MLB season awards: AL MVP once again comes down to Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout

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One of these years, this awards column will start with something other than a Mike Trout-vs.-Miguel Cabrera debate. This is not one of these years.

[Photos: Best MLB images of 2013]

The discussion over Trout and Cabrera last year devolved into nastiness usually reserved for political discourse. It was the classic two-party argument: the Trout backers, who considered themselves progressive, against the Cabrera supporters, who were set in their ways and appreciated how things always have been done.

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Even if the Trout camp was more outspoken – and as someone railing against what I perceived to be stubborn and outdated thinking, and who cast a vote for Trout, I’m guilty as charged – Cabrera received 22 of the 28 first-place ballots for American League MVP and won in a landslide. History will see him as the 2012 winner. He benefited from a voting bloc that still ties value to team success.

Value is subjective, of course; the ballot itself says so. A vote for Cabrera is a vote for two things: his superior hitting and the Detroit Tigers’ success. As someone who places greater emphasis on the bat than other aspects of the game because its results are more quantifiable, I understand that position. The latter is, and will remain to be, completely illogical. To reward a player because his team is good takes out the very essence of the award – most valuable player, singular – and warps it through the prism of something completely out of their control: the people with whom they play.

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Ultimately, my MVP is distilled through a very simple criteria: Who was the best player? Not the best hitter. Not the guy with the most Wins Above Replacement. Not the top player on a winning team. The. Best. Player.

And for the second straight year, Mike Trout is that player. People can try to rationalize Cabrera, and seen through different lenses, maybe that rationale makes sense. He did play in more games with playoff implications than Trout (even if in those games in September he hit .278/.395/.333 with one home run). He did whack more homers and drive in more runs and beat Trout in batting average and on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Before Cabrera got hurt, he was otherworldly.

Here’s the thing: Trout was still MVP prior to Cabrera’s injury. His first half was great. His second half has been historic. After the All-Star break, Trout hit .324/.479/.539. The average and slugging percentage are superlative. The on-base percentage is wondrous. Since 1961, only three players – Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez and Frank Thomas – have produced at those triple-slash levels over a full season. In history, nobody has done so as a 21-year-old, which Trout was for most of the year. The youngest: Ted Williams at 22.

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It’s not the Williams or Mantle comparisons that make Trout the choice. It is that bat, and it is those wheels both stealing and taking extra bases, and it is that glove that remains one of the best. It is Trout as a whole vs. Cabrera as a whole. And it isn’t that close.

1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
3. Chris Davis, Orioles
4. Josh Donaldson, A's
5. Evan Longoria, Rays
6. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
7. Robinson Cano, Yankees
8. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
9. David Ortiz, Red Sox
10. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays

Just missed: Joe Mauer, Twins; Jason Kipnis, Indians; Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox; Manny Machado, Orioles; Mike Napoli, Red Sox

You know, there is a debate that looks very familiar. Here are the differences between a slugger and his competition in a recent MVP race and a slugger and his competition this year.

(Note: These are from the slugger’s perspective.)








Recent race







This year







Similar, right?

The recent race is Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout in 2012. This year is Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew McCutchen.

Why, then, is Goldschmidt getting absolutely no run as a top-of-the-ballot MVP candidate when McCutchen is the favorite? Why aren’t all the Cabrera backers throwing their love behind America’s First Baseman? Because Goldschmidt’s team didn’t make the playoffs? We’re going there again?

Like Trout last year, McCutchen makes up for the difference in home runs and slugging with a varied skillset. He is a better runner than Goldschmidt (even with the unsightly 10 times caught stealing). He plays a significantly more important position in center field (even if Goldschmidt is better relative to his position, first base).

The race is very close. And ultimately, it’s those difference-makers like patrolling center instead of first that makes a difficult decision easier to understand.

1. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
2. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
4. Joey Votto, Reds
5. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
6. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
7. Jayson Werth, Nationals
8. Freddie Freeman, Braves
9. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
10. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

Just missed: Carlos Gomez, Brewers; Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies; David Wright, Mets; Michael Cuddyer, Rockies; Shin-Soo Choo, Reds

One of the more amusing bits this summer was Tigers manager Jim Leyland sticking up for the pitcher win. He chose Chris Tillman over Hiroki Kuroda in the All-Star Game because of it and, better yet, dropped a Bo Derek reference (!!!) in sticking up for his starter, and the major league leader in the category, Max Scherzer.

The best part – best by far – is that if this were any manager other than his own, Scherzer probably would have called him an ignorant fogey. Not only is Scherzer one of the smartest pitchers in the game, he is wildly curious, too, and at the behest of his brother he embraced some sabermetric principles. And it is based on a blend of those peripheral as well as traditional numbers, and not his 21-3 record, that Scherzer deserves recognition as the best pitcher in the league.

AL Cy Young
1. Max Scherzer, Tigers
2. Yu Darvish, Rangers
3. Chris Sale, White Sox
4. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
5. Felix Hernandez, Mariners

Just missed: Anibal Sanchez, Tigers; James Shields, Royals; Bartolo Colon, A's; Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians; Greg Holland, Royals

This will be unanimous, as it should, because Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. His ERA of 1.83 is the lowest among a pitcher with at least 30 starts since Doc Gooden popped a 1.53 in 1985. His .521 OPS against is even better than Doc’s that year.

The down-ballot rationale: Though not as dominant as Harvey or Fernandez, Wainwright threw almost 70 innings more than both. Lee was almost 45 innings ahead. When your job is to pitch every fifth day, those fifth days and the innings they represent count immensely.

NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
3. Cliff Lee, Phillies
4. Matt Harvey, Mets
5. Jose Fernandez, Marlins

Just missed: Madison Bumgarner, Giants; Zack Greinke, Dodgers; Francisco Liriano, Pirates; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Craig Kimbrel, Braves

Wil Myers was by far the best AL rookie in his time in the major leagues, and his time was significant enough that he was a better bet than Jose Iglesias. Simple and easy, just like this vote should be.

AL Rookie of the Year
1. Wil Myers, Rays
2. Jose Iglesias, Tigers
3. Chris Archer, Rays

Just missed: Martin Perez, Rangers; David Lough, Royals; Dan Straily, A's; Danny Salazar, Indians; Kole Calhoun, Angels

The Yasiel Puig-for-MVP drumbeat died quickly. His fallback option, the NL Rookie of the Year, didn’t work out quite as he’d have liked, either. As good as Puig was – he finished the season at .319/.391/.534 – he didn’t dominate quite like Fernandez. It’s tough for a pitcher of any variety to beat out an excellent position player. That’s how good Fernandez was.

NL Rookie of the Year
1. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
2. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers

Just missed: Shelby Miller, Cardinals; Julio Teheran, Braves; Evan Gattis, Braves; Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals; Jedd Gyorko, Padres; Nolan Arenado, Rockies; Gerrit Cole, Pirates;  Tony Cingrani, Reds (what a class)

Complete coin flip. There is no bad choice between Cleveland’s Terry Francona and Boston’s John Farrell. Francona took a franchise nobody expected to be much of anything to the playoffs. Farrell inherited a completely dysfunctional team and helped reshape it into the best record in the major leagues. I’d split the vote among the two good friends if I could. Instead, it goes to the one without the big star.

AL Manager of the Year
1. Terry Francona, Indians
2. John Farrell, Red Sox
3. Joe Girardi, Yankees

In all likelihood, Pittsburgh’s Clint Hurdle will win this unanimously, and one could argue he deserves as much. He did, after all, lead the Pirates to the playoffs, the sort of feat seemingly reserved for a man not mortal. Still, Hurdle seems more the best of an OK bunch than a candidate like Francona or Farrell or even Girardi, who faced myriad problems and somehow made lemonade.

NL Manager of the Year
1. Clint Hurdle, Pirates
2. Mike Matheny, Cardinals
3. Don Mattingly, Dodgers