In retrospect, the debate over who would win the American League MVP award was more contested than the actual outcome.
It was a battle between the stat gurus and their emphasis on sabermetics and the old-school philosophy that mainstream categories still matter. The latter were ultimately vindicated when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera won the AL MVP on Thursday. Cabrera took 22 of the 28 first-place votes, beating Angels outfielder Mike Trout in a landslide (362 points to 281 points).
Trout was the best all-around player in the AL in 2012. The rookie phenom’s dazzling catches in the outfield and nearly unstoppable speed on the base paths complemented a sweet stroke that provided the perfect blend in hitting for power and average.
Yet Trout, 21, was not the AL MVP, though his supporters point out that he led the majors in a variety of categories including WAR (wins above replacement) at 10.7, runs scored (129) and stolen bases (49).
Even so, sorry, Cabrera – the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 – was the rightful winner. Trout was a worthy finalist, and if it had been almost any other season – that’s how historic some of his numbers were – he likely would have been a lock to win MVP.
“I think winning the Triple Crown helped me win this,” Cabrera said on a conference call with BBWAA members. “They can use both [types of stats] because in 2012, we have to take advantage of that.”
It should be noted what the BBWAA asks its voters to consider when choosing the MVP:
“There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:
1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.”
For the record, although I’m a member of the BBWAA, I did not have a vote for the AL MVP award. However, if I did I would have voted for Cabrera.
While Trout was the league’s best player, Cabrera was the most valuable to his team; those two designations are not mutually inclusive. It’s not a player of the year award. It’s who means the most to his team, and without Cabrera, the Tigers would not have overtaken the White Sox to win the AL Central and eventually reach the World Series. Reaching the playoffs doesn’t mean everything, but it does matter as past MVP award voting has proved.
Cabrera hit .344 the final two months of the season when Detroit needed him most. He also played 22 more games than Trout, missing only one game the entire season, which must be taken into consideration.
For those arguing Cabrera benefited from playing against a “weaker” AL Central, Trout hit .279 with nine home runs and 16 RBIs in 32 games while Cabrera hit .347 with 20 homers and 68 RBIs in 72 games. Granted the sample size differs, but it’s still worth noting that Trout didn’t dominate AL Central pitchers.
Cabrera posted a better league on-base percentage (.326-.310), and though he was average at best playing third, he did exactly what he needed to do at a position he hadn’t played regularly since 2007.
Ultimately, Cabrera and Trout were both deserving of the MVP award, and it’ll be fascinating in five to 10 years to look back on the way old-school thinking (the importance of batting average, home runs, RBIs) overruled new-age sabermetrics.
For now, however, Cabrera’s recognition as the AL MVP reiterates the divisiveness between the differing mentalities. That’s part of what makes these awards are so great to debate.
• Meghan Montemurro covers the Cubs and White Sox for the Northwest Herald. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.