It doesn't seem long ago when multiple players pounded 50+ home runs and 140+ RBI in a season. A few years ago, .300, 30, 100 would not be anywhere near MVP caliber. In the post-steroid era, those numbers can put you in the thick of an MVP race, particularly in the American League this year.
There are 5 potential AL MVP candidates to discuss. We're going to exclude pitchers, so the likes of Zach Greinke and Mariano Rivera will not be considered.
You can make a case for others, but these seem to be the clear top 5:
Kendry Morales. The 26-year old Angels first basemen had a huge breakout season and carried the team offensively through extended injuries to Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero. Much of this was during a stretch while his team battled Texas for the division title. He finished the season hitting .308 with 34 home runs and 108 RBI. Morales was the key run-producing bat for a first place team, but likely falls short when you dig a little deeper.
Morales only scored 86 runs in a high scoring Angels lineup. He maintained a healthy .355 OBP and OPS of .924, but those numbers fall short of some other candidates. He strikes out with relative frequency at 117 K's vs. 46 walks. Morales typically bats 6th with Hunter and Guerrero in the lineup, which right or wrong, makes it a little harder to justify league MVP. Combine the above with Morales playing a less critical defensive position and he doesn't quite fit the bill.
Miguel Cabrera. There are a lot of similarities to Morales' resume. Cabrera is also a 26-year old first basemen that was the primary offensive cog on a winning team. Unlike Morales, Cabrera has been putting up big numbers for years and shouldered even more weight in Detroit. He was the only feared hitter in an otherwise inconsistent Tigers lineup. He played in 160 games and finished at .324, 34, 103. Despite a mid-season run producing slump, he had superb numbers across the board.
There is one glaring deficiency for Cabrera...the lack of a playoff appearance. Detroit lost a one game playoff to Minnesota and finished 2nd in the AL Central. To make matters worse, Cabrera was mired in controversy over the critical last weekend of the season. He made headlines for an altercation with his wife, in which he was heavily intoxicated with a 0.26 BAC at 5am on Saturday morning. Detroit lost 2 out of 3, which allowed Minnesota to force a tiebreaker. Cabrera went 0-11 during the series while nursing a serious hangover. Cabrera may have been the frontrunner if the season finished differently, but he will not win the award.
Derek Jeter. Could this be the year the Yankee captain is given the career achievement MVP? It's possible. Mr. consistency again finished with stellar numbers, while primarily hitting leadoff in baseball's most potent lineup. He eclipsed 200 hits for the 7th time, finishing 2nd in the majors with 212. He hit .334 with an OBP of .406. Jeter also stole 30 bases and scored 107 runs. At the age of 35, Jeter showed no signs of slowing down.
The big knock on Jeter is that he drove in far fewer runs than any other candidate. This is to be expected as a leadoff hitter, but he hit a mere .259 with runners in scoring position. That is likely the biggest blemish to his MVP credentials. Joe Mauer, for example, hit over 100 points higher with RISP. Jeter had another fantastic year, anchoring baseball's best team, but the award will come down to the next two candidates.
Mark Texiera. Bottom line is this guy is a d-bag and plays for a team many of us love to hate. He's a phony in the media and a cry baby on the field. That said, Texiera made a huge impact in his first season with the Yankees. He led the AL wtih 122 RBI, 344 total bases, and tied for the HR lead at 39. He was the key offensive difference maker in propelling the Yanks back to the top spot in baseball.
One thing, however, that isn't reflected in the stats is Texiera's dependance on support in the lineup. He was a completely different hitter early in the year without A-rod's presence behind him in the cleanup spot. Despite my personal bias, you can't argue Texiera had a great season on a great team...but he's the runner up in my book.
And your 2009 AL MVP winner is........
Joe Mauer. Of course. Mauer had one of the more remarkable offensive season's in recent memory...as a gold glove catcher...a position which most teams feel fortunate to find a .270 hitter. Mauer was about 100 points better, leading the majors with a .365 batting average - his 3rd AL batting title in 4 years. The aspect that elevated Mauer from 'top catcher' in the game to possibly 'top player' (no offense Albert Pujols) was his power surge. He missed the entire month of April and belted 28 HR's and 96 RBI.
Mauer led the league in Batting, Slugging, OBP, and OPS. He was even better with runners in scoring position...and even better than that with 2 outs and RISP (i.e., clutch). His patient approach at the plate clearly frustrates pitchers and helps other hitters around him. There are numerous other statistics and examples, but it's clear Joe Mauer was the most valuable player this year. Not to mention, his Twins won the AL central in a fascinating race down the stretch with Detroit, capped by a one game playoff.