The American League MVP race is shaping up to be one of the closest in recent memory with Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim super-rookie Mike Trout locked in a battle that has everyone in baseball debating who is more deserving.
The conversation has grown even more interesting with the possibility that Cabrera may not be the front-runner for the award, despite being in position to become the first player in 45 years to win baseball's Triple Crown.
Another angle which adds juice to the issue is how the debate has pitted baseball traditionalists and on-field personnel – who generally favour Cabrera – versus the younger, advanced stats generation, which increasingly has come to dominate MLB front offices - the majority of which support Trout.
Although both sides are firmly entrenched on either side of the issue, what they cannot disagree on is that both men have had seasons for the ages.
Here's a breakdown of the main arguments for each player.
The Case For Cabrera:
He's the best hitter in baseball.
The ability to hit a baseball consistently and with power is one of the toughest things to do in sports and Cabrera has shown he does this better than anyone. He leads the American League in home runs, RBI and batting average and his combination of on-base and slugging percentage is better than anyone else's. Despite being a power hitter, he has struck out less than 100 times, whereas Trout has over 130 K's.
His team is headed for the playoffs and Trout's is not.
How can someone who leads his team to the playoffs not be more valuable than someone who does not? Cabrera's Tigers are on the verge of a playoff spot (as of Monday, their magic number was one), whereas, Trout's Angels were one game away from elimination. Both teams were in similar positions – trailing their divisions – once September rolled around, but while Los Angeles has failed to make up much ground, Detroit overtook the White Sox in the AL Central, due in part to a huge month from Cabrera, who had 10 home runs, 27 RBI's and a 1.032 on-base, plus slugging percentage. By comparison, Trout had just five homers, six RBI's and an OPS of .836.
The rarity of winning the Triple Crown should be taken into consideration.
Not since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, has any player led their respective league in home runs, RBI's and batting average. Leading in the three categories that traditionally have been used to judge baseball's best should, on their own, be enough to give Cabrera the award. While Trout may have scored more runs and stolen more bases, those stats cannot compare to the categories the Tigers slugger has dominated.
The Case For Trout:
He's the best all-around player in the game.
Although Trout has an impressive combination of slugging and on-base percentage, his value in other areas is even more staggering. He has stolen 44 more bases than Cabrera, scored nearly 20 more runs and has a defensive value that more than makes up for the fact that he trails Cabrera in home runs, average and RBI's.
Moreover, his Wins Above Replacement – a figure that takes into consideration batting, base running, positional value and defensive ability – dwarfs Cabrera's to the tune of him being four wins better over the course of a season.
Run creation and prevention are the primary elements that determine success in baseball and Trout does these things better than anyone.
Many baseball people will argue that ultimately, winning and losing comes down to the ability to both score runs and prevent them, and in order to give your team the highest probability of winning you must accumulate players who can do these two things. Creating runs and negating them are the two things that Trout is far and away the best in baseball at doing.
Besides his offensive contribution, which offensive WAR measures at being worth more than one win and about two runs better (55 to Cabrera's 53), his defense has given the Angels an extra two wins and saved more than 13 runs, while Cabrera has cost his team over nine runs and nearly one win according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). On the bases, Trout has contributed nearly seven runs to his team whereas, Cabrera has cost his team over two runs.
So, in the three most important aspects of the game: hitting, running and defence, advanced statistics tell us that Trout should be the clear choice for MVP.
The value of a player is not related to whether his team makes the playoffs.
Ultimately, a single player can only have a limited amount of success on a baseball team. Even if someone like Trout is able to help make a team 10 wins better, he needs a strong supporting cast to generate the wins required to capture one of the five playoff spots in each league. Blue Jays fans know this feeling very well, having watched Jose Bautista post back-to-back standout seasons in 2010 and 2011, only to see him be punished in MVP voting (particularly in 2011) for not making the playoffs. And with the way baseball's postseason works, a team can have more wins than another – as is the case this year with the Angels and Tigers – and not be playing October baseball.
TSN baseball Insider Dan Shulman shed some light on this issue when he appeared on the Bryan Hayes Show on TSN Radio 1050 last Thursday.
"It might ultimately come down to, which of the two teams -- either or both -- make the playoffs," Shulman said. "But if the Angels win 92 games and don't make the playoffs and the Tigers win 86 and do make the playoffs, how is that fair?"
With MVP voting to be conducted at the conclusion of the regular season, but with the results not being revealed until after the World Series, the AL MVP debate is sure to rage right up until the decision is announced.
Shulman says the race could go either way, but he may be leaning towards Trout.
"I look at Cabrera and Trout and I do say, 'Cabrera's a better hitter,' but it's not like, 'one guy's a 10-out-of-10 and the other guy's a six,' one guy's a ten-out-of-ten and the other guy's a nine," Shulman said. "Now, when you give Trout 50 stolen bases and gold glove defence, to me that tips the scales a little bit."
But we want to know your take on the MVP race.
Should it go to the Angels all-around rookie phenom Trout or Detroit's Triple Crown challenger, Cabrera?
As always, It's Your! Call.