We’ve had the good fortune of seeing two remarkable AL MVP races these past two years. Some of the tribalism associated with last year’s race was unfortunate, but we are witnessing two immense talents ply their craft in historic fashion.
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Last year’s AL MVP race was a clear-cut, two-person contest which proved to be a very divisive topic of debate. Miguel Cabrera came away with the hallowed Triple Crown, Mike Trout was statistically the better player by virtue of speed and defense. Miggy won the award and now both are in the hunt again.
This year’s AL MVP is a bit murkier as a new name enters the mix, and there are two dark horse candidates. Today, let’s look at the case five players have as we enter the stretch run of the 2013 season.
The case for Miggy
Miguel Cabrera’s value is strictly tied into his bat as he is a below-average defender and leg issues this year have rendered his already poor speed to well below average. His bat, however, is doing major damage.
His four-year run of dominance is being capped by what might be his best year ever. Cabrera captured the Triple Crown in 2012, but he’s been an improved hitter in 2013. Cabrera has improved his slash line (.330/.393/.606 in 2012, .354/.447/.676 in 2013), his walk rate (9.5 percent in 2012, 13.8 percent in 2013), his wRC+ (166 in 2012, 203 thus far in 2013) and his fWAR (6.9 in 2012, 7.3 and rising in 2013).
Cabrera is clearly the best overall hitter in baseball right now, and it’s making up for any defensive deficiencies he has.
The case for Trout
Mike Trout will have to do some work over the next six weeks to get to 30/30 once again but that’s perhaps the least impressive part of his stat line.
Trout is posting another absurd slash line: .333/.430/.574. Trout’s cut the strikeout rate by four percent this year and is leading the league in walks drawn. Trout’s defense has taken a hit as a result of splitting time in between centerfield and left field but it hasn’t killed his fWAR, which is sitting at 8.6.
Mike Trout is the best speed/power combo player in the game. The Millville Meteor provides multi-faceted offense with his game. Trout is blossoming right now, and this may be what we can expect his yearly production to be over the next few years. While Trout doesn’t have a lot of black ink on his baseball-reference page, his contributions on the field are undeniable, be it through subjective or objective analysis.
The case for Chris Davis
Chris Davis’s claim the the AL MVP crown relies on his home-run output. It’s not a bad thing to lean on considering the type of season Davis is having. He’s leading the league in HR (46) and in slugging (.689). Davis had a quality year last year (.270/.326/.501 with 33 HR) but the jump in production this year is nothing short of remarkable.
Davis doesn’t provide much value outside of his power numbers; he plays an adequate first base and he doesn’t run very well. His fWAR is at 6.4 purely off his power numbers. Davis will garner some support for being the best player on a winning team and his prodigious HR total, but he will have to explode in September to really pull off an upset.
These last two players are having fine seasons and should finish in the top ten of the AL MVP voting but they are long shots to enter the award race.
The case for Robinson Cano
Cano is having another ho-hum Robinson Cano type season. He’s rolling another .307/.388/.507 off the production line. Cano’s consistent greatness somewhat obfuscates how tremendous he’s been over the course of his career. This year, Cano’s production has fallen off last year’s pace, but the fact he provides so much offense at a key position should boost his AL MVP stock slightly. Should the Yankees find themselves in the playoffs, and Cano has a hot September (career .332/.371/.534 in September/October), he will gather support for his case.
The case for Manny Machado
Machado was on an historic pace early in the season as he was threatening Earl Webb’s single season record of 67 doubles. Machado has fallen off that pace considerably but he still leads the league with 43 two-sackers and is providing a lot with his glove.
His defensive metrics are still a bit wonky, but Machado passes the eye test as well. Defensive value is helping his fWAR buoy up to 5.3. Machado is not going to win this award pending some sort of disaster to the other candidates, but he’s worthy of inclusion because of his defense.
A look at the basic numbers
Let’s take a cursory look at what the statistics say is going on with each of the candidates listed:
Trout is killing the competition in SBs, and he’s holding his own in the other categories. Miggy and Davis are the best power hitters of the bunch, and you can see there’s a big separation factor after the top three. Cano and Machado are there but it’s not close.
Miggy provides a robust slash line to go along with the pretty counting numbers. Davis is currently leading in SLG by the slimmest of margins. Trout is no slouch either as he is posting an OBP much higher than Davis’ and just slightly off Miggy’s pace.
Here we can see a big separating factor amongst the big three in my opinion. Trout and Miggy possess superior plate discipline and pitch recognition skills. Davis lags in that department.
Who should win, who will win
When talking about the 2013 AL MVP, I think we are splitting hairs between two worthy candidates. Both Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout are very worthy of winning the award this year. Ultimately I think Miggy should, and will, win the award. Cabrera is, without a doubt, having his most successful offensive season this year and, with Trout’s defense taking a dip in value, I think the award is Miggy’s to lose.
Source material: fangraphs.com, baseball-reference.com