There is a wonderful, rich argument going on across America about which of two candidates – Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera or Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout – is most deserving of the American League Most Valuable Player award.
As debates go, this one takes a back seat to no other, including the one some of you might be watching tonight.
My vote goes to Cabrera, and it’s really pretty simple.
He’s going to win the AL’s Triple Crown, barring something unusual happening tonight when baseball’s regular season wraps up.
Those who tout sabermetrics, which was glorified in the book and accompanying movie, ‘Moneyball,” point out all of the spreadsheet reasons why Trout is the best player in the league. But this isn’t a vote for the best player in the league, is it? It’s a vote for the most valuable player.
Yes, if I were starting a team from scratch I would take the 20-year-old Trout in a heartbeat. But we’re not picking a team from scratch, we’re choosing an MVP.
Cabrera has led his team to the American League playoffs. He has been the mainstay of a team that, until recently, was fighting the Chicago White Sox tooth and nail for the AL Central crown. He is batting .331 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs. If he does win the Triple Crown, he’ll do so with some of the most impressive statistics in baseball history.
Those who like to break this stuff down with computers and flow charts rightly point out Cabrera’s defensive deficiencies. He is not a quality third baseman, but the guy is in the lineup every day at that spot and he hasn’t been a butcher, either.
Trout is an elite center fielder with great range and a tremendous arm. He’s a special talent and his offensive numbers (.324, 35 homers, 99 RBI) tell only part of his story.
This isn’t about Trout being unworthy of the MVP award in the American League. It’s about Cabrera blowing off the doors to win the honor.
If you play with the numbers long enough, they can tell you any story you want to hear.
Cabrera, for instance, has beaten up on sub-par pitching in the American League Central. There’s no doubt about that. In games against Kansas City, Minnesota and Cleveland, Cabrera is batting .346 in 211 at-bats with 15 homers and 56 RBI. And that’s just against three teams.
But against the six playoff teams against whom Cabrera has played, he’s batting .377 with 12 homers and 40 RBI is only 151 at-bats. He has been better against the good teams and good pitchers he has faced.
Trout is batting .333 against playoff teams, two of which (Texas and Oakland) are in his division, the AL West. Trout has 240 at-bats against playoff-bound teams and has 15 homers, 39 RBI and 61 runs scored. He’s a dynamic player. I hope I’ve been able to drive home the point that I believe Trout is the best player in baseball.
Cabrera, though, is the most valuable this season.
Triple Crown, people. Triple Crown. There hasn’t been one since 1967. There hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner in the National League since Joe Medwick won one for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1937. These things are the rarest of rare.
In supporting Cabrera, I like to point to his second-half success vs. that of Trout.
Since the All-Star game on July 10, Cabrera has batted .339 with 26 homers and 68 RBI in 277 at-bats. He has carried his team when it needed carrying most. Before the All-Star break, Cabrera batted .324 in 343 at-bats, with 18 homers and 71 RBI.
Trout, meanwhile, didn’t even join the Angels until being called up from the minor leagues in late April. Before the All-Star break, he batted .341 with 12 homers and 40 RBI. Since then, though, there has been a slight drop-off; Trout is batting .309 during the season’s second half with 18 homers and 43 RBI.
But it’s how Trout performed in August and September that really swung the pendulum in favor of Cabrera.
In August, Trout batted .284 with seven homers and 19 RBI. Good, not great.
In September, he slumped to a .357 average with only five homers and six RBI.
Yes, Trout bats almost exclusively in the leadoff spot for the Angels. One of his jobs is to be disruptive and there is no more disruptive player in baseball. He steals bases and draws walks and he’s a huge thorn in the side of pitchers. But he also is counted on to produce power numbers and he hasn’t done as much of that lately.
Cabrera bats in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup, so he gets more chances with men on base. And with runners in scoring position, Cabrera is batting .356. With runners in scoring position and two outs, he’s batting an incredible .420. That’s a big-time clutch hitter, folks.
Trout bats .327 with runners in scoring position, but only .286 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
If I were searching for Trout support in this debate, I could find it in some of the numbers. This is a close race. And that speaks to the greatness of Trout as much as it does that of Cabrera, an impending Triple Crown winner who isn’t even a clear-cut MVP.