Thoughts on the 2012 AL MVP race

In a little more than two weeks the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will choose the American League MVP race. The common thinking is that this is a race between rookie Mike Trout and triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera, but I wanted to discuss it here before they make it official.

Darkhorse Candidates

Before we settle on a Trout vs. Cabrera debate let’s look at a few other possibilities — Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, and Austin Jackson. All three had stellar seasons and played excellent defense.

Cano lead the trio with a 7.8 WAR. He hit for average (.313), showed good patience at the plate (.379 OBP), and crushed the ball (.550 SLG) all while playing an exceptional second base. As he went, the Yankees went and they finished with the best record in the AL — certainly a strong candidate.

The Rangers expected Josh Hamilton to be their biggest bat, but after a strong start he disappeared and Beltre took over. He was probably the best defensive third baseman in the league, he had a better average than Cano (.321) and mashed just a little bit more (.561 SLG). If this was a choice between him and Cano it would be a tough one with the slight edge probably going to Cano after the Rangers late season collapse.

Then there is AJax. He also hit .300, but without the power of the other two finishing with a .479 slugging percentage. He did play an amazing center field routinely making highlight reel catches. He also provided speed that the other two lacked. The Tigers barely made the playoffs and without him leading off they probably wouldn’t have had much of a chance.

If the choice is down to these three then call me bias, but I’d have to say Cano has a slight edge. Slight. It’s really a matter of preference between speed or power. Both Cano and AJax provide great defense, but AJax is more of a run creation via the base paths type while Cano mashed 48 doubles and 33 homers.

Miguel Cabrera

In any other season any one of those three guys could have won a MVP, but it’s not every year somebody takes home the triple crown with 44 homers, a .330 average, and 139 RBI’s. It’s truly an impressive feat. The thing is, this isn’t 1967 — we know that not all hits are created equal and RBI’s are influenced by a player’s teammates as much as the player himself. So we have to go deeper.

Cabrera not only won the triple crown though. He also had a .393 OBP and a video game like .606 slugging. And while RBI’s aren’t what we used to consider them, he had a 1.005 OPS with runners in scoring position and a 1.154 OPS in high leverage situations. The guy did nothing but hit and hit in important spots all year.

That brings us to his defense. While it is certainly commendable that Cabrera selflessly moved to third base this year to make room for Prince Fielder, he didn’t do the Tigers any favors with his defense. His negative-10.0 UZR was the worst amongst AL third basemen and his negative-9 total zone rating was just as bad. He was a butcher out there who cost the Tigers at least one win with his glove. It’s why he finished third with a 7.1 WAR despite monster offensive numbers.

Mike Trout

As unbelievable as Cabrera’s season was, Trout’s season was probably equally unbelievable. Just 20-years-old for most of the season, Trout had a year unlike most 20-year-olds in the history of the game. He hit for average (.326), showed patience (.399 OBP), and power (.564 SLG). He also ran like crazy while swiping 49 bags and played exceptional defense (positive-11.4 UZR and 15 total zone rating). He was a true five tool talent.

Now it’s true that Cabrera hit for a slightly higher average and more power, but Trout helped the Angels with his speed and defense, two things that Cabrera does poorly. So the question becomes — did Cabrera’s .004 points of batting average and .042 points of slugging percentage make up for his lack of speed and defense? I don’t think so.

There are two other things to consider before we just say that Trout should have won the MVP award and that’s games played and the fact that the Angels missed the playoffs. The thing is that while the Angels missed the playoffs they actually had a better record than the Tigers (Angels were 89-73 and the Tigers were 88-74). The Angels also played in a tougher division competing against the A’s and Rangers while the Tigers toughest competition was the mediocre White Sox. So personally, I cannot hold the Angels missing the playoffs against Trout.

So do the games played make a difference? Trout, who struggled in 2011 with a .220/.281/.390 line, didn’t make the team out of spring training and only finished with 139 games played. Meanwhile, Cabrera played an almost perfect 161 games. That’s a 22 game difference or almost a full month of baseball. There is a good chance that if Trout played those games that the Angels make the playoffs, but again, is it enough to push Cabrera over the top?

Who’s my winner? Mike Trout

I’m going with Trout. He contributed in five different ways while Cabrera only contributed in three. I think 22 games is a significant difference, but the reality is that only 58 plate appearances separated them. To me that’s not enough to have a serious impact. Cabrera’s season was amazing and any other year he probably did enough to warrant a MVP, but not this year. Not with the season that Trout had. He’s no doubt the Rookie of the Year and, as far as I’m concerned, the MVP too.

