3 American League MVP candidates from the first half

July 15, 1:35 PM

For the third straight year, Mike Trout is the American League's Most Valuable Player. For the first time in his career, he might just win it.

Thanks to a sub-superhuman first half from Miguel Cabrera (he still ranks second among AL first basemen in Fangraph's Wins Above Replacement), this year's MVP debate is shaping up to be a one-man race.

As long as Trout stays healthy, the more interesting storyline for MLB's top individual honor promises to be who finishes behind him.

Could reigning two-time winner Cabrera land outside the top 5? Is Jose Bautista even the MVP on his own team? Will a rookie win the award for the first time in over a decade?

We size up the AL MVP candidates from the first half.

1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

Baseball's premier player is making his case for MVP an easy one. 

With 22 home runs at the break, Trout is well underway to surpassing his career high (30), while posting his top power rates (slugging, isolated power) since breaking into the league.

Trout's walking less and striking out more, but he's still leading the AL in two of the most important offensive categories (wRC+ and wOBA). His .606 slugging percentage at the center field position is simply ridiculous - it's 120 points higher than the next best rate (Adam Jones).

On the surface, Trout looks to be running less - however, he's a perfect 10-for-10 in stolen bases and swiped half his total in June alone. The defensive metrics haven't been as kind to him than in years past, but with plays like this who's complaining?

Bolstered by the best Angels team he's been a part of, the 22-year-old Trout appears destined to win his first MVP by a landslide. 

2. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

We could very well be discussing injured teammate Edwin Encarnacion in this space, but Jose Bautista's defensive value and versatility leaves no doubt who the team's MVP is.

Putting an even greater emphasis on plate discipline, Bautista sports the second-best walk rate of his career, the lowest strikeout percentage of his career and his highest wOBA in three years. 

Health has been the key to the 33-year-old's success this season, and while Bautista is no longer a lock for 40 home runs, his two-way play is the glue that holds a depleted Blue Jays lineup together. 

3. Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

He might not be a household name, but Michael Brantley is helping carry a Cleveland Indians team clinging to a spot in the Wild Card hunt.

Only Trout and Bautista have a higher wOBA than the Indians outfielder, while Brantley's 3.7 fWAR ranks third among AL players. His all-round play is accentuated with the lowest strikeout rate among AL outfielders and an impressive 15-homer, 10-for-10 steal first half.

Advanced base running metrics place the 27-year-old fourth in the AL, while Brantley is the only player in his league besides Trout with at least 10 steals and a slugging rate above .500.

Brantley offers his team versatility in the field, with the ability to play center when needed, and a speedy bat with middle-of-the-order pop. If he keeps it up, his career year promises to earn him some MVP votes.

Honorable mention

Encarnacion (Toronto Blue Jays), Ian Kinsler (Detroit Tigers), Josh Donaldson (Oakland Athletics), Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers), Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox), Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz (Baltimore Orioles).

Feature photo courtesy of Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sport