With the honors for top pitchers, top rookies, top executives and top managers in Major League Baseball having been doled earlier this week, we've come to the end of awards season for 2013. We're down to the biggie — American League and National League MVP — and it's always more complicated than the others, because the definition of "valuable" is so disagreeable.
One thing is certain: There will be a good amount of complaining when the unveiling occurs via the MLB Network special that airs at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday.
About this time last year, the Baseball Writers Association of America was crowning Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers in the AL and Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants in the NL. Posey isn't a finalist in 2013 and won't repeat, but Cabrera is standing by to go back-to-back, unless Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels or Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles swoops in. Frank Thomas, in 1993 and 1994, is the most recent AL player to win consecutive MVPs. Albert Pujols, in 2008 and 2009, is the most recent player in either league to do it. Here's a list of every MVP since 1931.
On the NL side, Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals, who respectively finished third and fourth in NL voting a season ago, are on the clock against Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Let's take a closer look at the finalists:
Miguel Cabrera — 3B, Detroit Tigers
In brief: The top slugger in the game and probably the most feared, if you polled pitchers. Gives it the old college try at third base, where his hands are soft and his throws are accurate, but his range is nil.
Key stats: Batted .348/.442/.636 with 44 homers and 137 RBIs; adjusted on-base plus slugging of 187 — best of his career; drew 90 walks; .455 weighted on-base percentage.
Case for: Led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, adjusted OPS and wOBA. He also won Players Choice as top player, if you want their opinion.
Case against: Played in nine fewer games than Trout and 12 fewer than Davis. September shouldn't count more than the other months, but it ought to count for something, and Cabrera tailed off significantly after suffering an injury to his abdomen. Though he gutted it out (so to speak), he finished third in the AL in WAR — well behind Trout and even behind Josh Donaldson of the Oakland Athletics. He was a negative defensive player, but so was Davis, though Cabrera plays a more important position.
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Chris Davis — 1B, Baltimore Orioles
In brief: It seemed like he came from nowhere, but Davis set the stage for his awesome output with a breakthrough season in 2012 at age 26, which is not uncommon.
Key stats: League-leading 53 homers, 138 RBIs, .634 SLG, a league-leading 370 total bases, league-leading 7.8 win-probability added and a mind-blowing .348 isolated power — which measures how many extra bases you get per at-bat.
Case for: If it's just offense you're interested in, Davis arguably had the best season of anybody. His ISO was the 43rd-best in MLB history.
Case against: He chased 60 homers for a while, but tailed off at the end, batting .245/.339/.515 with 16 homers in the second half. Still valuable, but not quite MVP stuff.
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Mike Trout — OF, Los Angeles Angels
In brief: The best young player in the game has his whole life to win MVP awards, so even if it doesn't happen this year...
Key stats: At age 21, he batted .323/.432/.557 with a league-leading 109 runs scored, 39 doubles, nine triples, 27 homers, 97 RBIs, a league-leading 110 walks and 33 stolen bases. Didn't lead league in OPS+ again, but improved on his rookie number. Oh, he also accumulated a league-leading 10.4 WAR.
Case for: See above.
Case against: Did not play for a contending team, for what it's worth (apparently a lot). Didn't seem to have as good of a year on defense but still was positive there overall.
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Paul Goldschmidt — 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
In brief: Everybody's new favorite slugger in 2013, the guy everyone at work agrees on. Slugger who reputedly worked on his physical conditioning to go from chubby and run-of-the-mill occasional home-run producer to lean and mean offensive machine.
Key stats: Batted .302/.401/.551 with 36 homers and 125 RBIs. Stole 15 bases as a first baseman. Posted .249 ISO and .404 wOBA.
Case for: Led league in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, adjusted OPS, ISO, wOBA and total bases. Won a Gold Glove, which nobody saw coming.
Case against: Though it's dubious how much it should matter, he played for a team that dropped out of playoff contention in the second half. Also wasn't as valuable on defense as McCutchen.
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Andrew McCutchen — OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
In brief: The best player on the best baseball story of the year, the playoff-qualifying Pittsburgh Pirates.
Key stats: Led NL with 8.2 WAR, batted .317/.404/.508 with 27 steals and 296 total bases.
Case for: Clearly the best player on a team that made the playoffs for the first time in 21 years. Where a team finished in the standings matters to many voters. Most of the voters probably factor it in. Some weigh it too heavily. Based on precedent, the Pirates being a playoff team ought to help McCutchen win the award.
Case against: Didn't lead the league in anything substantial except WAR. Seemed to have about as good of a season as in 2012, when he finished third in MVP voting. So it seems like he's stagnant, when he's just ... just as good.
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Yadier Molina — C, St. Louis Cardinals
In brief: The best defensive catcher in the majors has developed his hitting to a point where he's in the MVP discussion for a second straight season.
Key stats: His 5.6 WAR ranks sixth in the NL, but the list is dominated by non-catchers. Batted .319/.359/.477 with 44 doubles. Nabbed 20 of 26 baserunners. Allowed only three passed balls and 22 wild pitches (both career bests) in 1,115 innings.
Case for: His reputation on offense and defense as the most irreplaceable part on the Cardinals, a team that's been to the World Series twice in the past three seasons.
Case against: "Handling a pitching staff" is important, even crucial, but it's hard to quantify. Molina also has too many teammates who were nearly as (or even appeared to be more) valuable on offense. His .362 wOBA was 16th in the league, 21 points behind Matt Holliday, 19 points behind Matt Carpenter and also grouped with Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran.
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