Deserving MVP winners

Miguel Cabrera claims second straight award; Andrew McCutchen joins the club

Originally Published: November 14, 2013
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

You know what we should be turning our attention to right now? The greatness of Miguel Cabrera. That's what.

This should be a time, on the night we learned that Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen had won the 2013 MVP awards, to celebrate one of the most remarkable right-handed hitters most of us have ever laid eyes on.

A man who just became the second player in the past 50 years -- and the first since Frank Thomas in 1993-94 -- to win back-to-back AL MVP awards.

A man who just joined Mickey Mantle (in 1956-57) as the only players ever to win a Triple Crown one year and follow that act by winning an MVP trophy the next.

A man who can say he's the first right-handed hitter to win three straight batting titles in any league since Rogers Hornsby did it -- nearly 90 years ago (1920 to 1925).

That's what the MVP conversation ought to be about at this historic moment in Miguel Cabrera's time. But it's not, of course.

Instead, we're right back where we were last year at this time -- back to a debate about Cabrera versus Mike Trout, back to a debate about new school/old school, back to a debate over the true meaning of the most confusing word in modern award terminology: valuable.

Well, we'll get to that debate in a moment. But first …

[+] EnlargeMiguel Cabrera
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezMiguel Cabrera won his third straight batting title (.348) and also led the league in OBP (.442) and slugging (.636).

Here's what we shouldn't be debating:

1) Whether Mike Trout is the best, most complete baseball player on this continent. If you're one of the holdouts who is keeping that sentiment from being unanimous, you need to get out of your cocoon and watch this guy play a little more closely.

2) Whether wins above replacement (WAR) is the most useful, all-encompassing baseball statistic ever invented. If you're still in that crowd that thinks this is some sort of gimmicky numerical concoction, conceived by a bunch of mad-scientist stat nerds, that bears no relation to reality, get a grip. It may not be perfect. But there has never, ever, been a better tool for measuring everything that takes place on a baseball field than WAR. Period.

So if Trout or WAR are what you want to argue about right now, go right ahead. Just don't drag me into it. For me, the discussion of valuable in this context won't be heading in either of those directions.

For me, what wins above replacement tells us about Mike Trout is more accurate than a W-2 form. He's a player who does more things well, and can beat you in more ways, than any other guy in this sport. That part is simple.

So here's what isn't:

Does that make him the Most Valuable Player in the American League? Discuss.

OK, we will.

Can we all agree on something first? That this is a personal judgment?

There's a thunderous chorus, on the Trout side of this debate, that doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that. But not every voter, or every baseball fan, has to believe what that side believes. That's what makes this fun. That's what makes this America.

Not everyone has to believe that the definition of "most valuable" is "most value compared to an average replacement player."

And not everyone has to believe, as so many of Trout's campaign managers seem to, that his teammates (and Cabrera's) are irrelevant in this debate.

Hmmm. Are they? Do they have to be? I know a lot of really bright people feel that way. And have a right to feel that way. And aren't wrong if they feel that way.

But here's just one reason that I disagree (and I'm allowed to disagree):

I also hear the Trout proponents make the point that the Cabrera supporters are ignoring Cabrera's mediocre September (when his batting average was just .278, with only two extra-base hits all month).

Well, I, for one, am not ignoring it. It ought to be a factor, for any voter. But I also think Cabrera's September vividly defines the difference between his team and Trout's team.

If Miguel Cabrera played for Mike Trout's team -- a team that finished 18 games out of first place and spent exactly one day above .500 all season -- hey, guess what?

He never would have had that mediocre September -- because he wouldn't have been playing.

He was a guy who spent that whole month (and October) battling a groin/abdomen injury that was so severe, he required surgery right after the season. And here's something I've noticed about players on losing teams who are that seriously injured:

Their teams shut them down.

There's no reason for them to battle through the pain and the limitations at the end of a lost season. So they pack it in.

But as Cabrera told us in October, once the Tigers had finally been eliminated, he felt he had to play because his team was trying to win. And he understood what his presence meant to a team that needed to keep pushing, all the way to the finish line.

Because he felt that way, he staggered through the last five weeks of the season -- and still finished with a stat line so incredible (.348/.442/.636/1.078/44 HR) that only two other right-handed hitters in the history of baseball (Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson) have ever matched or beaten it.

So please. Can the folks on the Trout side stop writing and/or screaming that those 23 MVP voters who cast their first-place votes for Miguel Cabrera were "wrong," or just a bunch of dopes who made a "bad" choice?

I feel sorry for Trout, the second player ever to finish second, behind the same winner, in back-to-back AL MVP elections, joining only Mickey Mantle, the runner-up to Roger Maris in 1960-61. But …

[+] EnlargeAndrew McCutchen
Joe Sargent/Getty ImagesAndrew McCutchen (.317, 21 homers, 84 RBIs) propelled Pittsburgh to its first postseason appearance in 21 years.

Remember, the debate is what makes this fun. The debate is what makes this America. The debate sums up all the reasons sports are such an awesome invention.

Just one more thing to be passionate about -- and think about -- instead of trying to figure out how we're going to scrape up the money to pay the MasterCard bill this month.

But meanwhile in the National League …

At least the new school and the old school can agree on one of these MVP elections.

Because Andrew McCutchen was the right choice.

As his 28 first-place votes proved, he was the right choice if you were gathering up all the Sabermetric data that elevated his baserunning, his defense and the importance of his position above Paul Goldschmidt's dazzling offensive numbers.

And he was the right choice if you're still defining "most valuable" the way it used to be almost universally acceptable to define it: Which great player had a season so spectacular, his team couldn't possibly have won or contended without him?

So with all due respect to Goldschmidt, whose fantastic season has probably been underrated, and to Yadier Molina, whose importance to the Cardinals can't be measured by any statistic ever invented, and the rest of this field, the right guy won.

No matter which school of baseball you're currently enrolled in.

Maybe one of these years, we'll have an American League MVP election in which we can say that, too. I can hardly wait.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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