For a change, instead of harping on the "why not," let's focus on the "why."
Very often when it comes to an awards season or decision that requires a vote in any field—be it politics, film, television or, yes, baseball—we tend to present the negative as often as the positive. And that's just not a fun, happy, healthy way to go through life, now is it?
So today, as we discuss Major League Baseball's final—and most important, many would claim—individual honor for the 2013 season, the Most Valuable Player award, we're going to highlight the positive in explaining why a certain National League player and a certain American Leaguer may very well have their names announced Thursday night.
This isn't about tearing down the other four finalists: Paul Goldschmidt and Yadier Molina in the NL; Mike Trout and Chris Davis in the AL. It's meant as a celebration of the achievements of two players who are considered the front-runners and who are, for so many reasons, both worthy and deserving of winning MVP.
Let's start with baseball's older circuit.
Why Andrew McCutchen Deserves the 2013 National League MVP Award
Andrew McCutchen's traditional statistics don't necessarily jump off the page, smack you in the face and scream, "Look at me!" That's part of the reason they're highlighted in this table:
|NL MVP Finalists: Traditional Statistics|
In that regard, while McCutchen stacks up rather well against Molina, he might actually come up a bit short of Goldschmidt, who wins slugging percentage, runs, homers and RBI. Still, the 27-year-old McCutchen's batting average is nearly identical to Molina's, and his all-important on-base percentage is the best of this trio, which speaks to his elite ability to avoid making outs.
You only have to wipe away a light layer of digits, though, to get to where McCutchen's offensive performance really begins to shine.
|NL MVP Finalists: Advanced Statistics|
Here, it's plain to see that the Pirates outfielder is more or less Goldschmidt's equal in advanced metrics like OPS+, wOBA and wRC+, despite the fact that the Diamondbacks first baseman—who led the NL with 36 homers and 125 RBI—holds a clear advantage in the base power-production numbers.
And then, of course, there's wins above replacement (WAR), the all-encompassing measure that factors in offense, defense and baserunning. McCutchen essentially leaves the other two in the dust here, which speaks to his all-around abilities as an elite center fielder and top-notch baserunner.
Beyond the numbers, McCutchen already has earned the Silver Slugger Award this year, his second consecutive. Another honor he's won two years running? The Players Choice Most Outstanding Player in the NL for the second straight season—meaning his very own peers picked him as the top performer in the Senior Circuit.
Perhaps above all of this, though, is the narrative. That shouldn't take precedence over the numbers, but it's also impossible—and wrong—to ignore.
This was the Pirates' thought-it'd-never-come breakthrough campaign, the one in which after 21 long years, they not only posted a winning season but also returned to the playoffs. The turnaround from perennial loser and laughingstock to a 94-68 team to be reckoned with came primarily on the strength of their defense and pitching, as their third-ranked team ERA of 3.26 proves.
The offense? That was a different story. Pittsburgh finished 20th overall in runs scored and in the bottom half in everything from average to OBP to SLG.
That should give you an idea, then, of just how valuable McCutchen was to his team's performance. In fact, he scored 97 of the Pirates' 634 total runs on the season, which translates to a whopping 15.3 percent—the third-highest in the entire sport behind only Matt Carpenter (16.1 percent) and Shin-Soo Choo (15.3 percent).
And to present another feather for his cap, McCutchen improved as the year went along. After a .302/.376/.471 triple-slash in the first half, he went full-on bonkers with a .339/.441/.561 line. That 1.001 OPS after the break was third-best in baseball.
In other words, as great as he had been already, McCutchen became arguably the best player in the game as the season progressed and the weight of a record 20 consecutive losing seasons transformed into the pressure of trying to secure a postseason berth in the most competitive division in the majors this year.
That's an MVP.
Why Miguel Cabrera Deserves the 2013 American League MVP Award
This one is liable to cause a WAR. (Get it? Is this thing on?)
Remember, though: We're not here to cause problems, only to dispense praise. So if you believe Mr. Mike Trout—the greatest player in baseball by these eyes and in this mind—is more deserving of this honor, well, you won't find an argument here. Let's try to keep the peace, mmmkay?
There are, however, plenty of reasons to pick Miguel Cabrera, starting once again with the normal numbers:
|AL MVP Finalists: Traditional Statistics|
First off, let's just acknowledge that these three players had absolutely insane offensive seasons, especially amid a stretch during which run scoring is in decline and pitching is at the pinnacle.
As for Cabrera, specifically, the 30-year-old led all players across both leagues in the three slash stats. That's right: He had the best batting average (.348), the top on-base percentage (.442) and the No. 1 slugging percentage (.636).
It's been four seasons since the last time a player did that just in one league; Joe Mauer bested all other ALers—and took the MVP trophy—in 2009. The last time a player led all of MLB in each slash stat? Try all the way back 2003, when Barry Bonds was still going bonkers in winning his second of four straight MVPs.
What's incredible about the above is that a year ago, Cabrera was named MVP after winning the goldarn Triple Crown—and then he went ahead and had a better season this year. While he didn't quite take a second straight Triple Crown, he was in the running for it through almost the entire season.
To that point, by the way, there is some belief that instead of average, homers and RBI, the new Triple Crown numbers should be the all-rate triple-slash stats. And as we've already established, Cabrera led everyone in those. So he did win a second straight Crown, just in a different way.
But let's get back to the WAR war, shall we? Here's a look at the same advanced metrics we used to compare the NL crop:
|AL MVP Finalists: Advanced Statistics|
Again, there's more Cabrera domination here, but you no doubt noticed that final column, where Trout leads this trio and sported the top WAR in baseball. Again. That's because he is, in fact, a better all-around player than Davis and even Cabrera when factoring in all aspects of the game.
And yet, while Trout has been busy winning WAR, Cabrera checked in as the Players Choice Player of the Year for the second consecutive time. His peers' opinion of him as the definitive very best in the sport isn't something to take lightly.
Even Trout agrees, as he said late in the season: "I can't take [MVP] away from Cabrera. He won the division, is going to the playoffs, and we're heading home. That's a big contribution, being on a winning team."
Speaking of that, Cabrera made a major amount of hay in the season's first half to help the Tigers get out in front of the AL Central—a lead they wouldn't give up the rest of the way. To wit, he became the first player to reach 30 homers and 90 RBI in the first half in history (a feat that Davis, improbably, matched).
That's not to say that his post-All-Star break wasn't elite. He hit .316/.411/.565 from mid-July on. He did that despite battling leg, abdomen and groin injuries that sapped him of his usual strength and eventually resulted in surgery after the playoffs.
In the end, the icing on Cabrera's cake, and what separates him from Davis and especially Trout, is that he was a season-long force for a team that won its division and made the playoffs. While it may not be totally fair to hold that against the other two, there's a reason this award has the word "valuable"—and not, say, "outstanding"—in it.
None of this is to say that Goldschmidt and Molina and Trout and Davis don't also have persuasive, extremely legitimate cases for the MVP award. The point here, after all, is to stick with the positive, and those four other finalists deserve to be candidates for their incredible seasons.
But McCutchen and Cabrera? They deserve to win.