10 Degrees: Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown push is overshadowing true AL MVP Mike Trout
Please, please. Come in. Take a seat. We've got refreshments in the corner if you need them.
Hi. My name is Jeff P. We're here today because we are the victims of a scurrilous smear campaign designed to make us look like villains and ignoramuses. It is time to put this to an end and return logic and reason to this debate instead of relying on emotion and banalities.
You'd think this was the presidential election, right? They're a lot more alike than anyone cares to acknowledge. We're trying to stick to important issues, the other side runs its campaign based on history and red herrings and exaggeration. Frankly, they've run a better operation than us, because here we are, three days before the season ends, and the Miguel Cabrera-for-American League MVP movement may have overtaken ours.
Do not waffle. Do not waver. Do not give up. Mike Trout is still the AL MVP. And we're going to remind you why so you proselytize, preach and shout it from the mountaintop for the whole baseball world to hear and, hopefully, consider.
Here's how we're going to do this: I know you have questions. For each, I promise an answer – a good one that relies on reality rather than perception, on the present instead of the past, on facts above conveniences. It is best to approach this from a purely stoic place; emotion is great, but it lets you fall prey to the immaterial. It's why this whole Triple Crown gambit is working so well.
I see a hand in the back. Yes, sir, you.
"What do you mean by gambit?"
The idea that Triple Crown = MVP is a strictly emotional play with no foundation in logic. It takes a mythical title given to a player based on a very important category (home runs), a marginally important one (batting average) and one that does next to nothing to denote a player's value or worth (RBIs) and merges them into a baseball Voltron.
What Miguel Cabrera has done this year is marvelous. There is no questioning that. He is the AL's best hitter. But simply because he leads the league in three categories, no matter their historical significance, does not crown him MVP. Not only is ignoring every other part of his game vis-à-vis Trout's irresponsible, but also it makes the mistake of tying this award to another person's achievements in the final three games of the season.
You're telling me that if Josh Hamilton hits a home run and Miguel Cabrera doesn't, the MVP shouldn't be his? Or that if Cabrera does and Hamilton doesn't, suddenly the award is his again? This thinking is so arbitrary, so backward, so easily blown to smithereens, I can't understand how its practitioners hold up the Triple Crown like it's the Hope Diamond without noticing the underlying failures of their argument.
[Also: Orioles, Rangers and Yankees clinch playoff berths on wild final Sunday]
OK, next. Guy with the pocket protector.
"Why are they making this about WAR?"
This is so stereotypical.
"I know. Sorry."
You know why they're making this about WAR? Because they're scared. They're scared of what they don't know and they need a villain. And so the computers and their alphabet-soup metrics have become the target, even though this MVP vote has absolutely nothing to do with WAR and everything to do with the fact that Mike Trout simply has been a better player in 2012 than Miguel Cabrera.
WAR, for the uninitiated, is Wins Above Replacement. It is the sabermetricians' attempt at a catch-all metric that includes hitting, fielding and baserunning. It has its flaws. There are two versions, Baseball-Reference.com's and Fangraphs.com's, and their numbers differ. That's confusing. They also use defensive metrics whose efficacy is highly questionable and thus affect the numbers' accuracy.
Still, nobody who is arguing Mike Trout's case with any conviction uses WAR. Just because he happens to have an enormous lead over Cabrera in the metric doesn't mean it's part of the argument. The insincerity of the Cabrera Truthers reaches its nadir when they bring up WAR like it matters.
You know what matters? Mike Trout is hitting .321/.395/.557 with 30 home runs, 48 stolen bases in 52 attempts and plays center field better than anyone in the major leagues. He beats you with his bat, with his legs and with his glove. There is no exact way to measure whether that beats Cabrera's advantage with the bat. But Trout is close enough to Cabrera – .325/.390/.601 with 43 home runs – that anybody who values the havoc Trout wreaks on the basepaths (and not just stealing bases but taking extra ones) and the enormous advantage on defense (Gold Glove-caliber center fielder to below-average third baseman) surely would believe it not only makes up for it but also exceeds it.
"There's no way the Tigers would be where they are without Cabrera, you know?"
It's true. And it's even more true for Trout. He was in the minor leagues most of April because the Angels were determined to suck for the season's first three weeks. And the Angels were dreadful. Their record when he was down: 6-14. Their record since he arrived: 82-57. With Cabrera all season, the Tigers have 86 wins. Truth is, Trout packed more into his five months than Cabrera has into six.
