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  • Cabrera vs. Trout: The MVP Debate for the Ages

    Over the weekend, the Twins got a first-hand look at one of the front-runners for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Miguel Cabrera is trying his best to be the first Triple Crown winner in the American League since Carl Yastrzemski won it back in 1967. There are other deserving candidates in the American League and it looks like the main competition for Cabrera will come in the form of standout rookie Mike Trout. The debate has been swirling over the last couple of weeks as the end of the season is closing in and voters are going to have to decide between the outstanding seasons put together by the top two players in the American League.
    It seems to be a debate between fans that like the old-school statistics such as home runs and RBI versus new-school fans that turn to Sabermetrics for much of their statistical analysis. There have been plenty of opinions circling from writers, coaches, and other players. For voters in the Baseball Writers Association of America, the choice will be up to them and there are plenty of things for them to consider before they make their final choice.

    What weight do the Triple Crown categories hold?
    For Cabrera, it has been arguably his best offensive season in his outstanding career that has spanned the last decade. He sits at the top of all three Triple Crown categories with a .331 batting average, 42 home runs, and 133 RBI. If Cabrera ends up winning the first Triple Crown since the 1960s, there is a good chance the vote could swing his way. There are still plenty of older voters composing the electorate in the BBWAA and a push by these elder statesmen could put the trophy in the hands of Cabrera.

    A couple of weeks ago, it looked like Trout was going to run away with the batting title in the American League. The month of September hasn't been the best for the young Trout as he reaches the end of his rookie campaign. His recent late-season slump has dropped him from the top of the leader-board in batting average and it might be hard for him to reclaim the lead. He also isn't sitting high in the other Triple Crown categories because he missed the first month of the year while he was toiling in the minor leagues.

    Should defensive value be considered?
    When the Tigers signed Prince Fielder in the offseason, it meant Cabrera would need to move from first base back to his previous position at third base. There were many that thought his transition to third base would make for some terrible defensive line-ups for the Tigers but it hasn't been as bad as some thought it would be. He has 13 errors in 363 chances at third but when you look a little deeper things can get more dicey for his defense. By looking at the defensive runs saved statistic, he has cost the Tigers four runs over the course of the year and this translates to a negative defensive WAR for him.

    Trout is one of the best defensive players in the game with his ability to take away hits in center field. If you take a look at the numbers, his defensive runs saved total is an eye-popping 25 so far this year. According to Baseball Reference, this translates to a 2.6 WAR on the defensive side of the ball. His ability to take away home runs has been well chronicled in highlight reels across the country. He also plays a premium defensive position so his team can rely on him to track down balls in parks across the country.

    Does the MVP have to be in the playoffs?
    When the Tigers made the playoffs last year, their ace pitcher Justin Verlander was named MVP of the American League. There were other candidates for this award but Verlander put together a very good year on a team that would be competing in October. At this point, it seems the Tigers have a shot to make the playoffs out of the AL Central since they trail the White Sox by one game with a week and a half to go in the season. Some of the voters might consider the Tigers getting into the playoffs as their deciding factor in the vote for the MVP award.

    Jacoby Ellsbury had an outstanding final month of the season last year but his team was in the midst of one of the worst collapses in baseball history. When the last month of the season started, he looked like a clear-cut favorite for the MVP award. His team didn't make the playoffs and he didn't win the hardware so it's possible the same thing will happen to Trout. The Angels are currently 2.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot so they are left on the outside looking in at the Orioles and the A's playing in the new Wild Card game. His team's poor play in the first month of the year might cost him the MVP and he wasn't even on the team at that point.

    WAR, What is it good for?
    According to Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Cabrera is in the midst of one of the best seasons of his professional career. He currently sits at 6.6 rWAR and 6.9 fWAR depending on which site you turn to for your statistical analysis. The only season he had a higher WAR was last year and he would need to put together a decent final week to reach his total from last year. Obviously, his defensive numbers take away from his total WAR so this hurts him in the long run. His totals are still hard to ignore on a team fighting to get into postseason play.

    Some of the Sabermetric categories are in love with Trout and his magical season. His numbers at the plate combined with outstanding defense and his threatening speed on the base paths have him off the charts. He is the first player to compile a WAR of over 10 since Barry Bonds did it back in his heyday. The last center fielder to reach this mark was Willie Mays so Trout is in some good company with the season he has put together.

    Will recent play make a difference in the vote?
    The month of September has been very good for Cabrera as his team gets closer to the playoffs. He is hitting .356 since the calendar turned from August and he has nine home runs during that time. The voters can sometimes have long-term memory loss and they might look with favor at the hot streak by Cabrera over the last month. This could push the vote towards the Tigers slugger.

