It’s time to wrap up the regular season in baseball and that means picking award winners. With the postseason All-Star team already picked, we’ll focus here on the American League MVP. The mainstream media storyline tells you the race is about whether you like Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and his Triple Crown, or Los Angeles’ Mike Trout, who dominates the newer stats, like WAR (Wins Above Replacement). I’m picking Cabrera, and let me tell you why.
I don’t buy that this is about “old stats vs. new stats.” Stats like on-base percentage and slugging percentage might not be new anymore, but they’re certainly not traditional and are definitely a part of the sabermetrics revolution. Cabrera dominates in slugging percentage, leading the league at .606, and he’s fourth in on-base percentage at .393, trailing Trout by only six points—certainly close enough for his overwhelming edge in power to hold sway.
You can certainly give Trout a big edge on defense, but here again Cabrera has always gotten a bad rap. When he played first base prior to this season his soft hands always put him near the top of the league in the defensive metrics. Now he goes across the diamond, plays a much more difficult position, and still ranks third among American League third baseman when it comes to range factor.
I know WAR is the number that’s all the rage among stat junkies these days. I’m interested in what the new stats tell us, but I’m deeply skeptical that it’s possible to generate one number that’s some universal arbiter of who is the best. If you put together a package of new stats—slugging percentage, on-base percentage and range factor, I think Cabrera still wins the argument.
Furthermore, it’s unfortunate that our welcoming of new stats has led us to discredit the old ones. It’s good that we now give as much credit for runs scored as we do for RBIs. But since when is driving in runs not important? It’s good that our evaluations of power better account for extra-base hits. But since when is hitting a home run not a big deal? It’s good that we give credit for walks, something done here at TheSportsNotebook every time we pick an All-Star team. But it’s still better to get on base by putting the ball in play, where more things can happen as a result. Cabrera swept the board and led the American League in all three traditional categories.
I’m not going to take the mealy-mouthed approach that says both players are deserving MVP candidates and that you can’t go wrong with either one. I’ll certainly acknowledge both players are extremely good, as their mere presence in the discussion indicates. But I do not see a credible case for Trout going higher than second and that’s why Miguel Cabrera is TheSportsNotebook’s pick for American League MVP.
Throughout the season other candidates came and went, particularly Josh Hamilton for Texas, who owned this discussion the first two months and was still relevant several weeks ago. But his offensive numbers are considerably behind Cabrera’s, in spite of Texas being vastly more hitter-friendly than Detroit. Cabrera’s teammate, Prince Fielder, deserves a solid finish in the voting, but at .528, his slugging number was a little low for the MVP candidacy of a power hitter.
If we wanted to look at a starting pitcher, I’d have to give the nod to David Price. The Rays’ ace was a 20-game winner, led the league in ERA at 2.56, worked 211 innings and was the clear ace for a team heavily dependent on starting pitching. He deserves his first Cy Young Award, and should be no lower than third in the final MVP vote.
The Manager of the Year obviously comes down to Buck Showalter in Baltimore and Bob Melvin in Oakland, both of whom turned in jobs so extraordinary it makes you wish we could give one to both of them and just blank out another year where there was no obvious candidate. Oakland’s winning the AL West makes this a little tougher, but I’m still leaning Buck’s direction. Oakland had high-quality starting pitching all year and that makes managing a lot easier. Baltimore won because Showalter masterfully handled his bullpen and squeezed the most of a starting rotation that was constantly in flux.
So that’s a wrap for the American League regular season—Miguel Cabrera for MVP, David Price for the Cy Young and Buck Showalter as Manager of the Year. Click here to read the choices in the National League.