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Trout? Cabrera? Doesn’t matter much. They both had MVP seasons

Nov 15, 2013, 11:47 AM EDT

Miguel Cabrera AP

A quick thought on the Miguel Cabrera-Mike Trout MVP race.

As you might know, I had a vote this year. And I voted for Trout. I suppose that won’t be a shocker for anyone on this site. I’ve never hidden my strong opinion that while Cabrera’s the best hitter in the game, Trout is the best player in the game. Last year, Trout had what is almost certainly the best season for a 20-year-old in baseball history. This year, he had one of the best for a 21-year-old.

Best seasons for a 21-year old in no particular order:

– Mike Trout, 2013, .323/.432/.557, 39 doubles, 27 homers, 33 SBs, led league in runs and walks.

– Rogers Hornsby, 1917, .327/.385/.484, led league in slugging and with 17 triples during Deadball Era.

– Rickey Henderson, 1980, .303/.420/.399 with 100 stolen bases and 111 runs scored.

– Cesar Cedeno, 1972, .320/.385/.537 with 39 doubles, 22 homers, 59 steals and 103 runs scored while playing in the hitter-unfriendly Astrodome.

– Eddie Mathews, 1952, hit .302 and led league 47 home runs. He also had 135 RBIs and 99 walks.

And so on — Jimmie Foxx in 1929, Ken Griffey in 1991, Andruw Jones in 1998, Ted Williams in 1939, Frank Robinson in 1957, Ty Cobb in 1908 and so on. Most of the great 21-year olds became Hall of Famers. Mike Trout really is a phenomenon.

In my view when you totaled up everything — power, getting on base, defense, speed, base-running — Trout was simply the more valuable player. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and talked to a lot of people. That was my call.

But that’s not the main point here. The main point here is this: I’ve come to believe with these awards that, sure, there are often players I believe deserve to win who do not. But that’s just about opinions. I think the larger question to ask is this: Did the person who won the MVP award have an MVP season? Did the person who won the Cy Young Award have a Cy Young season?

Sometimes they don’t. The Cy Young Award has been particularly shaky. Mark Davis, Steve Bedrosian, LaMarr Hoyt, Pete Vuckovich, Mike Flanagan, just as a starting point … I just don’t think any of them had Cy Young seasons. They had seasons that were illusions because of high win totals or high save totals.

And it’s true for MVP. I don’t think Dennis Eckersley had an MVP season when he won the MVP in 1992. I don’t think it was close to an MVP season. He pitched just 80 innings, and did not have a markedly better season than Jeff Montgomery, Duane Ward, Doug Jones, Jeff Russell or a half dozen other relievers. He pitched for a great team that won a lot of games, he had helped redefine that position, and voters liked him. The problem with 1992 was not that Roger Clemens or Kirby Puckett or Robbie Alomar or numerous other more deserving candidates did not win the award. The problem with 1992 is that Eckersley did not have an MVP season but won anyway.

I don’t think Andre Dawson had an MVP season in 1987 — he led the league in home runs and RBIs which impressed everybody. And it was impressive. But that was a reflection of his home park; and he was actually quite dreadful on the road (.234/.288/.480). His WAR that year was 15th among players who got votes. Tony Gwynn, who hit .370/.447/.511 or Eric Davis with his 37 homers and 50 stolen bases or Dale Murphy, who actually had a better season than either of his MVP seasons, were MUCH better candidates for MVP. But once again, my big issue is that Dawson simply did not have an MVP quality season.*

*Conversely in 1982, when Dawson had a fantastic season that was absolutely of MVP quality, he finished 21st in the MVP voting.

We can keep going with this. I don’t think Willie Hernandez had an MVP season in 1984 — it would be awfully tough for me to believe a reliever could pitch enough innings to be the most valuable player in the league (though Hernandez did throw 140, way more than the modern closer). Don Baylor did not have an MVP season in 1979 — he was a DH/lumbering outfielder who slugged more than 100 points less than his own future teammate Fred Lynn. Jim Konstanty certainly was not the most valuable player in 1950 — a year when Stan Musial had a Musial year and Eddie Stanky had a .460 on-base percentage and scored 115 runs and so on.

