Miguel Cabrera has his Triple Crown. MVP award, maybe not.
Hold on, now. How could that be?
Mike Trout, that’s how.
It’s the hottest debate in baseball, seemingly pitting old-school traditionalists against new-age number crunchers.
At stake is the American League’s Most Valuable Player award, perhaps the game’s top individual prize.
Cabrera capped an extraordinary season Wednesday night by becoming the first Triple Crown winner in the majors since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. The Detroit Tigers’ slugger led the league with a .330 batting average, 44 homers and 139 RBI – the standard statistical categories by which excellence was commonly judged for the better part of the past century.
“If he’s not the MVP then there’s no such thing,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Trout, however, made some history of his own. Called up from the minors three weeks into the season, the Los Angeles Angels’ rookie quickly became a never-before-seen force prior to his 21st birthday.
Possessing a unique combination of skills, the dynamic kid from New Jersey did it all – hitting home runs and taking them away with highlight-reel catches in center field.
Trout batted .326, second to Cabrera, with 30 homers and 83 RBI. He also led the majors with 49 stolen bases (in 54 attempts) and 129 runs – 20 more than Cabrera in 22 fewer games. The slumping Angels were 6-14 when they brought up Trout and went 83-59 the rest of the way.
And he was the first big league rookie to reach 30 homers and 40 steals in one season and the youngest player with a 30-30 campaign.
“Divide it in half,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “They both had sensational years.”
That would be too easy. The hard part is making a pick.
For anyone who thought winning the Triple Crown would automatically anoint Cabrera the MVP, take note of this: There have been nine Triple Crown seasons since the MVP award was introduced for each league in 1931. Four times, the Triple Crown winner was beaten out for MVP by a player on a pennant winner.
At the center of the argument this year is a modern calculation called WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a figure derived from an assortment of other stats. WAR is designed to go deeper than the conventional numbers in measuring a player’s all-around contribution to team success.
A worthwhile endeavor for sure, though some think the formula is flawed.
Leyland, for example, bemoaned that WAR doesn’t emphasize RBI enough. Others think it’s the most complete and accurate appraisal of a player’s true value.
Trout finished with a WAR number of 10.7, best in the majors, according to baseball-reference.com. Cabrera was at 6.9, fourth in the AL.
The discrepancy is almost ironic, considering how the debate sometimes falls along generational lines. Trout’s sizable advantage is a result of his vastly superior defense and baserunning – traditional fundamentals long held in high regard by baseball’s old guard.
In the end, the only people with the power to decide are the 28 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who have a vote. And if recent history holds a clue, they might lean toward Cabrera because he powered the Tigers to an AL Central title.
Setting aside the strike-shortened season of 1994 when the postseason was canceled, the only time in the last 20 years that the AL MVP didn’t come from a playoff team was 2003, when Alex Rodriguez won with the last-place Texas Rangers.