    It would be hard for any player to continue to perform at the level Trout was at earlier this year. So it's not too hard to believe he has come back down to earth for the final month of the season. His batting average has dipped to .256 in September but he has still shown good defensive ability and speed on the bases. If he could put together a good last week and a half of the season, voters might remember all of the good things he accomplished in 2012

    Who should win versus who will win?
    In my opinion, the best player in the American League this season has been Mike Trout. His overall season is something baseball hasn't seen in quite awhile and it would be a shame if he wasn't honored for his historic year. His offense, defense, and speed make him one of the most exciting players in the game and he should win the award no matter how his team finishes the year.

    Cabrera has a shot to win the first Triple Crown in a long time and this might be hard for some of the older voters to ignore. It also helps for the Tigers to be so close to making the playoffs. There seems to be a late-season push for Cabrera to come out on top and it seems more likely for him to end up with his first MVP award in his very good career. Cabrera has been close in the past so it might be his turn to win and Trout could be left to win the award in another season.
    This article was originally published in blog: Cabrera vs. Trout: The MVP Debate for the Ages started by Cody Christie
    Comments 48 Comments
    1. biggentleben's Avatar
      biggentleben -
      Quote Originally Posted by snepp View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by TK10 View Post
      Because only the young and hip will vote for Trout thanks to the All Powerful And All Knowing And Entirely Irrefutable Sabermetrics. If Cabrera wins the first triple crown in 45 years and doesn't win the MVP the All Powerful And All Knowing And Entirely Irrefutable Sabermetrics crowd will have officially won.
      Quote Originally Posted by TK10 View Post
      I'm fully aware that a handful of former triple crown winners didn't win the MVP, and to me, it's completely idiotic. La Velle E. Neal and the other voters his age didn't see Ted Williams or Honus Wagner play. Or maybe they did, I bet Bill James and the math nerd brigade has a stat proving La Velle saw Teddy Ballgame in person. I admit, fully, to being an idiot because I'm 34-years-old and am still impressed by 133 RBI. I don't care what Trout's WAR is, someone winning the triple crown after 45 years would be remarkable.
      I find being an obnoxious jackass to be much preferable over an objective "nerd."


      You've convinced me.
      POTD nominee
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      The great thing about the MVP award is that it IS subjective. In that regard, it's like the CY or a HOF vote. The criteria will vary from voter to voter. I am old enough to remember the Robinson and Yaz Triple Crowns and maybe it's nostalgic to continue to apply a certain amount of "romance" for that particular achievement. That said, whether Cabrera does or doesn't achieve the TC would not influence my vote. Supporters of both players can make perfectly legitimate cases (to me, anyway). I don't agree that a Cabrera TC should entitle him to the MVP, but if you want to point to his superior performance in a September pennant stretch, I'll consider that argument. I don't feel Trout should be penalized for not being in the Majors to start the season, but if you want to suggest he maybe hit a rookie wall in September, you may have a point. I also agree that Trout arguably had a greater amount of influence on his team's eventual success.

      I'm a huge Trout fan and would love to see him win the MVP. But when I consider the kinds of problems Cabrera has dealt with and his willingness to be a "team guy" and move to 3B even knowing he might look bad there, that counts in his favor with me, too.

