10/18/12 11:59 AM ET
AL MVP race tight between rookie and veteran
'New-school' or 'old-school' stats could give edge to Trout or Cabrera, respectively
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
The race for the American League Most Valuable Player Award seems to be down to two players -- players with different skill sets who put together historic seasons.
In one corner, you have the veteran hitter, third baseman Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, who won the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
In the other corner, you have 21-year-old rookie center fielder Mike Trout of the Angels, whose dazzling combination of speed, power and defense brings to mind Rickey Henderson in his prime and has led to numbers previously unheard of for a first-year player.
So ... who's it gonna be?
Cabrera would seem to be the more traditional pick.
Cabrera led the AL with a .330 batting average (Trout was second at .326), 44 home runs and 139 RBIs. Cabrera also led the AL in slugging percentage (.606) and on-base-plus-slugging (0.999).
Ditto for Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who, while biased and more geared toward old-school statistics, said he'd be amazed if his player didn't win the AL MVP Award.
"It would blow my mind," Leyland said. "But I don't have any vote. But I don't want to tick the guys off that do vote, so I don't want to get into it."
Yes, the Most Valuable Player Award voting is decided by select members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA). In recent years, the organization has shown more of a willingness to embrace newer statistics that have gained traction as influential numbers-driven baseball blogs and publications have promoted them.
The dynamic leadoff man didn't get called up to the Majors until April 28, but Trout didn't waste much time propelling himself into consideration as one of the game's elite players.
Trout led the AL in runs (129) and stolen bases (49), he had 30 homers and 83 RBIs, an OPS of .963 and, in what could ultimately be the telling stat for how the AL MVP race eventually ends up, he led all of baseball in the emerging statistic known as Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
WAR computes a player's offensive value and his defensive contribution -- taking into account the difficulty of the position he plays in the field -- to arrive at a number of theoretical victories that the player added to his team over a "replacement-level," or Triple-A or "quadruple-A"-caliber player's hypothetical contribution.
When it comes to that number, it isn't hypothetical at all. Trout is far and away the best player. His WAR of 10.7 easily qualifies him for baseball-reference.com's definition of an MVP as a WAR of 8.0 or higher. Cabrera's WAR was 6.9.
"He's amazing, man," Cabrera said of Trout. "You need to give some credit to him. At that age, what he's done is very amazing. That's why everybody talks about him. That's unbelievable, man."
It is unbelievable, and those arguing for Trout are pointing to the overwhelming edges he possesses in the categories of baserunning and defense.
And while Trout accomplished all this while playing in 22 fewer games than Cabrera, one side of the pro-Cabrera argument says the MVP Award should only be given to a player who was contributing to his team for the entire season.
And then there's the momentum factor. Trout slowed down a bit with the finish line in sight, putting up a slash line of .289/.400/.500 with five homers, nine RBIs and seven stolen bases in September. Cabrera stayed hot, hitting 11 homers, driving in 30 runs and putting up a line of .333/.395/.675 in September.
"I mean, your goal, when you come here, you want to be the best player in the league, obviously, and [Cabrera is] having a great year, too," Trout said near season's end. "But first on the list is getting to the playoffs. All the other stuff can wait until after the season."
That's usually another part of the argument. Voting writers take into account whether a player's team made the postseason, and they weigh that consideration accordingly. That favors Cabrera, with the Tigers winning the AL Central race and the Angels sitting out the postseason.
"[With] the guys who are voting, sometimes the beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Some guys are going to put more weight on how a team finishes. Some guys are going to put more weight on just pure stats. Some guys are going to have a combination of those.
"They're both putting up extraordinary numbers in some different areas. As far as if you look at Mike's full body of work, there's no doubt that it compares to what Miguel Cabrera is doing. It's going to be interesting to see how it works out."
Now, there are other names worth mentioning in the AL MVP Award conversation, such as Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Derek Jeter, Adam Jones, Edwin Encarnacion, Alex Rios and a few more. It depends on what you're looking for.
But it looks like it's down to Cabrera and Trout. Take your pick. Make your case.
"There's nothing we can do, him and me," Cabrera said. "We've both got a great year. We can't control [the voting]. We go out there and play hard, win some games.
"We'll let you guys decide what's gonna happen."