[Also: Orioles team flight makes emergency landing]
"And what do you have to say to the people who talk about the Tigers making the playoffs?"
It's a great achievement. Congratulations. Oh, and the Angels are two games better than the Tigers in a far tougher division. Their run differential is +28 over Detroit's. Detroit gets to play 18 games against Kansas City, Minnesota and Cleveland. The Angels had Texas and Oakland for 19, plus more against Baltimore and Tampa Bay.
"Why is Miguel Cabrera totally awesome and Triple Crown and he switched positions and Tigers going to the playoffs and Triple Crown and Trout's a weird name and September stats and Triple Crown and neeeeerrrrrdsssssssss!!!"
Security! Get him out of here!
"But Miguel Cabrera switched positions! How selfless is that?"
You know who else switched positions? Mike Trout. For 28 games this season, he started in left field – and he played there even more when the Angels chose to use Peter Bourjos in center.
And of course Miguel Cabrera switched positions. What was he going to do, say no? And force Prince Fielder or himself to designated hitter?
"The New York Times said: 'History will remember Cabrera as the standout performer of 2012.' You can't argue with history."
Know what: History can be an idiot. History looks at life through a vacuum. History does not anticipate evolution, knowledge or change. History regards the Triple Crown as the apex of offensive baseball accomplishment because before the statistical revolution, nobody knew any better. For us to sit here now, with what we know, and accept that on its face is lunacy. We know runs batted in are teammate- and lineup-dependent statistics – that Mike Trout, batting leadoff, is far less likely to get RBI opportunities than Miguel Cabrera, hitting third. And that's true: Cabrera leads the AL in at-bats with runners in scoring position, with 173. Trout has 106. And their numbers are awfully close, with Cabrera's OPS at .997 and Trout's at .939.
"Fine then. Cabrera has thrived in August and September, and Trout has slumped. Don't you give points for end-of-the-season performance?"
I know some in the Trout camp are of the mind that late-season stats don't matter. I happen to disagree. I think they are important. Games in April and September count the same in the standings, but they're different because their context is different. Game No. 60 feels different than No. 160. Then, you have the rest of the season to figure something out. Now, time is done and performance is imperative.
That said, there are two very important points to make.
First: The arbitrary-endpoint game is amazingly stupid. Just because Miguel Cabrera has done X between date Y and Z means nothing. If we want to play that game, guess what he did from games 150-156: .222/.250/.296 with zero homers and two RBIs. Not very MVP-like, is it? You can cherry-pick any sort of numbers you'd like to make a point.
Second: That's what the pro-Cabrera people seem to want to forget. Even if Trout has been human since August, he's still popping homers (his 30th Sunday), still stealing bases (his 48th) and his July was better than any month of Cabrera's this year: .392/.455/.804 with 10 homers , 23 RBIs, nine steals and 32 runs in 25 games. It was a magnificent display of baseball, the best from anyone this season.
[Also: Phillies' Ryan Howard done for season after suffering broken toe]
"Jeff P., do you have a vote this year?"
If I did, I wouldn't say yes or no. We're not allowed to. I'll say this: I do know a fair number of the voters. And from our discussions in the past, and the way they view baseball, I think Miguel Cabrera is going to win the AL MVP this year. I think that's sad. And I think the New York Times was wrong. The way baseball is evolving, when history looks back on this year, it's not going to celebrate Miguel Cabrera maybe or maybe not winning the Triple Crown. It's going to wonder how the voters watched an all-time historic season and screwed up, because it's evermore obvious that the …
1. AL MVP is Mike Trout. I just held a fake meeting on the subject, so I suppose there's no sense in explaining why. Here, instead, is my full MVP ballot.
1. Mike Trout
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Adrian Beltre
4. Robinson Cano
5. Justin Verlander
6. Adam Jones
7. Josh Hamilton
8. Joe Mauer
9. Felix Hernandez
10. Prince Fielder
Beyond the top four, I think the field is a pick 'em. Beltre and Cano are hitters and fielders par excellence at premium positions, Mauer gets a bump because of an AL-leading on-base percentage at a hugely important position and Prince is the league's only .300/.400/.500 player this season. There are two in the National League, though my choice for …
2. NL MVP is Ryan Braun. He's not going to win, not unless a huge percentage of the voting bloc happens to be those who feel like they cannot let performance-enhancing-drug use cloud their opinions on achievements and milestones. And considering Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and even a player for whom use is entirely presumptive, Jeff Bagwell, can't get into the Hall of Fame, the likelihood of Braun winning the first MVP he earned – Matt Kemp was simply better last year – is extremely unlikely.