And the point: Miguel Cabrera this year had an MVP quality season, no question about that. He had an MVP quality season last year too. He’s a fantastic player in his prime. It’s easy, when you get caught up in the argument, to forget the greatness of Cabrera and the greatness of Trout. They both had legitimate MVP seasons and so did Josh Donaldson and Robbie Cano and throw in Chris Davis and Evan Longoria too. I voted Trout but it’s not like the BBWAA gave the award to Jim Johnson because he had 50 saves or Prince Fielder because he had 100-plus RBIs. They gave it to a great player who had a great season.

I will say that I wish there hadn’t been voters who put Adrian Beltre and Dustin Pedroia and (my head hurts) David Ortiz ahead of Trout. But that’s a different story and didn’t matter anyway.

  1. Carl Hancock - Nov 15, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    I commented this on the other post about Triut and Cabrera but figured if include it here also…

    It’s pretty simple. Voters don’t care about base running or defense when it comes to the MVP award. It’s all about who is the best hitter and offensive player. Is it really that difficult for saberheads to comprehend?

    If the MVP award truly was the MVP the Yadier Molina would have won it hands down, but sabermetric stat heads won’t come to that conclusion either because all of their stats have no way to quantify Yadier’s entire game and the impact he has on the pitchers and the players on the base paths during the games he catches. He’s the definition of an MVP.

    They seem to bring up defense with Trout in the argument against Cabrera, but where is it with Yadi? Last I checked Yadi’s pitch calling influences every single pitch.

    The bottom line is Cabrera was the better hitter this year, last year and probably every year for the foreseeable future. That’s what most writers vote for. They have Gold Glove’s for defense. The MVP award has always been about hitting.

    I believe that saber metrics are a good thing, but they aren’t the end all be all because they don’t quantify everything and never will. That’s why numbers alone and made up statistics combining other statistics don’t paint the full picture. Hell, you can make up a stat that combines other stats to make all kinds of players appear to be amazing.

    Trout is a fantastic player. But Miguel Cabrera is Miguel F’n Cabrera. Deal with it.

    • 18thstreet - Nov 15, 2013 at 12:18 PM

      Basically, what you’re saying is: because it’s hard to quantify defense (whether Trout’s or Molina’s) and intangibles (like Molina’s impact on his pitching staff), these things should have zero value in the minds of the voters. If I’m reading you correctly, that makes no sense to me.

      First of all, we can calculate these things. Molina allows fewer stolen bases than most catchers, both because he’s a good thrower and because he has a reputation as being a good thrower. You don’t need anything fancier than stolen bases allowed and stolen bases attempted to see that. Trout is also a good defensive player. Sure, you can use the advanced metrics, but there’s other — countable — things as well.

      Trout’s baserunning (especially compared to Cabrera) is easy to quantify. Stolen bases, reached on errors, double plays grounded into … these are countable things. They don’t require a PhD in statistics to understand. They don’t require understanding WAR (which I don’t ) or believing in it (which I do).

      Basically, the argument for why Cabrera is the MVP and Trout is not has been rehashed so many times that I’m not going to bother doing it here. But that doesn’t mean that fans like Carl need to throw up their hands and say “it’s obviously [one guy!]” Me, I don’t care who the voters choose. They make bad decisions often enough that I don’t care even if I think they make the right one.

    • ptfu - Nov 15, 2013 at 1:35 PM

      “The MVP award has always been about hitting.”

      Well, you must have skipped the entire paragraph in the article about how Dennis Eckersley won the MVP. Wasn’t for his hitting.

      Also, your 2011 AL MVP, Justin Verlander, says hi. Dude didn’t win for his hitting.

