If Mike Trout does not win the American League MVP, I will lose all faith in humanity.
Okay, maybe that’s a stretch. The Most Valuable Player in the AL has been one of the hottest topics in baseball with the subject becoming scorching hot over the past few weeks.
For the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, you have the phenom and without-a-doubt choice for this year’s Rookie of the Year award-winner in Mike Trout. The center fielder, at 21 years of age, is setting himself up to be the winner of MVP awards for years to come.
On the other side, Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera has the opportunity to accomplish something on a baseball diamond that fans haven’t seen since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967: win the Triple Crown.
Before going into my reasons for why Trout should come out on top, I want to give full and complete disclosure that I believe both have had seasons deserving of the award. Please do not take my higher admiration for Trout’s season as a knock on Cabrera’s accomplishments in 2012. Both are incredible.
This is, however, an article on the most valuable player, not players.
A decision must be made.
And although I don’t have a vote, if I did I would select Trout.
While the numbers speak volumes, the numbers themselves aren’t the entire basis of my argument, but it’s still a good place to start.
Cabrera leads all three major batting categories of batting average, home runs and runs batted in over Trout with just two games left in the season. Cabrera’s stats would earn him the first Triple Crown in 45 years, and that is nothing to just brush off.
Cabrera has a stat line of .329/44/137 and helped earn the Detroit Tigers their first consecutive division titles in 77 years.
At .325/30/83, Trout’s season will end on Wednesday with the Angels failing to make it to October baseball.
These numbers are a tad deceiving for a variety of reasons.
Again, no knock on Cabrera. Any GM in baseball would love to have a guy playing for their team who put up those numbers. Just as I’m sure the Angels would have loved to have had Mike Trout for an entire season as opposed to calling him up in late April when the team was 6-14. Hindsight is 20/20, but for those who value the “did (player) lead his team to the playoffs” argument, you do have to wonder what type of impact on the standings Trout could have made in those 20 games he missed.
Even without those extra 20 games, Trout still managed to do something no rookie has ever accomplished: hitting 30-plus home runs while stealing 40-plus bases in the same season. Currently sitting at 48 steals, if Trout were to swipe two more bags by the end of his season Wednesday, he would join Eric Davis and Barry Bonds as the only players in MLB history with a 30 HR/50 SB season.
Trout has eight triples this season compared to zero by Cabrera and has also scored 129 runs compared to Cabrera’s 109.
Where they bat in the lineup plays a decent-sized role here. Trout is a leadoff guy, so it is assumed he would score more runs than someone like Cabrera who bats in the middle of the order. On the other side, Cabrera typically bats with runners on base more frequently than Trout and that gives him an advantage in the RBI count. Looking at these numbers, the case for Cabrera to win MVP is not huge in my opinion, but from the basic stats alone he would get my vote.
This isn’t your grandfather’s game anymore. The entire hierarchy, from ownership to general managers, to fans like ourselves have new stats and tools to evaluate talent in a much more accurate way than in the past.
Because of this I believe the Triple Crown is overrated.
Since 1909, the award has been won 12 times, including both leagues having Triple Crown winners in Jimmie Foxx and Chuck Klein in 1933. Yes, it was a different era back then, but the whole “once in a lifetime” argument is a bit tired in my opinion. Let’s save that phrase for a Cubs World Series title.
On that same thought, I am not a huge saber metrics guy. I believe the game has done an excellent job at integrating technology (okay, minus the replays) and bringing the game along while still holding on to the romanticism of the good old days of baseball. When determining an MVP, I believe the old school stats and saber metrics should be mixed in with watching the games themselves.
This is where Trout takes over the vote in my opinion.
As mentioned earlier, Trout is much quicker than Cabrera as seen by stats such as stolen bases (48 to 4). What doesn’t show up in the cookie-cut stat sheet of MLB.com is how frequently Trout has advanced from first to third on a shallow fly ball and how often he is able to score from second on a ball that routinely wouldn’t allow a run.
By watching Trout play, you realize just how much of an effect he has on the game that pen and paper could never tell you.
Sure, in the box score it may just say “F-8,” but in reality Trout has made numerous plays this season that should have been singles, doubles in the gap or even home runs, and turned them into outs.
Cabrera is not too great of a defender. And while the move to third, where he is an average/slightly below average fielder in my opinion, was done in order to accommodate Prince Fielder’s arrival in Detroit, the defensive aspect has me swaying heavily toward Trout.
Miguel Cabrera is one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. If you disagree with that, I am not entirely sure why you are still reading this. When that guy has a bat in his hand, the game could change at any moment.
Mike Trout, on the other hand, is the ultimate five-tool player.
He combines hitting for average with power, can field outstandingly with solid arm strength, as well as change the dynamic of the game with his speed.
WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, is a great way to calculate just how a player affects a game based on everything they do on the diamond. To simplify a rather complex formula, it assigns a numerical value to how many wins that player earns a team compared to a “replacement level” fielder at the same position.
Mike Trout has a WAR of 10.3 while Miguel Cabrera is at 7.1. Trout has led in AL WAR ranking every full month this year with the exception of September, when he was second behind Adrian Beltre. As I’ve stated, I’m not a huge fan of saber metrics, but that stat is very impressive.
There is value in leading your team to the postseason. There is value in the Triple Crown award. There is also value in an outstanding member of a team who virtually carried the organization on his shoulders starting in late April and fell just short of October.
You can’t take a team to the promised land all alone. It takes the entire roster.
Mike Trout didn’t single-handedly fail by not getting the Angels in, just as Miguel Cabrera was not the sole contributor to Detroit’s division title. For what it’s worth, the Angels have a better record.
At the end of the day, both guys are deserving. Had the rest of the Angels lived up to expectations and made the playoffs like Detroit, I feel that the conversation would be much closer.
When I eliminate the thought of the team and consider who is the Most Valuable Player?
Mike Trout. Hands down.
Brandon Wheeland is a staff writer for Climbing Tal’s Hill where he covers the Houston Astros. Read his thoughts on all things sports at his blog Wheeland On Sports. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonWheeland