Cabrera salutes the Kansas City crowd after his AL Triple Crown is official.
As the 2012 American League Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera automatically wins the MVP, right?
Not so fast.
Since 1920 when Major League Baseball began recording RBI as an official statistic, there have been nine players who’ve won the Triple Crown.
Of those 11 total wins, Ted Williams (1947, 1942), Lou Gehrig (1934) and Chuck Klein (1933) did not win the MVP of their respective leagues in the same year.
While some fans, analysts and players deem this as relative insanity, there is clearly precedent to the incommensurable value between the Triple Crown and MVP in Major League Baseball.
Moving forward to 2012, a similar phenomenon may take place with Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers. Cabrera led the American League with a .330 BA, 44 home runs and 139 RBI. He led the entire MLB in the latter two categories.
Despite those eye-popping numbers, a certain rookie center fielder is right on his tail in the AL MVP race.
The Angels’ Mike Trout has absolutely taken Major League Baseball by storm since he took his first at-bat with the Halos this year on April 28.
Trout is one of the truest embodiments of a five-tool player the league has witnessed in some time.
He hits for average (.326). He hits for power (30 home runs, .564 SLG).
He gets on base (.399 OBP), offers world-class speed and steals bases at a 90.7 percent success rate.
And he’s a plus-defender—a total highlight reel waiting to happen in center field.
Before the Angels called up Trout in late April, they were eight games under .500 at 8-14. After his call-up, the Angels went 81-59.
Eight games under before, 22 over .500 after.
Remember, this is a player who accrued just 123 at-bats in 2011. He was a complete neophyte this season in every sense of the word.
(He also happens to share my birthday and has more talent in his pinky than I do in my whole body, but that’s beside the point.)
Let’s now create a side-by-side comparison of Cabrera and Trout’s common statistics, and then move on to the advanced metrics.
Note: Stats in bold indicate an MLB No.1 ranking in that category.
Cabrera (161 G, 622 AB): .330/.393/.606/.999, 205 H (40 2B) 44 HR, 139 RBI, 109 R, 4 SB (1 CS), 66 BB, 98 K
Trout (139 G, 559 AB): .326/.399/.564/.963, 182 H (27 2B, 8 3B), 30 HR, 83 RBI, 129 R, 49 SB (5 CS), 67 BB, 139 K
In terms of sheer power, Cabrera has the obvious edge. Yet, Trout is the clearly superior combination of power and speed, ranking just one below Cabrera in runs created (138 to 139), and edging him in on-base percentage.
Time now for the more-nerdy sabermetrics.
Cabrera: -0.2 Defensive WAR, 7.5 Offensive WAR, 6.9 Total WAR (fifth in MLB)
Trout: 2.2 DWAR, 8.6 OWAR, 10.7 Total WAR
Per Baseball Reference, WAR is the “single number that presents the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement player would” (AAA or AAAA level player).
These numbers essentially mean Trout was worth more to his team than Cabrera. He added double-digit wins with his bat, speed and glove. Cabrera could not say the same.
I can already picture the fury brewing in the Pro Cabrera Camp. I can also appreciate the anger towards these purported telling metrics.
How can they honestly convey that Trout was more valuable to the Angels? How can they say that Cabrera, a man who was No. 1 in the league in HR, RBI, SLG and OPS and that led his team to he postseason, possibly not earn the MVP?
Well, it comes down to two interrelated factors: the Angels sported a better record based primarily off Trout’s contributions and Cabrera had a better supporting cast.
Here are the players on each squad with the top-three WAR numbers.
Los Angeles Angels
Torii Hunter 5.5, Albert Pujols 4.6, Erick Aybar 4.0: 14.1
Jered Weaver 3.7, Ernesto Frieri 1.3, Zack Greinke 1.2: 6.2
Austin Jackson 5.3, Prince Fielder 4.5, Alex Avila 2.2: 12.0
Justin Verlander 7.5, Max Scherzer 4.0, Doug Fister 3.1: 14.6
Who deserves the 2012 AL MVP?
Even though Trout had a superior overall lineup, he was the player who set the table for everyone else. He batted leadoff and jumpstarted the offense like no other player in the league. The Angels absolutely relied on him.
Cabrera, meanwhile, was incredibly productive and undoubtedly powered his respective lineup in the middle of the order. However, Prince Fielder protected him out of the cleanup spot in every game of the season. The mashing first baseman slugged 30 HR and drove in 108 while batting .313 behind Cabrera.
The Tigers also generated more victories by way of their formidable pitching staff. Their top pitchers with a Wins Above Replacement of at least 1.0 totaled a WAR of 25.9. In comparison, Detroit’s key batters with a WAR of over 1.0 (minus Cabrera’s 6.9) totaled a collective metric of 14.1.
Using the same criteria for the Angels, their leading pitchers produced a total WAR of just 6.2. When compared to Trout’s massive 10.7, this indicates that the leadoff man meant everything to the Angels success. He accounted for 40 percent (10.7 of 26.5) of his team’s primary means for winning baseball games.
Cabrera remains a completely deserving candidate for the AL MVP. Not a player, fan or baseball pundit should become outraged if he wins it, either. He actually had a stronger run down the stretch.
But taking all statistics, metrics, team records and intangibles into account, Trout is the most deserving.
If it wasn’t for the baseball gods looking so favorably on the Oakland As, the Angels would have qualified for the postseason. Mike Trout certainly did all he could do.
Note: This writer is not an Angels fan. He remembers all too well what happened to his Giants in 2002. Hopefully this lends some objectivity to the argument.
Feel free to unload any vitriolic sentiments, Tigers fans.
Follow him on Twitter @jlevitt16