1. Ryan Braun
2. Buster Posey
3. Yadier Molina
4. Andrew McCutchen
5. Chase Headley
6. R.A. Dickey
7. Clayton Kershaw
8. Joey Votto
9. Giancarlo Stanton
10. David Wright
Even though Votto has 200 fewer at-bats than some other contenders, his .477 on-base percentage is otherworldly. Excluding known steroid users, Votto, Edgar Martinez and Frank Thomas would be the only players since Mickey Mantle in 1962 to reach that threshold. (Barry Bonds exceeded it five times and Jason Giambi once). I have Headley higher than most; considering the lineup in which and the park at which he hits, his season is remarkable. As for Braun over Posey or Molina or McCutchen, it's a fascinatingly close race – closer, frankly, than the AL MVP. Braun's offense might in the end outfox Posey's positional value, Molina's all-around game and McCutchen's glorious first half. Following up on a great first half, my …
3. NL Cy Young is R.A. Dickey, who wins by the slimmest of margins over Clayton Kershaw. Dickey leads the NL in innings, strikeouts, complete games, shutouts, double plays induced, pitches per inning – the latter two indicative of his efficiency, especially for a flyball pitcher – and while run support accounts for his 20 victories to Kershaw's 13, the other figures make up for Kershaw's slight lead in ERA and baserunners allowed.
1. R.A. Dickey
2. Clayton Kershaw
3. Gio Gonzalez
4. Johnny Cueto
5. Matt Cain
All the love in the world to Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman, who have done their jobs better perhaps than anyone in baseball this season. My criteria for Cy Young happens to reward those who pitch, and they have thrown, respectively, 61 2/3 and 70 2/3 innings, which amounts to 27 percent and 31 percent as much as Dickey. Sorry, but the one-inning-at-a-time impact simply isn't enough in a strong pool. I like a horse, and that's why the …
4. AL Cy Young is Justin Verlander for the second consecutive year. I'm not going to go so far as to say this wraps up Verlander's Hall of Fame candidacy before his 30th birthday – remember, Johan Santana won his second at 27 years old – but Verlander is so good and so dominant, all that will keep him from Cooperstown is an arm injury.
1. Justin Verlander
2. Felix Hernandez
3. David Price
4. Chris Sale
5. Jered Weaver
[Video: Closer could prevent Justin Verlander from winning AL Cy Young Award]
You could flip-flop King Felix and Price. I went with Felix because of the 15 additional innings as well as the sheer and utter joy of having to pitch for a lineup that hit .233/.294/.367 this season, almost as bad as its .233/.292/.348 showing last year. Sale dropped off at the end of the year after a remarkable first 25 or so starts, and had Weaver not missed three weeks with an injury, he might've made a run at Verlander.
With that, it is time for this awards ceremony's intermission, at which point we pivot to the insanity that is …
5. The current AL playoff scenarios, which aren't nearly crazy as they would've been had the Angels eked out a victory against the Rangers on Sunday night. Alas, their loss helped clinch playoff berths for Texas, New York and Baltimore.
Now, courtesy of intrepid Yahoo! Sports editor and Doomsday Expert Jeremy Stone, come the rest of the particulars:
• The AL series involved: Texas at Oakland, Baltimore at Tampa Bay, Boston at New York, Chicago at Cleveland, Detroit at Kansas City and Los Angeles at Seattle. Yes, Minnesota at Toronto is the only AL series with zero playoff implications.
• If the Rangers win one game, they clinch the AL West.
• The A's clinch a playoff berth with a win or losses by the Angels and Rays.
• The A's clinch the AL West with a sweep of the Rangers.
• To make the postseason, the Angels need to sweep the Mariners and for the Rangers to sweep the A's, then win in a one-game play-in against the A's on Thursday. Unless …
• If the Rangers, Angels and Rays all sweep, the Angels, Rays and A's finish tied at 91-71. The A's won the season series against both, so they would choose whether to rest Thursday and play Friday at the winner of Angels at Rays (Tampa won season series 9-1) or to play at home Thursday against the Angels, with the Rays visiting the winner on Friday (unless the Rays opt for Thursday at Oakland with the hopes of the Angels traveling to St. Petersburg on Friday, which, owing to travel, is unlikely).
• I called him Doomsday Expert for good reason.
• With a Tigers win or White Sox loss, Detroit clinches the AL Central.
