Why Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera Is the American League MVP

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 14: Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers smiles after hitting an RBI double and advancing to third during the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins on August 14, 2012 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Tigers defeated the Twins 8-4. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

ESPN's Keith Law recently wrote an article discussing candidates for the American League Most Valuable Player. His top five are Mike Trout, Robinson Cano, Justin Verlander, Austin Jackson, and Felix Hernandez.

Now, I'm sure you are wondering the same thing I am: where in the world is Miguel Cabrera?

You know, the same Cabrera who, coming into today, has posted a .332/.396/.594 (BA/OBP/SLG) slash line with 31 homers and 104 RBI.

According to Law, not only is Cabrera not a top-five AL MVP candidate, but he is the third most valuable player on his own team, behind the likes of Verlander and, gulp, Jackson.


Look, I respect Law, as he has been an ESPN writer for quite some time, but this is one of the most egregious things I have ever read. The best hitter in baseball not being an MVP candidate? Seriously?

First of all, the fact that Hernandez is even on that list is an absolute crime.

Is he one of the best pitchers in baseball? Absolutely. Cy Young candidate? Of course. However, I firmly believe that pitchers should not be able to win the MVP award (yes, I thought Verlander winning last year was very silly), as they play only once every five days.

To make matters worse, the Seattle Mariners are in last place in the American League West. So, how can someone who plays once every five days on a last-place team possibly be worthy of the MVP award?

Now that we've goten that out of the way, let me dissect why I think Cabrera deserves the MVP award over Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, probably his biggest threat.

Let me start by saying that Trout has been nothing short of magnificent in his rookie season. He is putting together probably the finest rookie campaign I have ever seen, and he is well on his way to super-stardom. However, he is not Cabrera.

While Trout is most certainly putting up ridiculous numbers (.343/.407/.604 with 23 homers, 69 RBI, and 39 SB), he is not nearly as good as Cabrera in big spots. As a matter of fact, he cannot even begin to scratch the surface of Cabrera's consistent brilliance in clutch situations.

Let's start with some basic numbers and then work our way up from there.

Cabrera is hitting an inhuman .447 with runners in scoring position with two outs. He is also reaching base at a .523 clip in those situations, and his slugging percentage is a ridiculous .763. That is good for a 1.268 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with that statistic, let me say that that is absolutely off-the-charts spectacular. That 1.286 OPS is 296 points better than Cabrera's full regular-season OPS of .990. Translation? Cabrera elevates his game in the clutch.

Trout? He is hitting .306 in those spots, posting a .444 on-base percentage and a .389 slugging percentage, adding up to an .833 OPS. So, conversely, Trout's OPS is 178 points worse than his regular-season mark of 1.011 under those circumstances.

We're just getting started, though. Let's check out some late-inning pressure stats.

Late-inning pressure is a stat that tells you what a hitter does when his team is down by three runs or less (or the game is tied) in the seventh inning or later. Obviously, those are pressure-packed situations, and if you are truly the MVP, you should rise to the occasion, right?

Well, Cabrera certainly does.

In late-inning pressure, Cabrera boasts a .373/.471/.729 (good for a 1.200 OPS) slash line. He also has six homers and 15 RBI in those spots.

Now, in late inning pressure with runners on base, Cabrera has been even better. His numbers in those spots? A .400 batting average, a .500 OBP, and a .920 slugging percentage. That means his OPS in those spots is 1.420. He also has four homers and 13 RBI under those circumstances.

Finally, Cabrera has only struck out five times in late-inning pressure total. That means he has struck out in only eight percent of his late-inning pressure at-bats. That is just unreal.

Now let's look at the rookie.

In late-inning pressure, Trout is hitting a paltry .189, is getting on base at a horrendous .295 clip, and is posting a measly .351 slugging percentage. That adds up to a .646 OPS, an OPS that some of the worst everyday players in baseball muster throughout the course of the season.

Oh, and Trout only has two dingers and six RBI in those situations. Strikeouts? He has 13, striking out in 35 percent of his at-bats in late-inning pressure, 27 percent more than Cabrera.

As far as Trout with late-inning pressure with runners on, his slash line is .231/.353/.231, totaling an atrocious .584 OPS. Notice how his slugging percentage is the same as his batting average. That means that Trout doesn't have a single extra base hit in late-inning pressure with runners on base.

You're telling me that that is a player worthy of the MVP award?

The only thing I don't like about late-inning pressure is that it does not account for extra innings, so I'll just throw it in for good measure. In six extra inning at-bats, Cabrera has four hits, one of them being a walk-off homer. For Trout, in four extra inning at-bats, he has one hit: a single.

Another stat I'd like to examine is what the player does in the seventh inning or later. Now this stat doesn't tell you as much, because for all we know, the player's team could be up by 10 runs, but it's still something to pay attention to because, regardless, it's a late-game situation.

Cabrera's slash line in the seventh inning or later is .336/.422/.634, good for a 1.056 OPS. He also has hit over a third of his 31 homers in the seventh inning or later, as Cabrera has drilled 11 long balls in these spots. To add on, he has driven in 27 runs and has struck out only 16 times (13.7 percent).

Trout's slash line in that same situation is .267/.373/.505, good for an .878 OPS. He has hit six homers and driven home 14 runs while striking out 34 times (32.4 percent) in those spots.

But wait, there's more. The final stats I'd like to show you essentially encompass everything I've mentioned so far: they're called leverage statistics.

Here is a little description of what leverage statistics are from Dave Cameron of FanGraphs.com:

Using Leverage Index, we can quantify the relative impact any given plate appearance has on the outcome of a game, based on the score, inning, number of base runners, and how many outs there are at the time. At FanGraphs, we break every player's plate appearances into three tiers, ranging from low leverage (game already decided) to high leverage (high chance of determining who wins and loses) and can evaluate how players have done in the "clutch" opportunities they've been given.

Now that you know what leverage statistics are all about, let's compare Cabrera and Trout, shall we?

In low-leverage situations, meaning that there is essentially no pressure on the batter, Trout is your man. He has a .376/.459/.700 slash line, good for a 1.159 OPS, in those spots.

Cabrera's numbers in those situations are .332/.389/.613, good for a 1.002 OPS.

Now, let's look at high-leverage situations, situations where the game is actually on the line.

Under these circumstances, Trout shrinks, posting a .276/.289/.517 slash line, totaling an .806 OPS (and that OBP is just disgusting).

Cabrera, on the other hand, turns into Superman, as he hits to the tune of a .417 batting average, a .500 on-base percentage, and an .833 slugging percentage, good for an OPS of 1.333.

I think I have made my case.

I don't know how you determine who you think the MVP should be, but I think how a player performs in clutch situations should be a humongous factor in doing so. Wouldn't you want your MVP up at the plate in a big spot? I mean, what kind of MVP becomes an average to below-average player when the stakes are at their highest?

Trout will likely have some MVP awards in his future, but this year should not be one of them. The MVP award is Cabrera's to lose, and if he doesn't win it, it would be an absolutely travesty.

Sorry Keith Law, but you're wrong. Big time.


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