Miguel Cabrera: Triple Crown Season Wouldn't Enhance Tigers Star's MVP Case

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2012

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 16:   Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers hits a home run against the Cleveland Indians during their game on September 16, 2012 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio.   The Indians defeated the Tigers 7-6.  (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
David Maxwell/Getty Images

Miguel Cabrera is one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball; no one can deny that. But the possibility of producing a Triple Crown season does nothing to enhance his case as the American League MVP, especially in a season where Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball. 

The argument for a Triple Crown winner winning an MVP award is flawed for two reasons. First, since 1931, when the Baseball Writers' Association of America started awarding the MVP, there have been nine players who won the Triple Crown, with the most recent one being Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. 

Of those nine players, five of them won the MVP award in the same season. For the non-mathematicians out there, that is just a little more than 50 percent, so it is not like not voting for Cabrera would be breaking tradition. 

Second, the whole idea of the Triple Crown being the definitive measure of a player's performance is so outdated based on the information every baseball fan now has access to. A Triple Crown sounds great, but it measures three offensive categories, two of which don't do much to tell you about a player's value. 

RBI is a flawed statistic to determine value because it is an opportunity-based stat. If you hit in the middle of a lineup, of course you are going to drive in runs, because odds are good you are always coming up with guys on base. It doesn't tell you anything useful. 

Batting average, while slightly more useful than RBI, is not a good measure of success. A player who hits .300 is great, but if his on-base percentage is .330, that's not very good and certainly not MVP-caliber.

Here are a few more common arguments that people are making in Cabrera's favor to win the MVP award.


Cabrera Is Having a Historic Season


Cabrera is having a great season with the bat. Again, no one will deny that, but this isn't even his best season in the big leagues. He is hitting .325/.390/.601 with 43 home runs and 136 RBI after Sunday's game. 

Last season, Cabrera hit .344/.448/.586 with a wOBA of .436 (per FanGraphs). His current .413 wOBA is actually his lowest output since his second season with Detroit (.402).

In fact, using on-base percentage, which is kind of an important stat since the point of the game is to get on base, Cabrera's .390 clip is his lowest since 2008 (.349).

A few arbitrary end points that could result in a Triple Crown at the end of the season does not suddenly turn this into one of the greatest hitting seasons we have ever seen. It is actually Cabrera's worst offensive season in five years. (Granted, that's a high bar he set for himself.)


Cabrera's Doing It at a New Position

There seems to be some thought that Cabrera moving over to third base after the Tigers signed Prince Fielder should work to his advantage.

When fans dismiss a stat like WAR, which encompasses all aspects of the game, to argue for Cabrera, a lot of them want to talk about his position change.


Cabrera gets credit for the position change when WAR is calculated, so his current FanGraphs WAR of 6.9 is helped by the fact that he does play third base.

However, the people who want to argue for Cabrera putting up big offensive numbers as a third baseman tend to ignore the fact that he is, at best, a bad defensive player at the hot corner.

According to FanGraphs defensive metrics, there are 13 third basemen who have played at least 1,000 innings at the position this season. Of those players, Cabrera ranks 12th in UZR (-9.2) and is tied for 11th in defensive runs saved (-5).

The Baseball Writers' Association of America actually lists defense as a component that should be considered when voting for the MVP.


The Tigers Are Going to Make the Playoffs

Since you are actually talking about a team's record in this case, it is important to note that the Tigers currently have the seventh-best record in the American League at 86-73.

Trout, who is the clear choice for MVP, plays for an Angels team that has two more wins than the Tigers (88-71) and plays in a much, much better division.

If you want to vote based on team record, which is a completely ridiculous way to vote for the MVP, you should actually punish Cabrera because his team is performing worse than the Angels in what is the worst division in baseball.

Team performance should not be considered when voting for the MVP award because it is an individual award, and you need a great team around you in order to get in the playoffs.

Not to mention that Cabrera played the Indians, Royals and Twins 51 times this season. Those three teams are 28th, 23rd and 29th in team ERA this season.

Trout has been doing his work against teams like Seattle (ninth in ERA), Oakland (sixth) and Texas (16th). He has also been playing a majority of his games in pitcher-friendly parks like Safeco Field and O.co Coliseum.


Trout Has Not Been Good in September

First of all, that is ridiculous. Again, you look at the batting average of .257, and it doesn't look as shiny as when he was hitting .392 in July, but Trout still changes the game on the bases and in the field.

Not to mention, Trout's still getting on base; he has 20 walks in 121 plate appearances with five home runs and six stolen bases without being caught.

Plus, you can't discredit one good month for Trout—and that's what September was—after four spectacular months.

Cabrera hit .308 with 10 home runs in September, so he did have the batting edge for the month. But are we just supposed to forget everything that came before it? Do games in September hold more weight than they did before?

Last time I checked, a win last month counts exactly the same as it does now. It gets heightened because the season is winding down, but you still have to perform from April to August.


All These Arguments Are Great, but I'm Not Seeing a Case for Trout

I saved this part for last. Everything leading up to this point has been telling you that Cabrera is not the MVP, so I have to make the case, which isn't very hard, for Trout.

Here you go.

First, if you want to talk about historic seasons, as mentioned before, there have been nine Triple Crown seasons since 1931, when BBWAA starting awarding the MVP.

With his home run yesterday, Trout became the first rookie in Major League Baseball history to have a 30-30 and 30-40 season. He is two stolen bases away from a 30-50 season, so for those of you who like round numbers and history, there you go.

Second, by every possible measure, Trout has been the best PLAYER in baseball this season. That is what this comes down to.

Trout actually leads Cabrera in on-base percentage (.395 to .390), has added nearly seven runs of value on the bases (6.8 per FanGraphs), compared to -2.3 for Cabrera, and has saved 23 runs in center field, best in the American League.

If you want to look at the MVP award with blinders just based on three arbitrary stats and say it is Cabrera, that is certainly your prerogative.

But if you want to know who the most valuable player in the American League was in 2012, all the stats from top to bottom point you to Trout. Not even a Triple Crown season can take that away.


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