      These two guys have both had incredible seasons and they both deserve serious consideration for MVP. Where writers (and managers) lose me is when they feel inclined to spout garbage about how one or the other is the obvious choice. Nothing about this choice is obvious, to me.
    1. biggentleben's Avatar
      biggentleben -
      Quote Originally Posted by SweetOne69 View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Why is RBI part of the "triple crown", but not runs scored or stolen bases? This is a center fielder that might be the best defensive player in baseball, and is surely the best base runner. All I am saying is that three statistics do not show the full story. I find it highly ironic that the triple crown is a stat, made up of three other stats, and people that mock stats ate using it to "prove"something as inarguable.
      Because the offensive triple crown is all done with the bat. It is the things that the Batter can directly control.
      Not true. There is a measure of luck build into batting average. Runs batted in are dependent on team unless it's a home run. Even then home runs can be influenced by ballpark, whether, schedule, or many other things. So even those things, the batter doesn't control any more than stolen bases or runs.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Trout's struggled some in the last month. Is that a hiccup, or is that a wall of sorts that would have been accentuated by another month of games? Of course we don't know, but we do know that Cabrera has played great all year.
      Well we do have 1300 minor league PAs which suggest that Trout's performance in recent days wouldn't drag him out of the conversation were he to play 21 extra games. He is still providing positive offensive and defensive value even while slumping. That said, Gleeman is right - the award is handed out by 28 Souhan-type writers across the country so bfd who gets it.
    1. biggentleben's Avatar
      biggentleben -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      I don't feel Trout should be penalized for not being in the Majors to start the season, but if you want to suggest he maybe hit a rookie wall in September, you may have a point. I also agree that Trout arguably had a greater amount of influence on his team's eventual success.
      .780 OPS with 3 homers and 4 steals at the leadoff position is hardly a wall. It's just that he set his bar so high in June/July that we see it as such, and that's become a narrative - an incorrect one, but one nonetheless.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      The great thing about the MVP award is that it IS subjective. In that regard, it's like the CY or a HOF vote. The criteria will vary from voter to voter. I am old enough to remember the Robinson and Yaz Triple Crowns and maybe it's nostalgic to continue to apply a certain amount of "romance" for that particular achievement. That said, whether Cabrera does or doesn't achieve the TC would not influence my vote. Supporters of both players can make perfectly legitimate cases (to me, anyway). I don't agree that a Cabrera TC should entitle him to the MVP, but if you want to point to his superior performance in a September pennant stretch, I'll consider that argument. I don't feel Trout should be penalized for not being in the Majors to start the season, but if you want to suggest he maybe hit a rookie wall in September, you may have a point. I also agree that Trout arguably had a greater amount of influence on his team's eventual success.

      I'm a huge Trout fan and would love to see him win the MVP. But when I consider the kinds of problems Cabrera has dealt with and his willingness to be a "team guy" and move to 3B even knowing he might look bad there, that counts in his favor with me, too.

      These two guys have both had incredible seasons and they both deserve serious consideration for MVP. Where writers (and managers) lose me is when they feel inclined to spout garbage about how one or the other is the obvious choice. Nothing about this choice is obvious, to me.
      I too remember Yaz and F. Robby getting triple crowns and not dreaming I would go my whole working career (I was in college when Yaz did it and now am retired) without it being done again. On that I vote for Miggy. I also think MVP should come from playoff team--not sure either Tiggers or Angles will be there--but both are close enough. The MVP is for the WHOLE DAM season--Trout's Sept. slump should and will cost him votes.

      I can see the Trout arguments--starting with Defense--but I still go with Miggy.
    1. TK10's Avatar
      TK10 -
      Jackass idiot here. Just hoping someone could explain to me why quibbling with WAR fans makes one a jackass. It seems to me the WAR crowd loves to denigrate anyone who still thinks RBI and batting average might, just might, indicate a guy is a good player. It's as if there's a cool kids table element to all of this. As if to say if you don't subscribe completely to sabermetrics you aren't a real fan.
      Furthermore, isn't it possible that WAR is a bogus stat that, in say 5 years, some other numbers nerd, oops, excuse me, numbers wizard will come along and replace?
      Anyway, I hope to see you all at the game tonight. I'll be the guy in 225 keeping score like the decrepit dinosaur I am.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Who makes the club win? A few lower place should go to Willingham. Take out Willingham and insert a Clete Thomas type. The domino effect on this team would be that they would make a run at the record for futility. Trout or Cabrera? Trout has probably contributed more to his team's success than Cabrera. That was the intent of the award.

      Although, if they had not signed Willingham, would Joe Benson made the squad out of ST and not had the season he did? A topic for another thread of what if.
    1. Monkeypaws's Avatar
      Monkeypaws -
      Hitting is the hardest thing to do in baseball - triple crown trumps all-around play for me every day.

      And seriously, R.O.T.Y. is a better than average consolation prize for Trout, plus the promise of future contention.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Unless the Angels and the Tigers make the postseason, neither should be the MVP. MVP is about value to the team (i.e. helped the team go some place; unlike Cy Young, which is a best pitcher award.) Because the Angels and the Tiggers would have missed the post-season with them or without them. So, it might be between Cano and Beltre, depending on who makes the post-season.

      That's my take. Maybe baseball needs a best player award like the Cy Young (Call it the Babe Ruth or the Barry Bonds Award ) and then we can have that discussion...
    1. biggentleben's Avatar
      biggentleben -
      6 of 10 of the last Triple Crown winners DID NOT win the MVP

      In the last 30 years, there have been 13 10.0 WAR+ players (Trout will be the 14th), only 5 won the MVP
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Quote Originally Posted by SweetOne69 View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Why is RBI part of the "triple crown", but not runs scored or stolen bases? This is a center fielder that might be the best defensive player in baseball, and is surely the best base runner. All I am saying is that three statistics do not show the full story. I find it highly ironic that the triple crown is a stat, made up of three other stats, and people that mock stats ate using it to "prove"something as inarguable.
      Because the offensive triple crown is all done with the bat. It is the things that the Batter can directly control.
      ????