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10 Responses to Thoughts on the 2012 AL MVP race

  1. Jeff Bunnell says:

    I think Cabrera wins for the Triple Crown. We all know how rare the Triple Crown is, so to not reward Cabrera for achieving the feat while leading his team to the World Series, would be crazy.

    Also, Trout fell off his pace (as did the Angels) in September, while Cabrera and the Tigers raised the bar in the final 6 weeks of the season. So Trout missed the first month of the season, and faltered the final 6 weeks? That's 2 1/2 months of little to no production.

    Sorry. Miguel Cabrera for the win.

  2. Mike Sommer says:

    Hey, Ted Williams had a .406 season and won not one but TWO Triple Crowns. He didn't win the MVP in ANY of those three seasons (.406 in 1941, DiMaggio and the streak got the MVP; 1942 Triple Crown, lost the MVP to Joe Gordon; 1947 Triple Crown, lost the MVP to Dimaggio). Just saying…

    • Matt_DC says:

      Hi Mike, who would you vote for this year? I would like to hear your vote because I like reading your posts on this board. Joe D and Joe Gordon beat out Ted Williams in years the Yankees won the pennant by double digits in two of the years you mentioned, and by nine in the other. I know things have changed, but in recent years the writers gave one to Pedroia for being an all around terrific player, and one to Justin Morneau (over Jeter) because he hit for power. The writers are fickle!

      As for me I am for Cabrera (not arguing, Rob, Trout was awesome) because I lean old school and think that getting into the post season means something when it is close. The Tigers charged past the ChiSox in September. In that chase Miggy passed Trout for the batting title and held off everyone else in the other categories. For the aggregate year I saw one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. It is not often we have two performances like we had this year.

      • Mike Sommer says:

        Sorry, busy, and then Hurricane Sandy. Tough question. Very. Cabrera's team barely won their division, Trout's came in 3rd. The Angels won one more game than Detroit, actually. Cabrera 6.9 WAR, Trout 10.7. Cabrera hitting stats, but Trout edge in defense and baserunning. Cabrera's OPS was 1.59 times better than his team's, Trout's 1.47. I'd be tempted to split my vote and have it like 1979, when in the NL, Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell tied for the award. I know it sounds like wussing out, but boy, this is a tough one.

        • Matt_DC says:

          Thanks, Mike. Good points as always. Hope you and yours are okay. The eye of Sandy landed north of DC so we had rain and power outages, but not the worst of it.

  3. Eric P. says:

    I agree with Rob. Cabby's marginally better stats in few categories doesn't make him the MVP…he wasn't even the MVP on his own team…Verlander was…

    Statistically Trout had one of the rarest seasons every….20 years old…missed 22 games…batted leadoff…and was still close in to Cabby… And please don't tell me that Defense doesn't matter….Cabby looks like he's standing in cement half of the time out there.

  4. Matt_DC says:

    Hey Rob, I am glad you mentioned Beltre. I cannot believe how good he has become.

    As for Robbie, I still find it odd the only players the writers like of late in pinstripes have been A-Rod and Clemens. If Robbie as a second baseman put up those numbers in another town I am curious if the support he gets would go up considerably.

  5. Derek says:

    "Cabby's marginally better stats in few categories doesn't make him the MVP…he wasn't even the MVP on his own team…Verlander was… ". Ok Eric P. If that is the case, then give Miggy the 2011 MVP. Verlander won it last year and he wasn't even the best player on his team. Verlander was fantastic last year but he pitched once every 5 games.

    Cabrera has continued to produce through 2011 and 2012. He is my vote for 2012 MVP. Trout was incredible this year and thus is an extremely close second place. To have a guy like Miguel Cabrera have a Triple Crown, in a league that now has right handed specialist and other pitching options, it is a testament to how good Cabrera's numbers actually are. Oh yeah, and the TIGERS MADE THE PLAYOFFS.

    Cabrera is the batter in the Tigers lineup that everyone is afraid to face and he STILL beats them even when they try to pitch around them. Fielder has 30+ HRs and 100+ RBIs while batting .300+….wonder why? Cabrera moves to 3B so the Tigers can sign Fielder. Not only is he selfless, but he's an outright hitting stud.