Sunday, November 18, 2012
Now That the AL MVP’s Been Decided…
Let's get one argument swept aside right here and now. Either Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout would have been a worthy American League Most Valuable Player winner. In fact, there should be no argument about that.
You wouldn't have disgraced Cabrera, who did win (and by a larger margin than the debate might have led you to believe), had the award gone to Trout. (As a matter of fact, Cabrera himself — the essence of grace in accepting the award — though Trout might win it.) And it doesn't disgrace Trout that Cabrera has won the award.
Both men had off the chart 2012s. Both men were clearly the most talked-about non-pitchers in the American League, if not all baseball. (You'd have to leave a little elbow room for Bryce Harper, who won the National League's Rookie of the Year.) And neither man's team would have won a damn thing without them, never mind (for now) that the Tigers won a weaker division and the Angels slipped out of the races in mid-September in a stronger division.
Everybody with me? Thank you. Now hear this: when all is said and done, the following were the most fatuous, erroneous arguments deployed for deciding the American League MVP one way or another. Which certainly didn't stop those who did from deploying them, anyway.
1) Nobody won a Triple Crown in how many years?
Well, 45 of them, to be precise. It is a jaw-dropping achievement. And it's irrelevant to the MVP considerations. The award doesn't say, "Most Valuable League Leader"; it doesn't say, "Most Valuable Triple Crown Winner," never mind that Triple Crown winners have tended to win MVPs in the past, and that bagging a Triple Crown was just about guaranteed to keep Cabrera in the conversation no matter what the rest of his game did or didn't say.
(Whoops. Guess who won two Triple Crowns back-to-back and no MVPs in either of those seasons? Of course, there’s evidence that Ted Williams may have been jobbed out of one of the MVPs he didn’t win in those two Crown seasons. By the way, Teddy Ballgame won a third Triple Crown—a full decade after he landed his first. Unfortunately, for the Automatic Most Valuable Triple Crown argument, Mickey Mantle won that year’s MVP.)
2) Mike Trout's team ended up where in the postseason?
You might care to note that the Baseball Writers Association of America instructions for voting on the most valuable player says, specifically, The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier. Lots of MVPs have come from teams who didn't win a division, or (in pre-divisional play) a pennant.
A lot of Trout's partisans pointed out the Angels won more games than the Tigers did on the season. It's true. Those partisans also pointed out the Angels played in a tougher division and faced a lot tougher pitching. Those are true, too. Even a lot of Cabrera's partisans pointed out the same thing.
But if the BBWAA instructions say you don't have to decide an MVP based on his team's postseason presence, then you shouldn't hold Mike Trout's team missing the postseason against him in MVP voting. (It wasn't even close to his fault the Angels ended up missing; their pitching, particularly the bullpen, was too inconsistent to keep them alive come mid-September.)
By the way, according to the same instructions you shouldn't hold against Cabrera that his team won a very weak division (and probably owed as much to the White Sox going in the tank at last as anything else for winning it) — the Tigers wouldn't have won even one fewer game than the Angels without him.
3) Look at all those steaks!
Yes, Cabrera drove in lots of runs. You'd expect a middle of the order man with his skills to drive in lots of runs, depending on how the men ahead of him reach base, which they did rather well when all was said and done. Do you really expect a leadoff hitter to drive in that many runs? (Trout scored only ten fewer runs than Cabrera drove in and twenty more runs than Cabrera scored, if you care to note.)
Chase Headley led the National League in RBIs in 2012 and he was barely a topic in the MVP voting compared to Buster Posey, who did win the award. (Headley finished a very distant fifth.) Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard tied for the National League RBI lead in 2009 — with 141. Look at all those steaks! Well, guess who didn't win the league MVP that season. (The winner was Albert Pujols, with six less steaks.) Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson won an MVP (1990) with only 61 RBIs. Oh, yes. He was a leadoff hitter.
Which reminds me:
4) Name me one leadoff hitter who ever landed an MVP. Aside from Rickey Henderson, of course.
No sweat. Ever heard of Ichiro? (2001.) Pete Rose? (1973.) Zoilo Versailles? (1965 — his career year, leading the league in runs, doubles, triples, and total bases, not to mention the most WAR — 7.1 — of any non-pitcher in the league.) Maury Wills? (1962, though there's a huge argument that Wills won the award for only one reason: he smashed a record thought to be untouchable until then. Objectively, either Willie Mays or Frank Robinson should have won that award.) Leadoff men winning MVPs is not unprecedented.
Which reminds me further:
5) Since when do we give rookies the MVP — let 'em wait their turns, it ain't their times yet..
Ever heard of Ichiro, again? (Never mind his prior career in the Japanese leagues.) Well, somebody had to break the precedent.
6) C'mon, you know damn well the MVP is for hitters.