      RBI is largely dependent on the number of baserunners on when you come up to bat. Heck, you get an RBI for hitting a routine fly to the OF if there is a fast guy on 3rd. Want evidence of that, check out Delmon Young's stats that "good" year he had here....it was about the fact that Mauer and others were on base when he came up to bat.
    1. jm3319's Avatar
      jm3319 -
      [QUOTE
      Because the offensive triple crown is all done with the bat. It is the things that the Batter can directly control.[/QUOTE]


      The person ahead of me beat me to it, but please explain how the batter can control how many people are on base for him. In theory, a leadoff guy could hit like 50 triples in a season, a bunch of doubles and 30 homers, and have very low RBI to show for it.

      RBI is just not a good reflection of a hitter. the real triple crown should be batting average (a measure of how well the batter can hit the dang ball, but I'm open to arguments against average)/ OBP/ SLG

      avg/OBP/SLG...you win these 3 with a good number of "traditional stats" like homers mixed in and you deserve to win.

      My vote goes to Trout. He does more for his team than Cabrera. You can win games with the bat, but you can also win them with the glove and legs, too.
    1. beckmt's Avatar
      beckmt -
      I believe Cabrera deserves the reward. He has performed all year and the Tigers are better for it. Whether he wins the Triple Crown or not, he has had a remarkable season. Trout has been very good and if he performs at this level, he will win in the future.
    1. PseudoSABR's Avatar
      PseudoSABR -
      I think the argument that Cabrera winning the Triple Crown appeals to the BBWA more than Mike Trout's incredulous rookie season grasps at ghosts. Mike Trout's rookie season has all the mythos that baseball writers crave (somewhere Rick Rielly is suddenly interested in baseball). Mike Trout is Mikey Mantle and Willie Mays. The guy has the incredible ease of Mantle and the absurd athleticism of Mays, and he's playing at their prime in his rookie year. Trout's highlight-worthy hops, the Halos' hole when they call him up, his humble personality--only add to his statline. As much as writers like old-stand-bys like RBIs, writers like to dream, and they can dream on Trout until someone slaps them in the face.

      There's as much old-school and mystic in Trout as there is Cabrera's potential triple crown. We don't need sabermetrics to tell us that; we have our ****ing eyes.
    1. SweetOne69's Avatar
      SweetOne69 -
      While it is true that the batter has no control over who or how many runners are on base when he comes up to bat, he does have direct control over driving the runners in when he does come up to bat. FYI, Cabrera only has 6 SF this year, so 127 of his RBIs were the result of a hit.

      For Runs Scored you are relying on someone else to assist you in scoring unless you hit a HR (or steal home).
    1. SweetOne69's Avatar
      SweetOne69 -
      One thing that I think is going against Trout is that his offense has really tailed off that last month. He was hitting .345 on August 23rd. His BA has dropped 20pts over the last 28 games. Whereas Cabrera is improving as the season goes on.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by SweetOne69 View Post
      While it is true that the batter has no control over who or how many runners are on base when he comes up to bat, he does have direct control over driving the runners in when he does come up to bat. FYI, Cabrera only has 6 SF this year, so 127 of his RBIs were the result of a hit.

      For Runs Scored you are relying on someone else to assist you in scoring unless you hit a HR (or steal home).
      Not that it really matters but there are other ways to drive in a run other than getting a hit, such as taking a walk with the bases loaded or hitting into a fielder's choice.
    1. Curt's Avatar
      Curt -
      It is a close call either way and both have had amazing seasons. The next week may still make a difference. Trout is a Phenom, to use a bit of Stengelese, and Cabrera is a monster. There is no MVP stat and there isn't really any particular criteria. Just 28 guys all using their own biases to identify and evaluate candidates. Some voters are surely dolts and some may be geniuses. Best player? How do you evaluate that? Most valuable? Can we even define it? If I were voting today it would be Cabrera. But I acknowledge I'm probably closer to dolt than genius. I've also been brainwashed from an early age to look at BA, HR and RBI. No amount of re-programming can reverse that totally.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Will someone who knows how to look this up more quickly than I do please post how many hitters have led their league in Batting Average & Home Runs in the same season since 1967?

      To me the RBIs tend to go along with the other two stats -- and depend a lot on the quality of teammates but I just wondered if there are hitters in the last 45 years who missed the Triple Crown just because of RBIs?
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