• If the White Sox sweep and the Tigers get swept, Detroit will host a one-game playoff Thursday to determine the Central champ. The winner will host the first two games of the ALDS against the No. 2 seed, while the wild-card play-in winner would have its first two games at home against the best record.
• If the Rangers and Orioles are tied for the best record, Texas wins home-field advantage with a 5-2 season series advantage. If the Rangers and Yankees are tied for the best record, New York wins home-field advantage with a 4-3 season series advantage. If the Yankees and Orioles are tied for the best record, Baltimore wins home-field advantage thanks to a better record against AL East opponents, since the season series was 9-9.
• Oh, and don't forget the A's: With a sweep of the Rangers and a tie with the Orioles for the best record, Oakland wins home-field advantage with a 5-4 season series advantage. If the A's and Yankees tie, they go to a second tiebreaker, since they were 5-5 during the regular season. Oakland wins that one, intra-division record, which would be .579 to the Yankees' .556.
• If the Yankees and Orioles are tied after the final game, New York travels to Baltimore for a one-game tiebreaker to determine which team wins the AL East and which participates in the one-game playoff against the second wild card. Or, as another intrepid Y! editor, Al Toby, puts it, "The playoff to avoid the playoff that would knock you out of the playoffs."
• The Angels could win Wednesday in Seattle, play at Tampa Bay on Thursday, in Anaheim against the A's on Friday, at the other wild-card team (New York or Baltimore) on Saturday and open the ALDS in Anaheim on Sunday.
• Yes, Bud, this is what you've wrought. Happy?
• Oh, and that's just the AL.
• The NL series involved: Cincinnati at St. Louis, San Francisco at Los Angeles and, to a lesser degree, Philadelphia at Washington and Atlanta at Pittsburgh.
• If the Cardinals win two games, or win one game and the Dodgers do not sweep, or the Dodgers lose two games, the Cardinals win the second NL wild card and play Friday at Atlanta or Washington.
• If the Dodgers sweep and the Cardinals get swept, the Dodgers win the second NL wild card and play Friday at Atlanta or Washington.
• If the Cardinals win one game and the Dodgers sweep, or the Cardinals get swept and the Dodgers win two games, the Cardinals visit the Dodgers on Thursday because Los Angeles won the season series 6-5.
• If the Nationals win one game and/or the Braves lose one game, the Nationals win the NL East and the Braves play at home in Friday's wild-card game.
• The Nationals win the tiebreaker with the Reds for the better seed if both remain tied.
• If the Nationals and/or Reds get swept and the Giants sweep, the Nationals and Reds still win the tiebreaker with the Giants because of season-series victories. The Giants would remain the No. 3 seed.
[Also: MLB playoff format driving Nationals skipper Davey Johnson crazy]
• If the Braves sweep and the Nationals get swept, the Braves go to Washington on Thursday to break the NL East tie because the Nationals won the season series 10-8.
• Here's the capper: Braves sweep. Nationals get swept. Braves beat the Nationals on Thursday. Reds get swept and/or Giants sweep. The Braves lose tiebreakers with the Reds and Giants. So the Reds can win the No. 1 even if they get swept, though it would take the Braves winning the NL East to do so. The NL East champion Braves would be the No. 2 seed, unless the Giants sweep to also finish with 66 losses. This is the only way the Giants can climb to No. 2. This also means the Reds cannot drop to No. 3. Washington will be a No. 1, 2 or 4. Cincinnati will be a No. 1 or 2. San Francisco almost certainly is a No. 3, though it could be a No. 2. And Atlanta is a No. 2, 3 or 4, with 2 unlikely and 3 very unlikely.
With all that taken care of, I must alert you to what would've been one of the most ill-fated tweets in Twitter's short lifespan had the small fire on the Baltimore Orioles' team airplane Sunday night been anything serious. As it was, the team landed in Jacksonville safely. It is safe, too, to say the team's official account will no longer be talking about anything being "on fire."
From now on, we can say the O's have been "super-duper" or "really rad" or "tubular." Or we could just make it easy and say the …
6. AL Manager of the Year is Buck Showalter, far and away the toughest call of the awards. Why him over Bob Melvin? Usually it would be that the AL East is tougher than the AL West; this year, that isn't the case. Or maybe it's the Orioles' paltry payroll. Except Oakland's is even lower. Ultimately, it came down to two things: Showalter helping change a losing mentality that has pervaded the major leagues, minor leagues, front office and fan base, and his ability to cobble together something cohesive out of what seemed like a thousand roster moves in a season. (It was actually 178.)