It says most valuable player, not most valuable hitter. It implies — though enough of the voters don't always look at things that way — the whole of the player's game. If you look at those wholes between Trout and Cabrera, and not just the Triple Crown jaw drop, you discover:
a) Mike Trout actually created only one fewer run in a shorter season than Miguel Cabrera did, and used 56 fewer outs to do it. Had the Angels taken Trout with them right out of spring training, instead of waiting until April's end, just about, to call him up, it's extremely likely that Trout would have created more runs than Cabrera while still using less outs to do it. It's not that you pick an award winner according to what he might have done, of course, but I'd need a lot more evidence to be convinced Miguel Cabrera was that much better at creating runs than Mike Trout.
b) Trout actually saved his team more runs defensively. He was worth 30 runs saved above the American League average in center field; Cabrera was worth four runs saved below the American League average at third base. And I haven't even thought about all those highlight reel catches and plays Trout made on the year. The sad part of it is that Cabrera is a good third baseman and could well become a little better the longer he plays the position, but — just as you don't vote an award based on what a player might have done — you don't base it on what he might yet do.
c) If you're going to hark back to offense — meaning, not just swinging the bat, but any and everything you can do from plate to bases and around back to the plate — consider this: Mike Trout's offensive winning percentage in 2012 was .786. Miguel Cabrera's offensive winning percentage was .745. That isn't a slim difference at all. Since a lot of the voting writers either aren't inclined toward deeper statistical analysis, or have multiple births at the mere mention of it, it shouldn't surprise you that those percentages weren't considered.
But they probably should have been. A 41-point difference in offensive winning percentage is vast enough.
I noticed something else, too. Did you know that, in 2012, the Tigers' winning percentage in the games in which Cabrera played (he played 161) was .529? That's pretty impressive for an individual player's impact. But lo! The Angels' winning percentage in the games Mike Trout played was .563. Trout played 22 fewer games than Cabrera. It's reasonable to think that, if the Angels had had him all season long, the winning percentage would still have been higher, though you can debate whether the difference, still, would have been +34.
7) C'mon, it's about time Cabrera won the MVP, he was so strong a candidate in 2010 and 2011, it was his time.
Are you picking the Most Valuable Player of 2012 or the Most Valuable Player of the past few seasons? The MVP isn't and shouldn't be anything resembling a lifetime achievement award. (Neither, for that matter, should All-Star Game votes, and that certainly doesn't stop fans from picking players according to their career stats over the season in question.) When you looked at this year's MVP considerations the last place you should have looked was any year other than 2012.
You don't award a player an MVP to make up for past seasons when, perhaps, he should have won the award but didn't. If anything, Cabrera's play this season was his way of saying 2010 and 2011 became irrelevant. He wasn't playing for a three-season or a lifetime achievement award.
If you think that is a fatuous argument in turn, ask yourself what's happened to presidential candidates who earned their party's nominations for no better reason than it was their "time" to earn them. Mitt Romney, John McCain, John Kerry, and Bob Dole have some answers for you.
8) Trout slipped in September, Cabrera turned up the heat in September. End of conversation.
Show me where the award says, "Most Valuable Player in the September Stretch." Then come back to me. Now, if Mike Trout had gone into the proverbial tank from the minute the teams returned to the races after the All-Star break, then you wouldn't even have him in the conversation, no matter how white hot was his first half.
9) Trout struck out a way lot more than Cabrera did. What's so valuable about that?
What would you rather have: a guy making single outs on one swing, or a guy who led the league in hitting into double plays and making two outs on a swing? Cabrera did lead the AL in grounding into double plays. I'm no further convinced that should have been held against Cabrera than in favour of Trout.
But I'd sure rather have a guy costing me one out on a strikeout (unless, of course, it means side retired) than a guy killing a rally, or at least putting it onto a death watch, by hitting into a double play. Which may explain a little bit, too, about how Trout could have used up 56 less outs to create just one fewer run than Cabrera used up to create just one more run.
10) Trout won the Rookie of the Year unanimously. Jeez Louise, isn't that enough for a 20-year-old rook?
In court, that one might be dismissed as incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial. The MVP instructions don't say, "Must be 21 or older for admission."
In fact, most of the foregoing arguments I've discussed would be dismissible on at least two if not all three such grounds.
Even up to the day Trout landed that unanimous Rookie of the Year award, I was convinced on all the evidence top to bottom that Trout should have been the MVP. I've since changed my mind.
It wouldn't have been wrong, and it would have been absolutely right, if the award were to be a dead heat. Only Trout's most ignorant loyalists would have called Cabrera unworthy; only Cabrera's most ignorant loyalists would have called Trout unworthy. (It's happened before: Willie Stargell and Keith Hernandez shared the 1979 National League MVP; Denny McLain and Mike Cuellar shared the 1969 American League Cy Young Award.)
So why didn't anyone think about maybe naming them co-MVPs? They both deserved it. Besides, a co-MVP between Cabrera and Trout would have given us the one thing baseball mavens — traditionalist, sabermetric, otherwise — really adore, more than anything short of baseball games actually being played: More debates, more often, for decades to come. Wild-eyed or otherwise.