Right Field

Mike Trout for MVP

Congratulations to Miguel Cabrera on becoming the first ballplayer since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to hit for the Triple Crown.

Cabrera finished the regular season with 44 home runs, 139 runs batted in, and a .330 batting average. He also put up a .393 on-base percentage and sluggged .606.

Will the Tigers third baseman win the American League Most Valuable Player Award? Probably.

Should hitting for the Triple Crown automatically entitle him to the award? No.

Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in both 1942 and 1947 . . . yet did not capture the the MVP in either year.

Cabrera’s principal competitor, 21-year old rookie Mike Trout, hit 30 home runs with 83 runs batted in, a .326 batting average, and a slugging percentage of .564. He did best Cabrera with an on-base percentage of .399, and he led the league in runs scored while playing in only 137 games.

Moreover, Trout bested Cabrera in both the Baseball-Reference and the Fangraphs versions of wins above replacement (10.7 /10.4 vs. 6.9/7.2). The principal reason? Home runs, runs batted in, and batting average are crude measurements of offense. WAR does a better job at measuring offensive production and incorporates baserunning and defense as well. As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs pointed out recently, Trout cleans Cabrera’s clock in both categories. (It is worth noting too that this is the only instance of a player winning the Triple Crown but not also finishing first in WAR.)

Heck, Joe Posnanski observed that it is unnecessary to pin Trout’s claim to the award on advanced statistics:

His case as the league’s most valuable player is as old-school as Jim Leyland’s mustache. His case is that he’s having a great offensive season in different ways from Cabrera (he leads the league in runs and stolen bases, and his on-base percentage and OPS+ is actually HIGHER than Cabrera’s), and he’s a much better defender and base runner. His case is that when you take into account the whole ballplayer, he’s more valuable than Cabrera, Triple Crown or not.

In a league filled with people who have been badgering us with “you win games with pitching and defense” and “you can’t tell what kind of ballplayer you have based on his batting average” for 100 years, it seems odd to me that so many old-schoolers cannot see that Mike Trout is the very essence of what they’ve been talking about.

For those of you who emphasize a player’s numbers down the stretch, I realize that Cabrera had a superior September/October, with .333/.395/.675 vs. Trout’s .289/.400/.500. (Keep in mind that games played during the rest of the season also count in the standings.)

For those who overlook that baseball is a team sport, I realize that Cabrera’s Tigers are in the postseason while Trout’s Angels fell short. (That said, Los Angeles finished with a better record than Detroit while playing in a tougher division.)

For those who think a player who switches positions should receive kudos for such a noble act, I realize that Cabrera agreed to return to third base this season so that newly signed Prince Fielder could play first base. (But if you make that argument for Cabrera, remember Ben Zobrist — .270/.377/.471 — who this season started games at right field, second base, and shortstop without complaint and is habitually and woefully undervalued outside of the Gulf Coast of Florida.)

In years past, we debated the meaning of “valuable” in MVP.

This season there appears to be a lack of clarity on what “player” means. Cabrera is a tremendous slugger who had a magical season, but Trout was nearly as good in the batter’s box, while he also excelled at taking extra bases and climbing outfield fences.

That’s the most valuable player.

Jason Epstein is the president of Southfive Strategies, LLC. He was a public-relations consultant for the Turkish embassy in Washington from 2002 to 2007.


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