Winning the Triple Crown Should Not Make Miguel Cabrera a Guarantee for AL MVP
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Hard to believe Miguel Cabrera has been under the radar for much of his career, even ever since he arrived in Detroit in a trade with the Florida Marlins. You could argue he has taken the baton from Albert Pujols as the best right-handed hitter in the game of baseball.
Just 29 years old, Cabrera has over 300 HRs, almost 400 doubles, over 1100 RBI and almost 1800 base hits. He has compiled a career line of .318/.395/.562/.957 (average, OBP, SLG%, OPS). He won the AL HR title in 2008, the MLB RBI title in 2010, and the MLB batting title last season after swiping it from Adrian Gonzalez who plummeted along with his Red Sox.
This year, he's having one of the greatest seasons ever for a right-handed batter. His numbers are at .331/.396/.614/1.010, 169 OPS+, 42 HRs, 133 RBI, 40 doubles, 194 hits and 360 total bases.
He could become the first hitter in 45 years (Carl Yastrzemski in 1967) to win the fabled Triple Crown. He currently leads the majors in HRs (tied with Josh Hamilton) and RBIs and is .005 from the MLB batting title (still leads the AL by .008). He also leads the majors in slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and total bases.
Such ridiculous numbers absolutely warrant the American League Most Valuable Player award, especially with the hype of the Triple Crown. Despite the struggles of his team as a whole, the Tigers are still one game behind the White Sox in the AL Central.
However, winning the Triple Crown has not guaranteed the MVP award previously. The most famous case is that of the great Ted Williams, who won the Triple Crown TWICE and finished 2nd in the voting both times. Other Triple Crown winners who did not win the MVP are Joe Medwick in 1937, Lou Gehrig in 1934 and Chuck Klein in 1933.
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In the age of advanced statistics and analysis through sabermetrics, a historical achievement may not be a guarantee for any award. While the only stats available for voters when the Triple Crown was commonly won for batters were average, hits, homers, RBIs, runs scored, etc, today's stats have established the fact that RBI, batting average and home runs are not the best measurements for a player's talent and worth.
In fact, many sabermetrics make an argument that the Los Angeles Angels' 21-year-old phenom Mike Trout is a more deserving candidate for the MVP than Cabrera.
Trout was called up from the minor leagues on April 28 when the Angels, many experts' sexy pick to win the World Series, were 6-14. Since then, the Angels are 78-55 (.586) and are still in the hunt for a wild-card spot, and Trout's emergence has been a huge reason why.
Trout is arguably a better OVERALL player than Cabrera. Trout's speed makes him a force on the basepaths, leading the majors in stolen bases and runs scored despite being called up at the end of April. He's 46 for 50 in stolen base attempts. He also has a ton of power for a 21-year-old, popping 28 HRs and 25 doubles and six triples. The rest of his numbers are: .323/.394/.554/.949, 167 OPS+, 169 hits and 129 runs
Cabrera is a very poor defensive player and has cost his team several runs after being moved back to 3B with the signing of Prince Fielder. Trout saves his teams runs with his ridiculous catches that you have seen weekly on SportsCenter.
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The sabermetrics argument seems to weigh Trout's defense and speed equally with his offense. Trout leads the entire major leagues in WAR (wins above replacement) at 9.5. It isn't even close either. The next closest player is Ryan Braun at 7.9 and Cabrera is at 6.9.
Trout also leads the AL with a wRC+ (weighted runs created) of 172. Cabrera is at 169. This statistic quantifies a player's total offensive value and measures it in runs scored. Cabrera leads the AL in wOBA, (weighted on-base average), which balances the values of different types of base hits. Cabrera is at .421, and Trout is right behind him at .418.
Trout's defense has also proved to be significantly better than Cabrera's through sabermetrics. Trout is 2nd in the AL and 4th among all MLB OF in UZR and 2nd in the AL and 8th among all MLB OF in UZR/150. Cabrera is dead last among AL 3B in both categories and second worst among all MLB third basemen. Basically, UZR and UZR/150 are estimates of how many runs a player saves or gives up playing their position. Zero is exactly average at the position.
This is a new age of statistical analysis in all of sports, and baseball has the most use and understanding of these "sabermetrics". Many people in the sport and business of baseball have moved on from using the use of traditional statistics such as HRs, RBI, average, runs scored and other counting statistics. The voters also seem to be starting to move on from traditional stats when they selected Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez as the AL Cy Young award winner despite a dismal 13-12 record on the last place Mariners.
The fact is Mike Trout has been a better and more valuable overall player than Miguel Cabrera has been this year. He does a lot more things than Cabrera does when you're talking about a combination of hitting, running and defense.
How their respective teams fare the rest of the season could very well help decide this race for AL MVP. Both the Angels and Tigers are looking on the outside of a playoff spot. The Tigers are one game behind the White Sox for the AL Central lead and the Angels, six games better than Detroit, are three back of division rival Oakland in the loss column for the 2nd wild-card spot
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