A Most Valuable debate
For years, I didn’t like the designated hitter. I also had an affinity for catchers who stuck with the traditional mask. Hitters who didn’t wear batting gloves were my favorites, along with players who wore high socks. I have always loved the long history of the game and the traditions that have been established through the decades.
I love the Triple Crown, I really do. I never thought I’d see a hitter accomplish the feat in my lifetime. It takes such a blend of skills: hitting for average, but still having enough power to produce home runs and the kind of poise it takes to drive runners home to pile up runs batted in at critical points.
Miguel Cabrera is a special hitter and the Detroit third baseman showed just how special a hitter he is by capturing the American League Triple Crown this season. He’d led the league in average, home runs and RBI in separate years, but finally paced his peers in each category in the same season. No one had done that since Yaz in 1967.
This is why, in my heart, I hope Cabrera wins the AL Most Valuable Player Award. There is something magical about winning the Triple Crown, and Cabrera should be rewarded accordingly. Like I said, though, that’s my heart talking.
Anyone who has followed my writing over the years knows my love of statistics and historical perspective. There is plenty to dive into as far as Cabrera’s season is concerned, but I have a problem. The more I dissect the data, the more I delve into the digits, the more I break down the historical elements of the 2012 season, the more my brain tells me that Cabrera should not win the MVP.
I don’t have a vote, but if I did, I would cast it for Angels outfielder Mike Trout. That’s my brain speaking.
It seriously pains me a little to write that, because I really, really do love the Triple Crown.
In my version of a perfect world, Cabrera and Trout would wind up as co-MVPs so both of their seasons could be honored in a way where one isn’t pushed slightly to the side in the history books.
Let’s take a look at some aspects of this polarizing argument.
Cabrera has the edge in games and plate appearances, but you can’t really fault Trout for the fact that the Angels waited to promote him. It is also worth noting that L.A. took off after Trout’s arrival. The Tigers made the playoffs and the Angels didn’t, but L.A. ended with more wins. Again, you can’t fault Trout for the Angels playing in a tougher division than Detroit.
Looking at some of the traditional numbers, Cabrera gets the obvious edge in average, home runs, doubles, hits, extra-base hits, total bases and runs batted in. Trout struck out more, but he also drew more walks and stole a significant higher amount of bases, and he did both in 22 fewer games and 58 fewer plate appearances.
If we’re going to get into “clutch” stats, well, Cabrera has a bit of a leg up.
He had a .714 OPS with two strikes, a .784 OPS when behind in the count, a 1.005 OPS with runners in scoring position, a 1.029 OPS with two outs and a 1.211 OPS with RISP and two outs. Trout’s OPS for the same situations was .699, .657, .951, .986 and .782.
It is also worth noting that Cabrera hit .343/1.083 in his final 35 games of the season, while Trout hit just .269/.824 over his final 37 games. That said, the Angels (24-13) posted a better record than the Tigers (19-16) in those respective spans, so it’s tough to argue that one was more valuable to the team’s performance in that small sample.
Trout played in fewer games, but if you add his extra-base hits, stolen bases and extra bases taken (18), you’ll get 132. Add Cabrera’s extra-base hits, stolen bases and extra bases taken (22) and you get 110. Cabrera’s low stolen base total hurts that number, but it’s still worth pointing out given the gap in games and PAs.
On the basepaths, Trout took an extra base (more than one on a single and more than two on a double) 65-percent of the time, compared to 44-percent for Cabrera. When on base, Trout scored 44-percent of the time, compared to just 28-percent for Cabrera. Part of that is on the men hitting behind them, but their abilities on the bases are also a factor.
If you like WAR — I do to a certain extent — well then Trout is your man. His 10.7 WAR is head and shoulders over the 6.9 mark turned in by Cabrera. That said, that number incudes defense. So, if you isolate offensive WAR, well, Trout still leads 8.6 to 7.4.
Don’t bother with the defense argument. Since we’re comparing an outfielder to a third baseman, I’m not going to focus too much on that. Trout has the clear edge there — no matter how you slice it — but that didn’t factor too much into my take on this situation.
What I wanted to see was history.
One number that jumped out to me was the fact that Trout had 138 runs created (9.4 per game) compared to 139 (8.2 per game) for Cabrera. A player has achieved at least 139 RC in a season 189 times in history. Posting a 138 RC in 139 games or fewer? That’s only been done 20 times in baseball history. The two most recent occurrences (Joe Mauer, 2009; Barry Bonds, 2003) netted MVP awards.
That list includes: Trout (2012), Mauer (2009), Bonds (2003), M. Ramirez (2000), Walker (1999), Thomas (1996), E. Martinez (1996), Thomas (1994), Williams (1957), Williams (1948), DiMaggio (1941), Foxx (1939), DiMaggio (1939), Vaughn (1935), Ruth (1932), Simmons (1931), Simmons (1930), Ruth (1929), Hornsby (1925), Lajoie (1901).
Cabrera has history on his side, too.
In baseball history, there have only been 11 times when a hitter achieved at least .330/.390/.600 with at least 40 homers, 40 doubles, 100 runs, 130 RBI and 200 hits in a single season. If you narrow that to needing at least 44 home runs, here is the list you come up with:
Miguel Cabrera (2012)
Larry Walker (1997)
Lou Gehrig (1934)
Lou Gehrig (1927)
Babe Ruth (1921)
The fact that Trout only played 139 games adds to the historical aspect of his season, though.
In baseball history, there have only been seven instances where a player scored at least 129 runs in 139 games or fewer:
Mike Trout (2012)
Jimmie Foxx (1939)
Joe DiMaggio (1936)
Al Simmons (1930)
Earle Combs (1930)
Rogers Hornsby (1925)
Nap Lajoie (1901)
Of those, only Hornsby, Simmons, Lajoie and Trout had a slash line of at least .325/.390/.560/.960 and at least 180 hits. Trout is the only player of the seven to have more than 27 stolen bases in a single season.
If you search for seasons with at least 40 stolen bases and 129 runs, combined with an OPS+ of at least 170, here is the select group you come up with:
Mike Trout (2012), George Sisler (1920, 1922), Ty Cobb (1911, 1915) and Tris Speaker (1912).
When you take all these things into account, it is hard not to come away thinking Trout was simply the more valuable player throughout his time in the big leagues this season. He didn’t crush as many home runs, or drive in as many runs (can’t fault the guy for hitting leadoff compared to third for Cabrera), but he did more on the diamond that contributed to his team scoring. Isn’t that the bottom line? And Trout did that better than any player in the past seven or eight decades.
We will always have this Triple Crown, this special accomplishment by a special player, but giving Trout the MVP is the right way to go, in my opinion. That does not lessen Cabrera’s feat in any way and, hey, his trophy — an actual crown — is pretty cool. Let Trout have the MVP plaque.
My 2012 season-end award picks
Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout, Angels
Cy Young Award: David Price, Rays
Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout, Angels
Manager of the Year: Buck Showaler, Orioles
Most Valuable Player: Buster Posey, Giants
Cy Young Award: R.A. Dickey, Mets
Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, Nationals
Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson, Nationals