Miguel Cabrera probably will win the AL MVP, but should he?
Next Thursday, Major League Baseball will announce the winners of this year's Most Valuable Player awards.
Which, I suppose, means we only have a little more than a week to continue arguing about who should win the darn things. We better make the most of it.
There's really not much of a debate over who should win the MVP on the National League side of the fence, but the argument over who should win the American League MVP is more like a war. I would bet good money that the AL MVP situation has ended at least one marriage and led two or three fathers to disown their sons.
Everyone has their opinions on who should win each MVP award and why, but who will win the awards is another matter entirely. That's not a question of who really deserves to win; it's a question of which way the voters will lean.
With that in mind, let's take one last look at who should win MVPs this year and who will win MVPs this year.
The rarest breed of ballplayer is a catcher who is elite both offensively and defensively while also being a true team leader.
Meet Buster Posey. He really is one of a kind.
Posey destroyed expectations for how he would perform coming off the brutal leg injury that he suffered last May, playing in 148 games and hitting a major league-high .336 with 24 homers and 103 RBI. He was particularly productive in the second half of the season, hitting .385/.456/.646 with 14 homers and 60 RBI in 71 games.
The key sabermetric stats agree that Posey was a money offensive player in 2012. For example, he finished second in the NL behind Ryan Braun with a .406 Weighted On-Base Average, a stat that weighs things like the added value of extra-base hits and translates them into a single catch-all offensive metric.
Posey also finished tied with Braun for the NL lead with a 162 Weighted Runs Created Plus, a stat that determines how much more offense (in runs) a player generated compared to a league-average player.
So in this instance, there's basically no disagreement whatsoever between what the traditional offensive stats have to say and what the sabermetric stats have to say. Both say that Posey was one of the NL's elite offensive players in 2012.
Defensively, Posey was not quite on the same level as NL Gold Glove winner Yadier Molina behind the dish. In his defense, nobody is.
Posey, however, did save the Giants a few runs by cutting down runners with his arm and by blocking pitches at the plate, a reality reflected by his final Stolen Base Runs Saved (rSB) and his Passed Pitch Runs (RPP).
Posey wasn't just sound defensively behind the plate either, as he added to his overall value by giving the Giants some decent defense at first base when he wasn't behind the plate.
Add up Posey's various contributions, and you get a player with an NL-best 8.0 WAR. The player with the best WAR shouldn't always win the MVP award, but I'm perfectly willing to give Posey the nod in this case due to the leadership role he played on the Giants. There's no question that he is their heart and soul.
There's probably not going to be a ton of drama when the NL MVP is announced. It will only be a surprise if Posey doesn't win.
There's a strong case to be made that Ryan Braun should win the NL MVP for the second straight year, as he was right there with Posey in terms of offensive production while also playing solid defense and giving the Brewers some quality baserunning. The Brewers didn't qualify for the postseason, but they wouldn't have even come close without Braun.
But Braun isn't going to steal the MVP from Posey. He simply impressed too many people in 2012, and it bodes well for him that he impressed both the sabermetrically inclined voters and the old-school voters who favor things like batting average and overall team success.
The sabermetrically inclined voters will have gone for Posey because all their beloved numbers tell them that he was statistically the most valuable player in the National League. Guys like Braun and Andrew McCutchen came close, but Posey outpaced them in WAR whether you consult FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference.com or Baseball Prospectus.
The old-school voters will have gone for Posey because he won a batting title while leading the Giants to a division title. They also surely appreciated that he was at his best when the games counted most with his excellent showing in the second half of the season. He further helped himself by continuing to carry the Giants after Melky Cabrera was suspended.
There's really not much of a debate here. I'll go out on a limb and guess that Posey is going to win the NL MVP in a landslide.
If he does, the first three years of his career will have seen him win an MVP, a Rookie of the Year, a Comeback Player of the Year, a batting title and two World Series championships.
Not even Derek Jeter was this accomplished in the first three years of his career.
OMG! RABBLE! RABBLE! RABBLE!
Yeah, I know. And trust me, I'm as sick of this argument as anybody else. I've said what I have to say on the matter countless times, and there's not much more to say now that the season is over.
