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Magic Autumn: Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, the Triple Crown, and The Most Irrelevant MVP Award in Baseball History

October 4, 2012

Baseball

Hard to believe, but October is already upon us. The leaves are beginning to turn, 18-25 year old girls drinking pumpkin spice lattes are propping up the value of the US dollar, Jeff Dunham has dressed up his worn out, obnoxious pseudo-comedy in Halloween costumes, and Paranormal Activity 4 is about to cause mild distress to audiences everywhere.

Kids. Aren’t. Scary.

Anyone with a brain and half an eye on the world of baseball recognizes that this fall has brought with it one of the most exciting closes to a baseball season in recent history. Four out of six divisions were still in play over the final week and a half of the season, the new wild card system is giving teams that would otherwise be on the outside of the playoff chase something worth battling for, and, perhaps most remarkably, Miguel Cabrera is the first player since Carl Yastrzemski to win the triple crown.

What your girlfriend thinks when she hears “Yaz” name dropped on SportsCenter.

Lets take a step back for a moment, in order to truly fathom how significant this achievement is. In the 45 years since the last Triple Crown, we’ve had 8 Presidents,  2 depressions, 10 pitching Triple Crowns, 15 perfect games, 136 no hitters, but nobody has been able to lead either league in batting average, RBIs, and home runs simultaneously to end a season. The Triple Crown may very well be the most uncommon individual achievement in all of sport.

Undoubtedly, there will be people years from now who claim that they knew on opening day that Miggy would pull off the Triple Crown. Those people are liars. I consider myself a fairly astute observer of America’s pastime, and the possibility of a Triple Crown for Miguel Cabrera didn’t even register with me until late August. And even then, it seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream, something that I would one day recount to my Grandkids as the summer that almost was.  I’m glad I was wrong about that part. Miguel Cabrera has given every baseball fan something that will never be forgotten.

Before I forget, can someone please replace the other picture that comes up when you Google “Miguel Cabrera” with this one?

But while Cabrera embarked on his historic achievement in Detroit, all the way on the West Coast, Mike Trout was doing something pretty special himself. Trout didn’t even see the field until 20 plus games into the season, and still put up gaudy numbers. Side by side, Trout hit .326 to Cabrera’s .331, hit 30 home runs to Cabrera’s 44, and drove in 83 runs to Cabrera’s 139. But Trout bested Cabrera in runs scored (129 to 109), on base percentage (.399 to .394), and stolen bases (49 to 4). Trout was able to have a comparable statistical season to what will go down as one of the greatest of all time from Cabrera, and he did it with 60 fewer plate appearances, and from a position in the batting order that left Trout without runners on base far more frequently than Cabrera. Trout was also one of the best fielders in baseball this season, with a .988 fielding percentage, to Cabrera’s .966 (in fairness to Cabrera however, third base is arguably a more difficult position to field than outfield, and this was Cabrera’s first full season at third since leaving Miami in 2007).

Over the coming weeks, as discussion over who the MVP will be, you’re going to hear these two players discussed quite a bit, because honestly they’re the only two who deserve to be in the discussion. You’re also going to hear a baseball statistic referenced that you may not be familiar with: WAR. In the interest of sparing the general public a crash course in sabremetircs, WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, can be summarized as a calculation used to determine the amount of wins a particular player offers you above a typical “replacement player.” This “replacement player” is not an average player, because in baseball an average player is almost never available to replace any player who becomes unavailable for whatever reason. The replacement player would likely be a minor leaguer or a below average major league player who’s statistical output could not be considered anywhere near “average.” Baseball Reference has a superb breakdown on WAR, what it means, and why its important, if you’re interested in learning more.

This year, Mike Trout had a WAR of 10.7, meaning he got that Angels 10.7 more wins than a replacement player, one of the 20 greatest single season WAR stats ever seen. The names seen closest to Trout on that list (which you can find here) are Willie Mays, Ted Williams Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Joe Morgan, and Mickey Mantle. By comparison, Miguel Cabrera’s WAR for 2012 of 6.9 barely cracks the top 500 WAR seasons of all time. Cabrera’s poor base running and fielding are major contributing factors in his low WAR metric.

Voting for the MVP award will take place over the next few days. The winner won’t be announced until after the World Series, and during that time arguments both for and against Trout and Cabrera winning the award will be inescapable. But, when everything is said and done, it won’t matter.

Miguel Cabera has done something that only the absolute greatest players in the history of baseball have done. There have been 16 Triple Crown seasons by 14 players, 3 of whom (Chuck Klein, Lou Gehrig, and Ted Williams twice) didn’t win the MVP the year they accomplished that feat.

This is a perfect place for a Lou Gherig’s disease joke, but that would cross my personal line of decency which I just discovered.

By winning the Triple Crown however, Cabrera has likely cemented his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame (every Triple Crown winner of the modern era is in the Hall). In 45 years, people aren’t going to remember who was voted to receive what award, they’re going to remember sitting down with their son or Father or Grandfather or Mother and watching Miguel Cabrera chase, and capture, history. There is a very real chance that this is that last Triple Crown that will be witnessed for a generation, and Miguel winning or not winning the MVP will in no way tarnish or embellish that achievement.

So, Baseball Writers, vote Trout, vote Cabrera, vote based on WAR or the Triple Crown or who has the better smile. Vote however you like. Because people forget awards. But nobody will ever forget the Triple Crown.

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One Comment on “Magic Autumn: Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, the Triple Crown, and The Most Irrelevant MVP Award in Baseball History”

  1. sh Says:

    I think the race is actually fairly close. Fielding % is a pretty misleading statistic, as it depends significantly on range and other factors. WAR incorporates UZR, which is in its own right a pretty unreliable statistic. Fielding stats just aren’t that useful so far. Clearly Trout has a significant advantage over Cabrera in fielding, being able to get to more balls due to his speed at a deservedly higher-profile position. Fielding is extremely difficult to quantify, and the Fangraphs circlejerk pointing to Trout’s bloated WAR, eager to denigrate Cabrera’s accomplishments, refuses to acknowledge this. The dagger in Cabrera’s heart, though, is baserunning. Once Cabrera is on base, he’s no threat to score from second on a single. Trout’s speed makes him infinitely more valuable as a baserunner. Cabrera is clearly a better hitter, but Trout has him beat just about everywhere else. It’s going to be close, and there will be a very reasonable argument for the winner.

    Reply

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