AL MVP Rankings: Which Superstar Holds the Edge with 3 Days to Go?
With three days left to go in the 2012 season, much must still be decided in the American League. All three divisions are still up for grabs, and there's a legit chance that the season will end with a three-way tie for a single wild-card spot.
The postseason picture isn't the only thing that will become final this week. The next three days are also the last chance for the participants in the American League MVP race to polish off their resumes.
There are really only two candidates, of course: Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera and Los Angeles Angels rookie outfielder Mike Trout. Cabrera is chasing MLB's first Triple Crown season in 45 years, but Trout is busy doing things that no other player in the history of the league has done.
So, with only three days to go, who has the edge in the AL MVP race: Cabrera or Trout?
Scroll ahead to see where the two of them and the other top five candidates for the award look in this week's rankings.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
5. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Oakland A's
Last Week: Unranked
The problem with the phrase "Most Valuable Player" is that the word "Valuable" has no set meaning. It can be interpreted to mean pretty much anything.
The new-school crowd interprets "valuable" quite literally by using WAR as a means to narrow down which players have truly provided the most value for their teams.
The old-school crowd interprets it a little differently. For them, it's a question of which player is/was most vital to his team's success. Essentially, it's a question of which player a given team simply couldn't live without.
If we're going by the old-school guidelines, then I see no reason why Yoenis Cespedes isn't a top AL MVP candidate. Cespedes' health has been shaky this year, to be sure. So has his production, which has had a peaks-and-valleys nature to it pretty much the entire season.
But make no mistake about it, the A's aren't where they are today without Cespedes. When he plays, they have a record of 79-46, which equates to a winning percentage of .632. To put that in perspective, the Tigers' winning percentage when Miguel Cabrera plays is .538. The Angels' winning percentage when Mike Trout plays is .585. Just sayin'.
Lest you think this is all coincidental, it's really not. When he's been healthy, Cespedes has been one of the most dangerous offensive forces in the American League. On the surface, his numbers are strong. Cespedes is hitting .291/.353/.509 with 23 homers, 82 RBI, 69 runs scored and 16 stolen bases. Solid numbers for only 126 games.
The advanced stats like Cespedes too. His weighted on-base average—a FanGraphs stat that combines all the different aspects of hitting into a single metric—is .371. That ranks him ahead of hitters like Austin Jackson and Albert Pujols, and only six points off of Joe Mauer's pace.
Cespedes' weighted runs created plus—a stat that measures a player's offensive value as compared to the league average—is 139. That ranks him in the same company as Mauer, Josh Willingham and Josh Hamilton.
There's a case to be made that Hamilton should be on this list over Cespedes, and for a long time he was. He's not this week because Cespedes has been almost as valuable offensively this season as Hamilton despite playing in about 20 fewer games, and because Hamilton isn't even the most valuable player on his own team.
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers
Last Week: No. 3
If there's a legit AL MVP candidate on the Rangers, it's Adrian Beltre. Not Josh Hamilton.
Beltre's numbers are good enough at first glance. He's hitting .319/.357/.563 with 36 home runs, 101 RBI and 95 runs scored. He ranks in the top 10 in several offensive categories, including batting average, homers, RBI and OPS.
You may think that Beltre's offensive output isn't as good as that of Hamilton, who's hitting .288/.358/.585 with 43 homers and 127 RBI, but you'd be wrong. Not if we go by advanced metrics, anyway. Per FanGraphs, Beltre boasts a wOBA of .386 and a wRC+ of 139. Hamilton's wOBA is .389, and his wRC+ is 141.
As such, the offensive divide between Hamilton and Beltre isn't all that wide. Their offensive outputs this season have been just about even.
Beltre finds himself on this list over Hamilton because Beltre has also been an impact defensive player. He's not having his best defensive season at the hot corner, but his 9.8 UZR and +13 DRS (defensive runs saved) are still well above average.
Beltre's contributions add up to a WAR of 6.3. That's good for fourth in the American League.
That's the new-school argument for Beltre. The old-school argument for him is that he also happens to be a .373/.413/.843 hitter with 17 home runs in his last 35 games, and he's put up those numbers in pressure games while simultaneously battling injuries.
He's not the MVP, but Beltre would probably win the MVBA (Most Valuable Badass) award if there was one.
3. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
Last Week: No. 4
Miguel Cabrera is the best hitting infielder in the American League. No further discussion is needed there. But the best all-around infielder in the American League? That honor belongs to Robinson Cano.
Cano is having one of his finest seasons at the plate this year, as he's hitting .306/.373/.531 with a career-high 30 home runs, 85 RBI and 100 runs scored. He ranks in the top 10 in the AL in batting average, OBP, runs, slugging and OPS.
Per FanGraphs, Cano bears a wOBA of .382 and a wRC+ of 142. Both of those figures rank in the top 10 of the American League as well.
