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.