Triple Crown or Trout? AL MVP debate a hot topic
Miguel Cabrera has his Triple Crown. MVP award, maybe not.
Hold on, now. How could that be?
Mike Trout, that’s how.
It’s the hottest debate in baseball, seemingly pitting
old-school traditionalists against new-age number crunchers in a
bench-clearing shouting match over what constitutes
At stake is the American League’s Most Valuable Player award,
perhaps the game’s top individual prize.
Cabrera capped an extraordinary season Wednesday night by
becoming the first Triple Crown winner in the majors since Boston’s
Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. The Detroit Tigers’ slugger led the
league with a .330 batting average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs – the
standard statistical categories by which excellence was commonly
judged for the better part of the past century.
”If he’s not the MVP then there’s no such thing,” Tigers
manager Jim Leyland said.
Trout, however, made some history of his own. Called up from the
minors three weeks into the season, the Los Angeles Angels’ rookie
quickly became a never-before-seen force prior to his 21st
Possessing a unique combination of skills in the concrete body
of a running back, the dynamic kid from New Jersey did it all –
hitting home runs and taking them away with highlight-reel catches
high above the center-field fence.
Trout batted .326, second to Cabrera, with 30 homers and 83
RBIs. He also led the majors with 49 stolen bases (in 54 attempts)
and 129 runs – 20 more than Cabrera in 22 fewer games. The slumping
Angels were 6-14 when they brought up Trout and went 83-59 the rest
of the way.
The first big league rookie to reach 30 homers and 40 steals in
one season and the youngest player with a 30-30 campaign, Trout
struck out 41 more times than Cabrera but committed only four
errors in the outfield. Cabrera had 13 errors after unselfishly
switching back to third base when the Tigers signed first baseman
Prince Fielder last winter.
”Divide it in half,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ”They
both had sensational years.”
That would be too easy. The hard part is making a pick.
For anyone who thought winning the Triple Crown would
automatically anoint Cabrera the MVP, take note of this: There have
been nine Triple Crown seasons since the MVP award was introduced
for each league in 1931. Four times, the Triple Crown winner was
beaten out for MVP by a player on a pennant winner.
Chuck Klein of the Philadelphia Phillies lost to New York Giants
pitcher Carl Hubbell in 1933. Yankees slugger Lou Gehrig was topped
by Detroit catcher Mickey Cochrane the following year. And then
Boston’s Ted Williams, unpopular with certain writers, fell short
to Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon (1942) and center fielder Joe
At the center of the argument this year is a modern calculation
called WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a figure derived from an
assortment of other stats. WAR is designed to go deeper than the
conventional numbers in measuring a player’s all-around
contribution to team success.
A worthwhile endeavor for sure, though some think the formula is
Leyland, for example, bemoaned that WAR doesn’t emphasize RBIs
enough. Others believe it’s the most complete and accurate
appraisal of a player’s true value.
Trout finished with a WAR number of 10.7, best in the majors,
according to baseball-reference.com. Cabrera was at 6.9, fourth in
the American League.
The discrepancy is almost ironic, considering how the debate
sometimes falls along generational lines. Trout’s sizable
advantage, of course, is a result of his vastly superior defense
and baserunning – both traditional fundamentals long held in high
regard by baseball’s old guard.
With reporters everywhere asking for opinions as Cabrera chased
the Triple Crown, it seemed most managers and players favored
Cabrera for MVP. Front-office types often pointed to Trout. Tigers
teammates wore T-shirts touting their guy.
In the end, the only people with the power to decide it are the
28 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who have
a vote. And if recent history holds a clue, they might lean toward
Cabrera more because he powered the Tigers to an AL Central title
than the fact that he ended the longest Triple Crown drought in
”The Triple Crown is obviously a historic achievement, but
whether Cabrera gets it or not shouldn’t impact his standing in the
MVP race,” Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, who has an AL
MVP vote, said early this week.
”The fact that he’s led the Tigers to the postseason with a
monster September should make him a slight favorite over Trout,
though Trout will certainly still have plenty of support for his
incredible year. I think Detroit’s late-season surge will be a
bigger factor if Cabrera wins the MVP than his run at the Triple
Trout’s team made a second-half charge but missed the playoffs
and finished third in the AL West. Still, the Angels’ final record
was one game better than Detroit’s.
And while Cabrera merits credit for leading his club to the
playoffs, it seems unfair to punish Trout for simply playing in a
That may not matter to voters, though.
Setting aside the strike-shortened season of 1994 when the
postseason was canceled, the only time in the last 20 years that
the AL MVP didn’t come from a playoff team was 2003, when Alex
Rodriguez won with the last-place Texas Rangers.
The trend hasn’t been as consistent in the National League, but
the point remains valid.
What’s most amazing is this: After fans waited 45 years to see a
Triple Crown winner, there’s a legitimate argument about whether
that player deserves the MVP award – even though Cabrera all but
carried his team into the playoffs.
Never imagined that could happen.
That’s how good Trout has been. And that’s how far sabermetrics
”I don’t know, man. It’s a good race,” Cabrera said.
Expect him to win when balloting is announced in November. But
the pick here is Trout, by a tiny sliver. He does everything well,
no flaws in his game.
What’s more valuable than that?
A look at the other big awards:
NL MVP: Worthy contenders include Cardinals catcher Yadier
Molina, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen and Milwaukee
slugger Ryan Braun, last year’s winner. The nod goes to Giants
catcher and NL batting champion Buster Posey, who turned it on in
the second half with All-Star teammate Melky Cabrera suspended for
a positive drug test.
AL Cy Young: Another close call. This one goes to Tampa Bay
lefty David Price, who barely beats out reigning MVP and Cy Young
winner Justin Verlander in part because of the stiffer competition
Price faces in the AL East. Rays closer Fernando Rodney is
NL Cy Young: One more milestone in the feel-good story that is
R.A. Dickey’s winding road to stardom with the New York Mets.
Dickey becomes the first knuckleballer to win a Cy Young Award, a
thrill he would share with all his ol’ mentors: Phil Niekro, Tim
Wakefield, Charlie Hough and the rest. Nationals ace Gio Gonzalez
comes in second and Braves closer Craig Kimbrel third.
AL Rookie of the Year: If not for Trout, this would be an
interesting race featuring Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes of the
Oakland Athletics and Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish from the Texas
Rangers. Trout is a runaway, though.
NL Rookie of the Year: It’s not just hype. A big September
carries teenage phenom Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals
past Arizona pitcher Wade Miley and Cincinnati slugger Todd
AL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin in Oakland edges Baltimore’s
Buck Showalter. Both did an incredible job.
NL Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals.
AP Sports Writers Ronald Blum and Dave Skretta contributed to