There's a good chance Cano will walk away with his second Gold Glove Award when all is said and done this season. His 8.2 UZR ranks second behind Dustin Pedroia among AL second basemen, but Cano leads the way in DRS at +13.
The end result is a WAR that FanGraphs has calculated at 7.0. The only AL player with a higher WAR than Cano is Mike Trout.
In case you're wondering, Cano is up a spot in this week's rankings because he's coming off a brilliant week at the plate. In six games, he hit .625/.630/.833 with five RBI and six runs scored. He collected multiple hits in all six games.
All the same, Cano is still looking up at the top two candidates in the AL MVP race, and we all know who they are. As for which one of them has the edge...
2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Last Week: No. 2
Yup, Miguel Cabrera is still second in the running with three days left to go in the regular season. For that matter, he's been second in the running for quite a while at this point. I'll explain why he's not No. 1 in just a moment, but first let's give Cabrera his due credit for the season he's having.
Yes, Cabrera is in Triple Crown territory. He's presently leading the league in hitting with an average of .325, and in RBI with 126. He and Josh Hamilton are tied for the AL lead with 43 home runs. Elsewhere, Cabrera ranks fourth in the AL with a .390 OBP, and he leads the AL in slugging (.601) and OPS (.991).
There's been a lot of chatter lately about how the Triple Crown is not a true measure of a player's overall value, and in my opinion that is absolutely true. We know that RBI are almost meaningless when it comes to determining how valuable a player is on offense, and batting average has its limitations as well.
But before you get up in arms, just know that the advanced metrics tell us the same thing that Cabrera's Triple Crown pursuit tells us: He's an elite hitter.
Per FanGraphs, Cabrera ranks second in the American League with a wOBA of .413. He also ranks second in wRC+ at 163. Just to throw in one more, he ranks second in the AL with an OPS+ of 164, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
And yes, despite the fact he's cooled down lately, Cabrera has been very, very good in September. He's compiled a 1.032 OPS while hitting 10 homers and racking up 27 RBI. He's led the Tigers to a 16-12 record that has them on the verge of clinching the AL Central.
So by the time Wednesday is over, Cabrera could have won the Triple Crown while also leading the Tigers to a postseason berth that looked to be beyond their reach for a while there. For many, this would make him a lock for the MVP.
I'll explain why it doesn't in the next slide.
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: No. 1
No matter what Miguel Cabrera does in the next three days, Mike Trout is going to be the man to beat in the AL MVP race when the regular season comes to a close.
This is an obvious sign that I lean toward new-school trains of thought, but the thing about Trout that I think everyone has to appreciate is this: What he's done this season is essentially provide a new definition for the term "valuable."
For starters, Trout is an elite offensive player. He's hitting .321/.395/.557 with 30 home runs, 127 runs scored and 48 stolen bases. He leads the AL in runs and steals, and he ranks in the top 10 in average, OBP, slugging and OPS.
According to FanGraphs, Trout edges Cabrera for the AL lead in both wOBA and wRC+. His wOBA sits at .419, and his wRC+ sits at 172. These numbers indicate that Trout is the better offensive player between the two, and that should actually make perfect sense. Trout gets on base more frequently, and he uses his legs to take extra bases and score more runs. In a sense, he's the perfect offensive player.
He's also already achieved something far more rare than a Triple Crown season. The Triple Crown has been accomplished 15 times before. Trout is already the first player in MLB history to hit 30 homers, steal 48 bases and score 127 runs in a single season.
It's not just offense that makes Trout great. Among AL center fielders with at least 800 innings logged in the field, he has significant leads in both UZR and DRS. It will be an absolute tragedy if he doesn't win a Gold Glove this season.
For his part, Cabrera is in the red in both UZR and DRS. If you look beyond his .966 fielding percentage—a heavily flawed stat to begin with—you'll see that he's a well below-average fielder. To boot, it doesn't need to be argued that he's a liability on the basepaths.
Because Trout is a better offensive player, fielder and baserunner than Cabrera, it should come as no surprise that his WAR blows Cabrera's out of the water. FanGraphs has Trout at 10.0, and Cabrera at 6.9.
The counterargument here is that the player with the best WAR shouldn't automatically get the MVP, and I agree. But if you think WAR is the extent of my reasoning, think again. If it was, Cano would be ranked ahead of Cabrera in these rankings.
And if you really want to debate how much Cabrera and Trout mean to respective teams, I'll refer you back to the stats I shared on the Cespedes slide.
When Cabrera plays, the Tigers are a .538 baseball team. When Trout plays, the Angels are a .585 baseball team.
Last Week's Rankings
5. Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers
There's no obvious choice for the No. 5 spot on this list. Hamilton is out this week because Yoenis Cespedes caught my eye with his recent performance, and because there was a legit case to be made that he's been more "valuable" than Hamilton.
4. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
3. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers
Down one, but through no real fault of his own.
2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Steady as she goes.
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
I rest my case.
Feel free to check out last week's rankings.
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