1. Buck Showalter
2. Bob Melvin
3. Ron Washington
Wash gets the nod over Joes Maddon and Girardi for holding together a group that could've fallen apart after consecutive World Series losses and injuries to Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz. Rangers players love him, and similar sentiments are one of the reasons my …
7. NL Manager of the Year is Dusty Baker. Almost every one of Dusty's players adores playing for him, and to have done this in a lame-duck year – he still doesn't have a contract for next season – with Ryan Madson going down in spring training and Votto missing an extended period of time during the regular season speaks highly of him. Baker juggled his everyday players well in Votto's absence, didn't come close to overworking his pitchers – aside from a spot start during a doubleheader, his starting five pitched all 161 games – and managed perhaps the game's best bullpen with aplomb (minus that whole worn-down Chapman, which seems to have resolved itself).
1. Dusty Baker
2. Davey Johnson
3. Bruce Bochy
[Also: Rising A's star Grant Desme leaves baseball to become a monk]
I get that Johnson is probably going to win this thing unanimously. I just happened to pick the Nationals to go to the World Series, and I tend to award the unlikelier candidate. I guessed the Reds would win the Central, too, but by this much? Nope. Oh, and even though I did whiff on my next prediction – and many, many others – I was close on the triple-slash line for my next winner: the …
8. NL Rookie of the Year is Bryce Harper. If people are going to play the arbitrary-endpoints game with Cabrera, allow me to do it with Harper. His OPS bottomed out at .718 on Aug. 15. In the 156 at-bats since, Harper is hitting .327/.387/.667 with 12 home runs. By the way, Mr. Might-Be-MVP is .319/.395/.652 with 13 homers over the same time.
1. Bryce Harper
2. Wade Miley
3. Todd Frazier
Harper's run at the end of the season solidified him over Miley and Frazier, both of whom faded as the year went on. Would've loved to include Norichika Aoki and Wilin Rosario, but the former's power numbers simply don't stand up and the latter's on-base skills and defense are nonexistent. Combine Aoki's speed and defense with Rosario's pop and you have a bootleg version of the winner of the easiest award to pick in, oh, the last 25 years? The …
9. AL Rookie of the Year is Mike Trout. The ballot should go:
1. Mike Trout
2. Mike Trout
3. Mike Trout
Fine. Here's the real one:
1. Mike Trout
2. Yu Darvish
3. Yoenis Cespedes
The AL teems with excellent rookies this season: the three above, Matt Moore, Jarrod Parker, Wei-Yin Chen, Tommy Milone, Addison Reed, Robbie Ross, Jose Quintana, Jesus Montero. I went with Darvish over Cespedes (and Moore) because of his strikeouts as well as his 185-plus innings. He and Cespedes both made marvelous transitions to the big leagues, and they even got a head start on …
10. Mike Trout that neither they nor Miguel Cabrera could hold. This is the second time in the history of this column that one player earned three degrees. The other: Verlander last season, when I pegged him as AL MVP and Cy Young.
Now Verlander is coming out in full support of his teammate, which makes sense. Please don't confuse this for a gotta-be-one-to-know-one scenario. Players gravitate toward Cabrera because they've been weaned on this idea of what's good. For pitchers, wins are good. For hitters, RBIs are good. And while the two tend to correlate with valuable players, there is no direct causation. Mediocre players pile up RBIs. Great players don't. OK pitchers win 20. King Felix won the Cy Young with 13.
This. Is. Not. About. WAR. This. Is. Not. About. The. Triple. Crown. No matter what side you're on, please, for the sake of those of us who want fair debate about this award, don't boil it down to either of those things. It is so intellectually dishonest and mendacious, and it serves no other purpose than to denigrate people who are trying to bring into baseball analysis a sense of objectivity.
Yes, their methods, motives and systems of delivery can be dogmatic and callous. Just as the old-school thinkers bare teeth at the mere mention of a statistical acronym, the new-school number-crunchers opt to denigrate instead of educate. Granted, they're dealing with a populace that might not want to learn, but it's still unbecoming.
There always will be people in love with the idea of the Triple Crown; topping all three categories is indeed a staggering achievement. But so is playing superlative center field and stealing bases at an insane rate and moving from first to third and second to home as well as anyone and popping 30 home runs and helping jump-start a stagnant team.
The Triple Crown is a one-a-day vitamin that purports to heal. Mike Trout's season is a cocktail of drugs that does.
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