AL MVP debate: Cabrera versus Trout

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
10:00
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Miguel Cabrera and Mike TroutUS PresswireMiguel Cabrera, left, is having a great season, but Mike Trout is the slam-dunk AL MVP.


The grievances seem mostly confined to Michigan but usually go something like this: The media is ignoring Miguel Cabrera's MVP candidacy because we're in love with Mike Trout since he's a rookie; that Trout isn't doing anything so historic that we should just hand him the trophy so easily; that Trout's Angels might not even make the playoffs; that Cabrera is the best hitter in the game; that Cabrera has been shafted in other MVP votes and finally deserves one.

Let's take those arguments one at a time.

1. We just love Mike Trout and are ignoring Miguel Cabrera.

Guilty. Of course we love Mike Trout. He hits, he runs, he fields, he robs opponents of home runs and then hits his own. His name is Trout and he tweets about fishing. The fact that he turned 21 in August isn't the reason he's the leading MVP candidate in the world; the fact that he turned 21 and is doing the things he's doing just adds an extra layer of awe.

But that doesn't mean we have anything against Cabrera. We should all respect the way he has moved back to third base and acquitted himself better than anyone expected. He has missed one game all season. That he's a hitting machine, as feared as any batsman in the league, goes without saying. I don't think Cabrera is getting ignored. It is, however, difficult to claim the spotlight when a kid who spent most of the season at 20 years old is putting up numbers we've never seen from someone that young.

2. Trout isn't doing anything that historic.

Through Thursday's games, Trout is hitting .331/.397/.569. If you look just at that triple-slash line then, yes, I suppose you could say there's nothing historic going on here. After all, since 1901 there have been 193 times that a player reached all three of those numbers. Cabrera himself even did it last season.

Of course, Trout has 45 steals (in 49 attempts). Not all 193 of those players ran the bases with Trout's blazing speed. In fact, only 17 of them swiped as many as 25 bases.

And not all of them hit 27 home runs. In fact, of those 17 who stole 25-plus bases, only eight hit as many 20 home runs. All eight happened to be outfielders. Of those eight -- Ken Williams in 1922, Willie Mays in 1957 and 1958, Barry Bonds in 1993, Ellis Burks in 1996, Larry Walker in 1997, Vladimir Guerrero in 2002 and Ryan Braun in 2011 -- only one played center field.

So just like that: Mike Trout and Willie Mays. Yes, with a straight face.

Maybe that's too goofy of an approach for you. WAR -- wins above replacement -- is an attempt to analyze a player's batting, fielding and baserunning statistics into one number. Entering Thursday's game, Trout's Baseball-Reference WAR was 10.3. According to the metrics, there have 28 seasons when a player achieved 10.3 WAR or higher. Six of those seasons were by Babe Ruth, and there have been just six during the divisional era -- Joe Morgan in 1975, Robin Yount in 1982, Cal Ripken in 1991 and Barry Bonds in 2001, 2002 and 2004.

Assuming Trout doesn't go 0 for his next 75, I'm pretty comfortable calling this a historic season.

Oh, Cabrera's WAR: 5.8. Excellent figure. Not historic.

3. How can Trout be the MVP if the Angels don't make the playoffs?

This seems to be Cabrera's best argument -- assuming the Tigers make the playoffs, of course, and the Angels don't. It is true that during the wild-card era few players from non-playoff teams have won the MVP award: Larry Walker in 1997, Barry Bonds in 2001 and 2004, Alex Rodriguez in 2003, Ryan Howard in 2006, Albert Pujols in 2008.

But why this should be held against Trout confuses me. Where would the Angels be without him? Nowhere near contending for the playoffs. Plus, there is the likely scenario that the Angels win more games than the Tigers, yet miss the playoffs while the Tigers make it. I fail to see why that makes Cabrera a better MVP candidate than Trout when Trout's team will have won more games.

4. Cabrera is the best hitter in the game.

I won't disagree with this assessment, but the problem here is it's hard to argue that he has been a better hitter than Trout in 2012.

Trout: .331/.397/.569, 27 HR, 77 RBI, 115 runs
Cabrera: .328/.393/.590, 36 HR, 118 RBI, 91 runs

So Cabrera has the slightest edge in OPS, .983 to .966. Even though he spent the first few weeks of the season in Triple-A, however, Trout has created more runs -- 115 to 113, by our numbers, 121 to 117 by Baseball-Reference figures. But here's another key: Trout has created those while using up 344 outs; Cabrera has used 401 outs.

That's before we even get to the ballparks. Angel Stadium has played a strong pitcher's park this season. Comerica, despite its reputation, has played as a slight hitter's park. So it's hard to give Cabrera the edge on offense when Trout has been the better offensive player. Factor in Trout's obvious huge edges in defense and baserunning, and it's not close.

And, no, I don't want to hear about RBIs. Trout bats leadoff. He doesn't get the opportunities. For what it's worth, in "high leverage" situations, Trout is hitting .328 with four home runs and Cabrera is hitting .351 with four home runs.

5. Cabrera deserves an MVP award.

Hey, I feel for him. If Cabrera fails to win it this year, he'll join Eddie Murray as the only players to finish in the top five of the MVP voting six times yet never win. That's no reason, of course, to vote for a player.

It's Mike Trout's year. He's the best player in the game. This should be Reagan-Mondale. If Trout doesn't win, it would be one of the biggest travesties in MVP voting history.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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