Nov 15, 2013, 8:33 AM EDT
Cabrera dominated offensively for most of 2013 and a consensus about him being the MVP front-runner was firmly in place by mid-summer. By the time he was injured at the end of August, there was no going back in the minds of most voters. Trout only had one bad month too. The difference? His came in April, when he stumbled out of the gate. While his dominating May-September ended up putting him right back to the top of the leader boards by the end of the year, in the minds of MVP voters, Trout was swimming against the current for most of the season.
But, at least on the surface, it shouldn’t have been as hard as a swim in 2013 as it was in 2012, should it have? After all, last year Cabrera did something pretty rare and extraordinary: he won the Triple Crown. And last year Trout, in the minds of some at least, came out of nowhere — he wasn’t in the big leagues until the end of April after all — and had not burst into the public consciousness as an MVP candidate until the season was well underway. Give Trout a full season of overall dominance, take away Miguel Cabrera’s triple crown and add in a dash of people’s general preference for new faces and new stories and, at the very least, the 2013 MVP vote should have been a lot closer than the 2012 vote, yes?
Apparently not. This year Cabrera was listed first on 23 of 30 ballots cast by and second on the other seven ballots. Trout received five first-place votes. The rest of his support was spread out: he got 19 second place votes, three third place votes, and single votes for fourth, fifth and seventh place. In 2012 it was around the same. The numbers were a tad different because, by virtue of the Astros moving to the American league, there were 30 voters in 2013 and only 28 in 2012, but Cabrera nabbed 22 of 28 first place votes and Trout got six. He received more second place votes, however, and none of that crazy down-ballot support he got this year.
In short: Cabrera didn’t miss much of a beat with voters, while Trout’s support, if anything, weakened and became more diffuse. What the heck is going on?
A short and simple answer is mere variance. A different group of voters were pulled out of the pool in 2013 than in 2012. Stuff happens. But I think there is more than mere variance going on. I think that that MVP award voting, at least in the American league, has taken on political and philosophical overtones, and that this year’s result was a function of that.
The philosophical differences are pretty clear. The Cabrera people have come to believe that the MVP award should go to baseball’s best hitter on a contending team. The Trout people believe that the MVP is the best all-around player regardless of where his team finishes. I say “come to believe” in the case of Cabrera, because one look at the history of MVP award provides plenty of examples of people other than the best hitter on a contending team winning. Pitchers, like Justin Verlander in 2011. Big sluggers on last place teams like Andre Dawson in 1987. singles-hitting speedsters like Ichiro Suzuki in 2001. Relievers like Rollie Fingers in 1981 or Dennis Eckersley in 1992. Players who had good seasons but whose primary argument was couched in terms of his emotional or inspirational impact like Kirk Gibson in 1988 and Terry Pendelton in 1991. Historically, anything has gone for the MVP award, but in the past two years the notion that the MVP award must go to the best hitter on a contending team has been the primary argument for Cabrera and the primary disqualifier for Trout in the minds of the voters.
This philosophical divide is not unprecedented, of course. We’ve seen tastes and dispositions in awards change over time. Sometimes Cy Young winners are guys who win a lot of games, sometimes they’re ERA/strikeout-first candidates. Occasionally Rookie of the Year awards will go to late-bloomers who finally got called up and did well and sometimes they’ll go to hot prospects. Manager of the Year has always been all over the map. The prevalent thought on the MVP award just happens now to strongly favor hitting over defense and base running and strongly favors contenders over players on bad teams.
But I think the political overtones of all of this are far more interesting and far more decisive. More than just a preference for certain stats over others, the Trout vs. Cabrera debate has come to serve as a proxy war between baseball’s old guard, represented by established baseball writers with BBWAA credentials and attendant awards votes on the one hand and a newer guard, consisting of baseball fans and, increasingly, writers, whose voice and opinion has come to flourish on the Internet. There is some crossover here, of course. Many Cabrera backers can be found on Twitter and in online message boards and some of baseball writing’s most recognizable and established names such as Ken Rosenthal and Joe Posnanski cast first place votes for Trout this year. But, those exceptions notwithstanding, the contours of this battle are pretty familiar by now.
And it’s clearly about more than baseball. If one, as I do, reads just about everything written on the Trout vs. Cabrera debate, one quickly realizes that baseball has become secondary to the discourse. There’s more written about the very debate itself than these two players’ baseball bonafides, which are usually assumed. There’s talk about the allegedly strident tone of the Trout backers, who are claimed to be dogmatic in their adherence to sabermetrics (never mind that one can and many do make great cases for Trout without a single reference to a stat less than 100 years old). There’s talk about the hidebound and luddite disposition of the Cabrera backers, who are claimed to be stuck in the past and unable to follow basic logic (never mind that the intelligence and baseball acumen of the overwhelming number of Cabrera voters is beyond question).
