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.
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.
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.
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.