But there's one analogy I haven't used yet that seems appropriate. The best compliment that can be paid to Mike Trout is that he was basically MLB's very own LeBron James in 2012. He did it all, in spectacular fashion to boot.
Since Miguel Cabrera was more of a one-trick pony, I suppose he was more like MLB's own Kobe Bryant in 2012.
There's no argument that Trout was a better overall player than Cabrera this season. At the absolute least, Cabrera supporters have to acknowledge that Trout was by far the superior defender and baserunner between the two. Trout led all of baseball with 49 stolen bases, and he was robbed of a Gold Glove in a year that saw him finish with an 11.4 UZR and a Defensive Runs Saved of plus-21.
Cabrera, meanwhile, effectively did more harm than good with his baserunning and defense. He finished with a UBR (Ultimate Base Running) of minus-2.8 and posted a minus-10.0 UZR and a minus-four DRS. He was a poor defender at third base, regardless of what his fielding percentage may say.
Ah yes, but the offense! Surely Cabrera was the superior offensive player!
It's actually not as obvious as you think. Cabrera may have won the Triple Crown by hitting .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBI, but that's not a tell-all testament to his true offensive value. Home runs are fine and dandy, but batting average is overrated and RBI are next to useless.
In terms of how many runs Cabrera was worth in and of himself, he finished with a wRC+ of 166. Trout finished with the exact same wRC+, which shouldn't come as much of a shock if you actually think about how many runs he generated with his baserunning.
Cabrera did top Trout in wOBA, .417 to .409, so there's at least one sabermetric stat that gives Cabrera an edge over Trout in terms of their offensive performances. There are also plenty more that don't, however, as Trout topped Cabrera in True Average, True Runs and Batter VORP, according to Baseball Prospectus.
With their offensive production about equal and Trout holding a significant edge in baserunning and defense, it's no wonder he blew Cabrera away in the WAR race no matter which source you consider. As far as the numbers are concerned, Trout was the most valuable player in the American League this year by a mile.
What Cabrera supporters say at this point is that Miguel led his team into the playoffs and Trout didn't, and he did it by being significantly more productive in the last few weeks of the season than Trout was.
This is a fair point to make, but to give Cabrera all the credit for the fact that the Tigers won the AL Central in the end is to deny credit to the team's starting pitching staff. Detroit's starters were the best in baseball in September and October, going 13-8 with a 2.48 ERA and a collective WAR of 5.3.
Besides, shouldn't the MVP be for a player's entire body of work instead of what he did in the last couple weeks of the season? If so, Trout was both a statistically superior player and the player who had a bigger impact on his team in 2012. The Angels went 80-58 with Trout in their lineup, whereas the Tigers went 87-74 with Cabrera in their lineup. That's a .580 winning percentage up against a .540 winning percentage.
This is to say nothing of the fact that Trout was competing in a superior division. The competition in the AL West this year was far tougher than the competition in the AL Central.
If you subscribe to dogma, Cabrera is the AL MVP. If you subscribe to logic, Trout is the AL MVP.
Of course Miguel Cabrera is going to win the AL MVP award. Where did you think this discussion was headed?
Trout will surely get plenty of support from the sabermetrically inclined crowd, but even some of them probably cast their votes for Cabrera. His resume is not as strong as Trout's, but it's undeniably more sexy.
We know in this day and age that the Triple Crown is an obsolete measurement of a player's overall value, but even I have to admit that it's pretty awesome that Cabrera actually managed to win the darn thing this year.
Anybody who has even the slightest appreciation for baseball history must also appreciate the fact that Cabrera accomplished something that hadn't been done in nearly half a century.
The Triple Crown in and of itself probably would have been enough to convince the majority of voters to cast their votes in favor of Cabrera. The fact that he was so good down the stretch and ultimately helped the Tigers punch their ticket to the postseason is icing on the cake.
I doubt the decision will even be all that close. The baseball world is accepting sabermetrics more and more each year, but many writers and fans still view the game the same way their fathers viewed it.
They'll be happy when Cabrera wins the AL MVP, and there will surely be hell to pay for myself and all the other stats geeks who have been trumpeting Trout's cause all these months.
And that's cool. You can't hurt us so long as we have our pocket protectors on, so do your worst.
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