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Miguel Cabrera clearly the right call for MVP

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff  November 16, 2012 10:27 AM

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"I was a little concerned. I thought the new thing about computer stuff, I thought Trout's going to win because they put his numbers over me." -- Miguel Cabrera

To the young or old, more cerebral or more physical, the Most Valuable Player Award is indisputably a matter of semantics. It is also a matter of priorities. Speed over power? Offense over defense? Whom you support depends on what you believe.

But this much we should all be able to agree on:

A strong finish.

And so with all due respect to Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout, a pillar of the game's future and perhaps the most well-rounded player in baseball in 2012, he batted .257 in September. There is just no way around that. The voting members of the Baseball Writers Association got it right on Thursday when they gave the 2012 American League MVP to Miguel Cabrera, the game's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years and a throwback in an age of computer stuff.

Here's what else Cabrera was in 2012: an absolute beast in August, September, and early October, when his team was fighting for a playoff spot. Beginning on Aug. 1, Cabrera batted .344 with a 1.081 OPS, 19 home runs, and 54 RBI in 57 games. He closed the way Carl Yastrzemski did in 1967, which just happens to have been the last time someone led either league in home runs, RBI, and batting average.

Not a believer in the Triple Crown because it uses outdated metrics? Fine. Go try and find how many players ever have led their league in batting average and home runs in the same season. And while you're at it, if you're defending Trout, find the list of MVPs who had relatively poor Septembers while their teams fell short of the playoffs.

In 2012, after all, National league MVP winner Buster Posey batted .371 in August, .364 from September 1 and beyond. Last year, the NL MVP winner checked in at a respective .369 and .330. A year ago in the AL, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander went 9-0 in his final 10 starts, all in August and September, giving the Tigers the kind of performance Pedro Martinez gave the Red Sox in 1999.

And as any Red Sox fan might remember, Nomar Garciaparra all but had the AL MVP won on Sept. 1, 2003, when he showed up for work batting .323 with a .915 OPS to go along with 105 runs scored, 35 doubles, 13 triples, 23 home runs, 90 RBI and 15 stolen bases. Then Garciaparra hit .170 for the rest of the regular season.

Instead of winning the MVP, he finished seventh.

In defense of Trout, those leaning towards more modern statistical methods are likely to point out that batting average is relatively meaningless statistic and that Trout's on-base percentage in September was .380. (Cabrera, who batted .306, interestingly, checked in with an OBP of .378.) This argument obviously assumes that a walk is as good as a hit, which is utterly preposterous.

Tell me exactly what the hit is, folks. Is it a double? A triple? A homer? At best, if it comes with the bases loaded, a walk can push home one run. It is hardly uncommon for even a single to score two.

Here it a detailed breakdown of how Trout and Cabrera performed in September:

September numbers

Pretty interesting, right? Trout actually had a slight edge in on-base percentage because he drew walks. Meanwhile, Cabrera swung the bat -- with authority -- and produced runs. And yet, there are still people out there who try to tell us that batting average doesn't mean anything, that it is an archaic statistic.

What are these people smoking?

If all of this comes off as an indictment on Trout, it isn't. Quite the contrary. Trout was worthy of the MVP -- as was Cabrera -- and his advantages over Cabrera in baserunning and defense are not debatable. Anyone who voted Trout first hardly qualifies as dumb, and Trout might very well have been the most complete, well-rounded, multi-talented player in the game this year.

Unfortunately, the MVP is not a Player of the Year award. That was true in 1978, when Jim Rice beat out Ron Guidry in a controversial vote, and it was true in 1986, when Roger Clemens edged out Don Mattingly. It remains true now. On the ballot, voters are instructed to choose the player they deem to be most valuable to his team, which introduces an array of biases and subjectivities.

Stats, too, are biased, and the modern seamheads would be wise to note that their metrics can be as flawed as any other. According to some data, after all, Chicago Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano was the second-best left fielder in the game in 2012, and yet any new mother would be foolish to hand Soriano her bundle of joy. The man is a butcher in the outfield and he always has been.

And so, if you were building a team today, would you take Trout over Cabrera? Quite possibly. If both were 20, Trout still plays in the center of the diamond and has a most diverse skill set. But that's not the question. The question is which player's contributions mattered more to his team this season, and you just can't do that without putting more emphasis on the games at the end.

As either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will tell you, momentum means everything at election time.

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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