In my view it’s a debate about a debate. And it’s an argument an altogether different thing than which player is most valuable. It’s about the future of media and baseball coverage. The evidence for this is the tone the debate has taken.
It’s not, as many say, nasty. Others who talk about it say it is, but really, I’ve not seen too many examples of actual hateful rhetoric from Trout or Cabrera backers. To the extent that exists it has been on the margins or from people who don’t actually write about baseball as either their profession or as a significant avocation. People who do are generally civil about this stuff if, for no other reason, most of the discourse takes place on Twitter, and people who are hostile and rude on Twitter get blocked by other users, and people don’t want to get blocked.
No, it’s not about hostility. It’s about defensiveness and insecurity. And there is plenty of that to go around.
Cabrera backers among the baseball writer establishment are defensive and insecure about their place as authorities on the game. Their newspapers have cut back or gone under, their competition for the eyes of readers and viewers has grown intense and the most basic facts and assumptions underlying the enterprise of sports journalism have undergone a sea change in the past decade. It’s a pretty rough world, and even if their position is secure, they’ve seen dozens of friends and colleagues lose their jobs.
There is defensiveness and insecurity on the side of the Trout backers too. These people — and I speak from personal experience — are defensive and insecure about being taken seriously as baseball authorities. About wading into a world that, a few short years ago, would have barred the door and which now only allows them in begrudgingly. To the extent they are allowed in its with caveats and, in some cases, as second-class citizens. Some are rejected for the BBWAA. Some are let in the BBWAA, but their status is lesser. Some are let into the press box, but not the main part of it. And, even if they get a good gig in the new world of baseball media there’s always someone telling them, usually implicitly but not always, that they didn’t earn their way there.
While, 25 years ago, the Old Guard/Cabrera people may have been more accepting of a differing view about who should be the MVP, when the source of that differing view are people seen to be threatening their very livelihoods — people from the Internet — there is far less consideration and far more reaction. Yelling, or something close to it, directed at the threat and borne of a fear that their position on the matter is more than just an opinion — it’s the very thing separating me, the authority, from them, the threat. By the same token, while, if just talking among friends, New Guard/Trout people would never call someone a luddite or question their reason and intelligence, when putting forth their arguments in baseball media, there is far less congeniality and far more yelling. A concern that, if their arguments aren’t made painfully loud and exceedingly clear, they will be lost in the noise of the Internet and their desire — to actually be an authority — will be thwarted.
This is why we are where we are. This is why the rhetoric from some on the Trout side has turned, frankly, silly, what with references to “the intelligentsia” and “enlightened” people. They’re compensating. This is also why you see silly things like seventh place votes for Trout from the Old Guard/Cabrera folks. They’re compensating too. Everyone is so damn worried about their place in the world that they’ll say and do the silliest things in order to justify it. And, for the moment anyway, the Cabrera folks have a greater hold on the BBWAA, so their reaction — and Cabrera’s attendant solidification as MVP despite no triple crown and a full season from Trout — is worth more in the voting.
This dynamic won’t last forever, of course. For one thing, the people involved in it are generally pretty smart and reasonable people and, if they haven’t already figured out that these skirmishes are dumb, they will eventually. This happens with all proxy wars. They are mere footnotes to and offshots of the larger cold wars which encompass far greater and far more fundamental political and philosophical differences.
But those end too and a new way of organizing the world is eventually agreed upon. It happens with things as large and as important as nation-states. It’ll happen with something as small and relatively unimportant as the world of baseball journalism too.
