Miggy or Trouty? The AL MVP race isn’t really that close

Mike Trout’s defense has been just as spectacular as his offense this season. (Patrick Smith/Reuters)

A month ago, the answer seemed pretty clear cut by most. Mike Trout was taking the baseball world by storm and seemed to be the opening act for every sports show across the country. He was making ridiculous plays in center field – robbing home runs and using his elite speed to track down balls and turn teammates, and opponents, into gasping spectators. He was showing off some serious power that many thought wouldn’t come for a couple of years (at least those who didn’t really know him). He was using his world-class speed to pile up stolen bases with such little effort that it didn’t seem fair to have that much talent. With every passing game, he was the “youngest player to (insert record here).”  He was the 20-year-old, aw-shucks, good-looking kid from Millville, New Jersey, who was suddenly thrust into La La Land and resurrecting his star-studded team back into contention. It was Trout season and everybody was gone fishing.

On the other side of the baseball world was a guy who was doing the same thing he has done since coming into the league at age 20. A guy, who, despite being one of the most consistent hitters in the history of the game, always seemed to be standing in line behind Albert Pujols when talks came up about the best hitter in baseball. Now, he was standing behind one of Albert’s teammates.

Miguel Cabrera is enjoying the best season of his career. He leads the AL in bating average, RBI and is just two home runs behind Josh Hamilton in his pursuit of becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years when Carl Yastrzemski pulled off the feat with the Boston Red Sox back in 1967. Still, many think the race is a foregone conclusion and Miggy will, once again, fail to capture his first MVP award, although his recent surge has sparked some heated debates.

I feel I can argue this case without bias, as I don’t have an allegiance to either team, but I am a big fan of both players equally. Let’s start with comparing the two players’ stats along with some ammo to support their cases:

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

125 G, .327, 118 R, 24 2B, 6 3B, 27 HR, 77 RBI, 46 SB, .396/.558/.954

  • He leads the AL in runs, stolen bases and is second in batting average and OPS despite missing the first month of the season. Ranks third in OBP, fourth in SLG and is tied for 13th in home runs.
  • His 162 game projection would put him at 215 hits, 153 runs, 35 home runs, 100 RBI and 60 stolen bases, easily the best season by a rookie in modern times, and arguably one of the best ever, regardless of age.
  • The Angels are 73-52 (.584) with him in the lineup, 8-15 (.348) without him.
  • For the Sabermetric folks out there, his 10.3 WAR leads all of baseball and is almost double Robinson Cano’s 6.6 who is in second place among hitters. His offensive WAR of 7.8 leads all hitters and his 2.6 defensive WAR ranks sixth.

Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers

146 G, .333, 100 R, 38 2B, 0 3B, 40 HR, 129 RBI, 4 SB, .396/.612/1.008

  • He leads the AL in batting average, RBI, SLG, OPS and is second in hits, runs and home runs. Ranks fifth in doubles and fourth in OBP.
  • Aside from his .298 batting average in April, he has hit at least .300 every month and has driven in at least 20 RBI every month.
  • He is hitting .348 with 22 home runs, 58 RBI and a 1.114 OPS over 60 games since the All-Star break, including .373 in 16 September games with seven home runs, 20 RBI and a 1.223 OPS.
  • He has missed just one game this season.
  • His 6.3 WAR ranks eighth among hitters in all of baseball and his 7.0 offensive WAR ranks third.
Miguel Cabrera has a chance to win the Triple Crown award, which hasn’t been done in 45 years. (Andrew Hancock/Sports Illustrated)

Both are enjoying great seasons at the plate. Trout’s production is especially eye-popping considering he is doing it from the leadoff spot. Some may point out that having Prince Fielder hitting behind you is helping Cabrera’s numbers this season. While true, as Ryan Braun can attest to last season, both Cabrera and Braun always put up great numbers. Cabrera has nine consecutive seasons of at least 100 RBI and has hit at least 30 home runs and hit .300 in eight of his last nine seasons. Braun, meanwhile, is having an even better season this year.

On the surface, to the casual fan, the race seems close given their counting stats. But it really isn’t.

Miggy is, by all accounts, a one dimensional player. Even though that one dimension is superior to most every player who has ever played the game, Trout has him beat in nearly every other aspect of the game this season. While Cabrera’s defense isn’t as bad as many lead you to believe it is – his .963 fielding percentage is .011 points higher than the league average at his position – his lack of range is what makes him a liability at third base. Trout is one of the best defensive players at a much harder position.

Trout’s speed also separates himself from Cabrera and the rest of baseball. His 46 stolen bases in 50 attempts show both his speed and intelligence on the base paths that make him the game’s best base runner in just his first full season in the big leagues. That ability to wreak havoc on the bases creates a heck of a lot more runs for his team than Cabrera. If you add up their doubles, triples and stolen bases, Trout has put himself in scoring position 76 times to Cabrera’s 42. Now, some will argue that they both have different roles, Trout more of a table setter and Cabrera more of a run producer. On a per-game basis, however, their power numbers aren’t as far off as their ability to create runs, tilting the scale even more in Trout’s favor.

Believe me, I am not a huge fan of Sabermetrics. They have their place in the sport but there are just too many variables to consider to put all of your eggs in that basket. But when the numbers are as distant as they are when comparing the two players, it doesn’t take a Bill James to see who has been the most valuable player to their team, league and who has been the best overall player this season. Cabrera might be the best hitter in baseball and having his best season to date, finishing the year in ridiculous fashion. His team could make the postseason and he could end up winning the Triple Crown award. Mike Trout, however, is the 2012 AL MVP.

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