AL MVP race: Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera in battle to the finish

Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera are in an MVP battle. Is it really that close?

As we near the end of the regular season, trophy talks are on the rise. This year, another Tiger is in the AL MVP race: Miguel Cabrera. He and Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout are on all voters’ lists as one and two.

What baffles me is this race is considered close. Not only on a numbers standpoint, but also on the importance of team wins, Cabrera should easily walk away with the title. Don’t get me wrong, Trout has had a phenomenal year, but every once in a while when a high-profile rookie makes a splash, everyone automatically assumes he’s the next big star. We start to see comparisons to the legends that have gone before them. Talks near the end of July put Trout in Willie Mays territory — comparing the young outfielder to the Hall of Famer who is arguably the best player ever to play the game. Obviously, the people who say this have never seen the Say Hey Kid play, and were probably born after he retired in 1973. This is a little premature, don’t you think?

Maybe right now, when it’s time to seriously consider what name to write down, they won’t overlook how Cabrera has hit a league-best 105 RBIs to date. Or that for the sixth season in a row he’s hit 30 home runs. Or his average is continuing to climb from its current .327. Maybe, just maybe, they won’t overlook his dominance. Even though he has nearly 80 more at-bats than Trout, he still has more hits, doubles and home runs.

What’s making this MVP race so close is that an interesting, non-standardized sabermetric statistic, Wins Above Replace (WAR), has suddenly emerged. This stat shows how many more wins a player would give a team as opposed to a “replacement level” or bench player at that position. Since Trout has had a stellar season thus far, this stat is now relevant, and is listed with averages, home runs, pitching, etc. Trout leads the league with a 6.7 WAR, and Cabrera is behind him at 5.7. Somehow, someway, on some level, this stat is supposed to mean something. It clearly states that backups can’t pick up the load if they replaced them. Wow, that’s an awful lot of expectation for a backup to endure, especially if you’re the understudy of an MVP candidate. See what I’m getting at here? WAR is meaningless.

If we’re looking at a positions sort of take, then let’s look at this aspect as well. Trout can play all over the outfield. He’s predominately a center fielder, but isn’t a stranger to left and right field. Cabrera came into the league as a shortstop in the Marlins farm system nine years ago. Since then, he’s played left, third, first and designated hitter. I think experience should mean a lot here when it comes down to the wire, as this race will.

Unless a rookie, much like Ichiro was in 2001, is overwhelmingly the best player in his respected league, then Rookie of the Year is a more suitable award — it leaves no questions.

If Cabrera does win the MVP, he will be the 11th player in Tigers history to do so. If Trout does, he’ll be the third player in Angels history.

Trout has become a fan favorite. With players like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones and Roy Halladay leaving the game in the next five years, Trout leads the next generation of ballplayers. I can see why it’s important to market these youngsters now, but let’s not choose glamour over fact.

When it’s all said and done, the winner will be based on how his team fares. If the Tigers make the playoffs and the Angels don’t, Cabrera will be crowned and Trout will take it home if the Angels are in and the Tigers aren’t. If both teams fail to reach the postseason, that’s where things could get interesting. As of Tuesday, The Tigers (65-57) sit two games out of first, and the Angels (63-60) are third in the West. The Tigers are fourth in the wild card standings, and the Angels are fifth. Can this race be any closer?

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