Mar 9, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT
In today’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo writes that the Twins have interest in White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza. 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson reported on Friday that some in the Twins’ front office are fans of De Aza’s. The White Sox will use De Aza as a utility outfielder with Dayan Viciedo…
Mar 9, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Jorge De La Rosa will be the Rockies’ Opening Day starter, Troy Renck of the Denver Post reports. The Rockies haven’t made an official announcement yet. It doesn’t come as much as a surprise as his only real competition for the honor was Jhoulys Chacin, but Chacin is dealing with a shoulder strain and may…
Mar 9, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that the Padres and third baseman Chase Headley appear unlikely to agree to a contract extension before he heads into free agency. The club offered him an unknown amount over the winter, but talks dissipated. Headley had a breakout season in 2012, finishing with an .875 OPS and a…
Mar 9, 2014, 7:10 PM EDT
Refuting recent reports that the Tigers were taking offers on starter Rick Porcello, GM Dave Dombroski told the media that the team isn’t interested in trading any starting pitching and hasn’t fielded any offers on their pitching, per Tony Paul of the Detroit News. Porcello has been the subject of trade rumors for a while…
Mar 9, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports is reporting that the Twins have offered free agent starter Ervin Santana a three-year deal. The right-hander has been mulling one-year deals from the Blue Jays and Orioles and has stated that he prefers a one-year deal, which doesn’t bode well for the Twins’ chances of signing him. In the…
Mar 9, 2014, 5:18 PM EDT
Bronson Arroyo was diagnosed last week with a bulging disk in his back, which threatened to steer him to his first-ever 15-day disabled list stint. But recent workouts have it looking like a minor blip. According to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, the veteran right-hander felt “way better” Sunday in Diamondbacks camp after testing…
Mar 9, 2014, 4:05 PM EDT
As speculated last week by MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick … Don Mattingly announced today @ClaytonKersh22 and @HyunJinRyu99 will start in games one and two of the #OpeningSeries, respectively. — Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) March 9, 2014 Zack Greinke would have started the second game if not for a calf strain that he is still rehabbing. Kershaw…
Mar 9, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Braves right-hander Kris Medlen made an early departure from a Grapefruit League appearance on Sunday against the Mets after appearing to injure his elbow on a pair of consecutive fourth-inning pitches. Medlen grabbed at his throwing elbow following his second-to-last delivery of the game and then skipped to the Braves’ dugout after his final pitch,…
Mar 9, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT
From beat writer Adam Rubin of ESPN New York comes word that Mets left-hander Jon Niese has been cleared to make his Grapefruit League debut on Tuesday against the Cardinals. Niese came down with some left shoulder soreness at the end of February and was sent to New York for an MRI, but that exam…
Mar 9, 2014, 1:49 PM EDT
As first reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Cardinals have agreed to a major league contract with Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that it’s a four-year deal. Diaz will arrive at Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Florida on Monday morning. No word on the financial terms. The Cardinals already have…
Mar 9, 2014, 12:54 PM EDT
Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago has the inside word: Although the White Sox are not shopping outfielder Dayan Viciedo, they are listening to other clubs about their interest in the Cuban power hitter. Several major league sources confirmed that the Sox and Mariners have had discussions on a deal that could center around Viciedo. Nick…
Mar 9, 2014, 12:08 PM EDT
White Sox right-hander Nate Jones said at the end of February that he was completely over the glute strain that he suffered shortly after arriving at spring camp and he proved that on Saturday, delivering a scoreless inning in his 2014 Cactus League debut. Jones allowed a hit and issued a walk, but he also recorded…
Mar 9, 2014, 11:22 AM EDT
Goods news Sunday morning in Cardinals camp. According to beat writer Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, outfielder Peter Bourjos is back in the starting lineup for Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Nationals after sitting out for seven days with tightness in his right hamstring. Bourjos dealt with chronic leg problems during his…
Mar 9, 2014, 10:37 AM EDT
Evan Drellich has an in-depth feature in the Houston Chronicle about the Astros’ built-from-scratch private online database, which is now being used by the entire baseball operations department to improve scouting, communicating, and decision-making. It’s called “Ground Control,” a play on the Astros’ name. The Indians have a similar database called “DiamondView,” the Red Sox call…
Mar 9, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT
Matt Kemp has begun running at full speed and participating in daily outfield drills in Dodgers camp, and he could soon be cleared to become a regular in the club’s Cactus League starting lineups. “We’re seeing him take fly balls, getting jumps,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick on Saturday. ”He’s swinging the bat good.…
Mar 9, 2014, 8:59 AM EDT
Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu has just two hits in his first 13 Cactus League at-bats, but one was a double and the other was a home run, and he continues to draw rave reviews in White Sox camp for the patience he’s showing at the plate. Abreu has yet to strike out through five Cactus…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:25 PM EDT
Over his 15-year career, Yankees outfielder Alfonso Soriano has logged time at five of the eight non-pitcher positions on the diamond. The only three positions he hasn’t played are catcher, first base and right field. He might make it six this season. ESPN’s Andrew Marchand reports that manager Joe Girardi has kicked around the idea…
Mar 8, 2014, 10:50 PM EDT
Outfielder B.J. Upton and second baseman Dan Uggla had miserable 2013 campaigns for the Braves, finishing with a .557 and .671 OPS, respectively. Both players finished with batting averages well under the Mendoza Line with 150-plus strikeouts. It was ugly. As the Braves flipped the calendar over to 2014, there was a sense of optimism…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT
Yesterday, Brewers starter Kyle Lohse criticized the qualifying offer system. Lohse rejected a $13.3 million qualifying offer from the Cardinals after the 2012 season, hoping to get a lucrative deal in free agency. He ended up jobless well into march until the Brewers jumped in and signed him to a three-year, $33 million deal. This…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Many are anxious to see how the new instant replay system will affect the way baseball is played. They may have to wait a week. According to the Associated Press, replay won’t be available when the Dodgers and Diamondbacks open the regular season in Australia. Standard replay, for home run and boundary calls, will be…
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