      There have been a whole bunch of other pitchers who have won the MVP. In 1968 both leagues awarded their MVP award to a pitcher. Carl Hubbell won it twice and Hal Newhouser won back-to-back MVPs. These guys won for their pitching, not their hitting.
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/awards/mvp_cya.shtml

      Also, the MVP voting guidelines sent to all BBWAA voters includes the following:
      “Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.” Everybody is eligible, including people who don’t hit at all, people who do nothing but hit, and everyone in between.

      Pitchers can and have won MVPs, and most of them couldn’t hit a lick. So why can’t position players win MVPs for all-around contributions, in addition to their hitting? There’s already plenty of precedent for people good at things besides hitting to win MVP.

    • DJ MC - Nov 15, 2013 at 5:28 PM

      I think you managed to make one of the few arguments that both old- and new-school supporters can disagree with in equal vehemence.

      First, you have your condescending attitude toward the one side of the argument, which is bad enough. Then, in making your true point, you have all of your facts wrong. Because the MVP has NEVER been an “offensive” award. Sometimes it is given to the guy with the best triple-crown stats, sure. But historically, it is also given to guys perceived as team leaders or offensive sparkplugs or ace starters or shutdown relievers or amazing fielders.

      Now, you can disagree with how many (and how much) of those things should matter in the discussion. But, throwing all of that out and making a blanket statement just makes you sound uninformed on the issue and doesn’t help the discussion for either side.

  2. pappageorgio - Nov 15, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Both did have great years and could have won the MVP.

    But Miggy is the one who actually did.

    • nbjays - Nov 15, 2013 at 1:03 PM

      Hopefully it makes up for not winning the World Series… again.

      • grumpyoleman - Nov 15, 2013 at 1:21 PM

        How’d the Angels do in the playoffs this year?

  3. alang3131982 - Nov 15, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    If both had MVP seasons, why did only one win? Just cause both had statistically awesome seasons doesnt mean one season wasnt more valuable…this is stupid.

    • DJ MC - Nov 15, 2013 at 5:31 PM

      On a message board I used to frequent, there was a guy who used to get all pissy whenever someone called a very good defensive player on our team “gold-glove caliber” because he hadn’t yet actually won a Gold Glove.

      He wasn’t a very popular person in the discussions.

  4. spacemaker101 - Nov 15, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    Trout better go to NL if he wants MVP any time soon

    • nbjays - Nov 15, 2013 at 1:04 PM

      Nope, they only value hitting over there as well.

  5. sportsfan18 - Nov 15, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    Cabrera – best hitter

    Trout – best player

    There is more to baseball than just hitting. Scouts want to find the “5 Tool” prospects… you know the ones who:

    1) Have base running skills and speed (they are different from each other)

    2) Throwing ability

    3) Fielding abilities

    4) Hit for average

    5) Hit for power

    Cabrera does 2 of the 5 well.

    Trout does all 5 well.

    Another poster somewhere else said this so I may not take credit, but pitchers, teammates sure like it when Trout is on the field behind them or next to them.

    Trout’s teammates sure like it when he’s on base (on the base paths).

    Trout’s teammates sure like it when he’s at the plate.

    That sounds like real value to me, excelling wherever he’s at on the diamond.

    • allday420ap - Nov 16, 2013 at 12:53 PM

      My question is how the hell the angels are so bad then?

      • km9000 - Nov 16, 2013 at 7:35 PM

        Because Trout can’t pitch.

  6. sdelmonte - Nov 15, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    And both would gladly trade all their MVP votes for a World Series ring.

    • ireportyoudecide - Nov 15, 2013 at 1:55 PM

      I don’t think that’s true. I would rather be Miguel Cabrera then Daiel Nava. I think most players feel the same.

      • lazlosother - Nov 15, 2013 at 7:13 PM

        Sdelmonte didn’t say they would trade ability, he said they would trade awards. He is right.

    • DJ MC - Nov 15, 2013 at 9:11 PM

      Cabrera has a ring.

  7. sjhaack - Nov 15, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    These two second place finishes are going to have an impact on Mr Trout’s wallet in the very near future when he hits arbitration.

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