.930 with 17 homers and 34 RBI in just 100 at-bats.
And for crying out loud, Cruz deserves some extra attention because he's a 39-year-old man. Trout (28), Bregman (25) and Devers (22) are all more than a decade younger. Plus, all three of those MVP candidates didn't tear a tendon in their wrist within the last month.
Minnesota has gone 21-7 during Cruz's two stints on the injured list, but that speaks to Minnesota's lineup depth more than it does explain how valuable Cruz has been to the Twins.
The man's season should be celebrated, and not just locally in Minnesota. Cruz is deserving of having his name inserted into the MVP conversation nationally, and if he continues to hit the ball the way he has since the All-Star break, maybe more people will take notice.