Mirror Mirror, On The Wall, Who Had The Rarest Season Of Them All?
Every league in the history of sports has had a few seemingly unreachable personal achievements that apply to a full regular season, averaging a triple double in the NBA, rushing for more than 2,105 yards in the NFL to beat Eric Dickerson’s record and the Triple Crown in baseball, to name a few. There are many reasons why these records and achievements are seen as impossible to do, each record/achievement is either accomplished very rarely or in some cases, it’s never been done at all. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera achieved the impossible in hitting for the Triple Crown this season and it’s an amazing sight to see someone wear the crown again but it brings up the question that’s been asked in publications and amongst fans for quite a while now, does it make Cabrera the “runaway” Most Valuable Player in the American League?
Across the aisle from Cabrera is Angels rookie prodigy Mike Trout, who might have put up the best rookie numbers that have ever been seen by anyone in the long history of baseball. There are no fancy names to call what he did this season but it’s an opinion shared by most that what he did, is nothing short of amazing and rare. For anyone who is running a major league ballclub, they are on the search for the rarest of all players, the five tool player. Those five tools that are so very sought out for are power, average, speed, throwing skills and fielding skills. Trout is the absolute definition of the ‘Five Tool Player’, someone who has lived up the hype he had as a prospect and in his first season in the big leagues, put up numbers that’ll be talked about for a long time to come.
Coming into this season, both the Tigers and Angels had acquired power hitting first basemen, both from the National League. Those players are Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols and while each man was seen as MVP candidates in the upcoming season, their numbers were overshadowed and rightfully so, by their teammates, Cabrera and Trout respectively. Cabrera’s skill set has been known, ever since he won the World Series with the former Florida Marlins in 03 as a rookie, he’ll hit almost anything you throw at him and he’ll hit it far while his defense, that’s not a strong point for the guy.
At this point, a voter would be hard pressed to make a bad choice for the AL MVP, with all of the choices that are in front of them, including Cabrera and Trout. There’s a few other candidates who deserve recognition, such as Texas Rangers players Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton, Toronto Blue Jays power man Edwin Encarnacion and many others but really, it’s more of a race for third place behind Cabrera and Trout, a hard truth due to the amazing statistics that they put up this season. If you take every stat, situation and individual performance that’s on the table, there’s really only two candidates to pick between, that being Trout and Cabrera.
It would be extremely easy to give Miguel Cabrera the MVP, seeing as he achieved something that hasn’t been done since the 60’s and the fact that the Tigers made the playoffs, where they are now in the World Series but if you take the time and look at all of the statistics that are in front of you, the lead that Cabrera has above Trout in most people’s minds closes to a very small margin, if Cabrera actually has the lead at all at that point. The Trout/Cabrera debate has been raging on for quite a while now and today, I’d like to bring up a point that seems to be lost amongst the thousands of debates going on about the subject.
Yes, it’s true that Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown achievement is something that all of us, as baseball fans, should cherish and remember that if it takes as long as it did for Cabrera to hit for the Triple Crown and the time passed since Carl Yastrzemski last hit for it, we may not see the feat accomplished for dozens of years. Still, we’re in an age of baseball that sees a lot of players who really could hit for the Triple Crown and honestly, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see another player do it again soon. There are quite a few players who look like they could do it (Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp and Mike Trout come to mind), it’s mostly just up to their teammates to improve (or for their teams to replace those said players) so they can raise their RBI totals. You see, the runs batted in statistic does reflect on what kind of hitter you are but it really doesn’t make you the best player in the league by having the most of them. It has to do with your teammates, whether they’re getting on base, how a player performs at the plate when there are runners in scoring position (RISP) and it’s more of a stat that reflects how your team plays as a whole. That’s not to take away from Cabrera but when you’ve got a lineup like he does, there’s going to be a lot of players on the base paths.
With the Home Runs, it’s certainly nice to get those runs in immediately due to the long ball but when it comes down to it, it doesn’t make you the best player in the league, just by hitting them. For example, take a look at a man who hit 41 HR’s this year, Chicago’s Adam Dunn. You’d think he’s a great player by all the HR’s he hit but really, that’s all he does. He’s a strikeout machine (A whopping 222 strikeouts in 2012), he doesn’t hit for average (.204 batting average in 2012) and had a WAR of only 1.7. Still, most casual baseball fans would say that he deserves some MVP consideration due to all of those HR’s when really, that’s just the “allure of the long ball” that sucks in some fans and journalists. It doesn’t matter how you hit it, you just want your team to score as many runs as they can and that’s where Trout excels.
Believe it or not, Mike Trout not only led the league in Runs (runs that he scored himself) but he had twenty more Runs than the next player, who is, of course, Cabrera. It was 129 to 109, a statistic that’s made even more interesting by the fact that Trout had sixty three less at-bats than Cabrera. It’s something that’s really never been seen before, a rookie player with this kind of contribution. Take everything into account and there’s a lot of statistics that make the case for Trout as MVP but none may be as damning as the argument that Trout, with his defensive skills and Cabrera’s lack of, is the true “runaway” American League MVP candidate.
Take a look at the UZR ratings, the rating that determines a player’s defensive rating. It’s a statistic that hasn’t been used as often as the “old-school” statistics, such as RBI/AVG/etc. but it is a legitimate enough statistic to hold meaning when it comes to a player’s performance. Cabrera’s UZR for the 2012 season was absolutely terrible, with a rating of -10.0. Take a look at Trout’s UZR and it’s the complete opposite, with an amazing rating of 10.6. Defense is severely underrated when it comes to determining a player’s value to their team but even if you’re of the mindset that offense is all that matters, that’s still a 20 point difference between the two players. Think about the two players and what they’ve accomplished however you want but with the UZR ratings, the difference between the two players starts to make you think that Cabrera’s overall performance really wasn’t as ‘world beating’ as most would be led to believe.
The truth is, if you look at the two players and look at the lines of possible perfection, Mike Trout reached that mark this season. That’s not to take away from Cabrera’s performance but really; it’s a little like Adam Dunn’s performance this season. Give him ten more home runs and Dunn would be the home run champion. Most fans would see that achievement as something that proves that he’s one of the best hitters in the league. Take a look at the statistics that were shown earlier in this article and even if he did hit ten more home runs, he’d still have absolutely terrible statistics, except for his home run total. When it comes to a player’s performance, you can’t buy into the hype and presume that because of one achievement, that he’s the best player to have played that season. Take a look at what Mike Trout has done and he’s had a season that really, hasn’t been seen before. Add in the fact that he’s a rookie, had fewer games to collect his stats and that Trout was either better or very close to Cabrera in most of the two player’s statistic totals (except for home runs) and if you can look at the game of baseball in a newer and possibly more thorough way, you would most likely see that Mike Trout is the American League MVP and on the flipside, it may not be too close of a race after all.
It’s the Most Valuable Player award, not the Most Valuable Batter award and I’ll leave you with these statistics, the ones that you’ve most likely seen all around baseball. Take into consideration that even with Cabrera being the overall leader in a lot of offensive categories, he’s still not the most valuable player in the league, when it comes down to WAR. Cabrera will probably win the AL MVP award but think for yourself, is there more to this race than meets the eye?
Mike Trout WAR (Wins Above Replacement rating): 10.0
Miguel Cabrera WAR (Wins Above Replacement rating): 7.1