Originally Posted by Jeff Passan
Here's how we're going to do this: I know you have questions. For each, I promise an answer – a good one that relies on reality rather than perception, on the present instead of the past, on facts above conveniences. It is best to approach this from a purely stoic place; emotion is great, but it lets you fall prey to the immaterial. It's why this whole Triple Crown gambit is working so well.
I see a hand in the back. Yes, sir, you.
"What do you mean by gambit?"
The idea that Triple Crown = MVP is a strictly emotional play with no foundation in logic. It takes a mythical title given to a player based on a very important category (home runs), a marginally important one (batting average) and one that does next to nothing to denote a player's value or worth (RBIs) and merges them into a baseball Voltron.
What Miguel Cabrera has done this year is marvelous. There is no questioning that. He is the AL's best hitter. But simply because he leads the league in three categories, no matter their historical significance, does not crown him MVP. Not only is ignoring every other part of his game vis-à-vis Trout's irresponsible, but also it makes the mistake of tying this award to another person's achievements in the final three games of the season.
You're telling me that if Josh Hamilton hits a home run and Miguel Cabrera doesn't, the MVP shouldn't be his? Or that if Cabrera does and Hamilton doesn't, suddenly the award is his again? This thinking is so arbitrary, so backward, so easily blown to smithereens, I can't understand how its practitioners hold up the Triple Crown like it's the Hope Diamond without noticing the underlying failures of their argument.
OK, next. Guy with the pocket protector.
"Why are they making this about WAR?"
This is so stereotypical.
"I know. Sorry."
You know why they're making this about WAR? Because they're scared. They're scared of what they don't know and they need a villain. And so the computers and their alphabet-soup metrics have become the target, even though this MVP vote has absolutely nothing to do with WAR and everything to do with the fact that Mike Trout simply has been a better player in 2012 than Miguel Cabrera.
WAR, for the uninitiated, is Wins Above Replacement. It is the sabermetricians' attempt at a catch-all metric that includes hitting, fielding and baserunning. It has its flaws. There are two versions, Baseball-Reference.com's and Fangraphs.com's, and their numbers differ. That's confusing. They also use defensive metrics whose efficacy is highly questionable and thus affect the numbers' accuracy.
Still, nobody who is arguing Mike Trout's case with any conviction uses WAR. Just because he happens to have an enormous lead over Cabrera in the metric doesn't mean it's part of the argument. The insincerity of the Cabrera Truthers reaches its nadir when they bring up WAR like it matters.
You know what matters? Mike Trout is hitting .321/.395/.557 with 30 home runs, 48 stolen bases in 52 attempts and plays center field better than anyone in the major leagues. He beats you with his bat, with his legs and with his glove. There is no exact way to measure whether that beats Cabrera's advantage with the bat. But Trout is close enough to Cabrera – .325/.390/.601 with 43 home runs – that anybody who values the havoc Trout wreaks on the basepaths (and not just stealing bases but taking extra ones) and the enormous advantage on defense (Gold Glove-caliber center fielder to below-average third baseman) surely would believe it not only makes up for it but also exceeds it.
"There's no way the Tigers would be where they are without Cabrera, you know?"
It's true. And it's even more true for Trout. He was in the minor leagues most of April because the Angels were determined to suck for the season's first three weeks. And the Angels were dreadful. Their record when he was down: 6-14. Their record since he arrived: 82-57. With Cabrera all season, the Tigers have 86 wins. Truth is, Trout packed more into his five months than Cabrera has into six.
"And what do you have to say to the people who talk about the Tigers making the playoffs?"
It's a great achievement. Congratulations. Oh, and the Angels are two games better than the Tigers in a far tougher division. Their run differential is +28 over Detroit's. Detroit gets to play 18 games against Kansas City, Minnesota and Cleveland. The Angels had Texas and Oakland for 19, plus more against Baltimore and Tampa Bay.
"Why is Miguel Cabrera totally awesome and Triple Crown and he switched positions and Tigers going to the playoffs and Triple Crown and Trout's a weird name and September stats and Triple Crown and neeeeerrrrrdsssssssss!!!"
Security! Get him out of here!
"But Miguel Cabrera switched positions! How selfless is that?"
You know who else switched positions? Mike Trout. For 28 games this season, he started in left field – and he played there even more when the Angels chose to use Peter Bourjos in center.
And of course Miguel Cabrera switched positions. What was he going to do, say no? And force Prince Fielder or himself to designated hitter?
"The New York Times said: 'History will remember Cabrera as the standout performer of 2012.' You can't argue with history."
Know what: History can be an idiot. History looks at life through a vacuum. History does not anticipate evolution, knowledge or change. History regards the Triple Crown as the apex of offensive baseball accomplishment because before the statistical revolution, nobody knew any better. For us to sit here now, with what we know, and accept that on its face is lunacy. We know runs batted in are teammate- and lineup-dependent statistics – that Mike Trout, batting leadoff, is far less likely to get RBI opportunities than Miguel Cabrera, hitting third. And that's true: Cabrera leads the AL in at-bats with runners in scoring position, with 173. Trout has 106. And their numbers are awfully close, with Cabrera's OPS at .997 and Trout's at .939.
"Fine then. Cabrera has thrived in August and September, and Trout has slumped. Don't you give points for end-of-the-season performance?"
I know some in the Trout camp are of the mind that late-season stats don't matter. I happen to disagree. I think they are important. Games in April and September count the same in the standings, but they're different because their context is different. Game No. 60 feels different than No. 160. Then, you have the rest of the season to figure something out. Now, time is done and performance is imperative.
That said, there are two very important points to make.
First: The arbitrary-endpoint game is amazingly stupid. Just because Miguel Cabrera has done X between date Y and Z means nothing. If we want to play that game, guess what he did from games 150-156: .222/.250/.296 with zero homers and two RBIs. Not very MVP-like, is it? You can cherry-pick any sort of numbers you'd like to make a point.
Second: That's what the pro-Cabrera people seem to want to forget. Even if Trout has been human since August, he's still popping homers (his 30th Sunday), still stealing bases (his 48th) and his July was better than any month of Cabrera's this year: .392/.455/.804 with 10 homers , 23 RBIs, nine steals and 32 runs in 25 games. It was a magnificent display of baseball, the best from anyone this season.
"Jeff P., do you have a vote this year?"
If I did, I wouldn't say yes or no. We're not allowed to. I'll say this: I do know a fair number of the voters. And from our discussions in the past, and the way they view baseball, I think Miguel Cabrera is going to win the AL MVP this year. I think that's sad. And I think the New York Times was wrong. The way baseball is evolving, when history looks back on this year, it's not going to celebrate Miguel Cabrera maybe or maybe not winning the Triple Crown. It's going to wonder how the voters watched an all-time historic season and screwed up, because it's evermore obvious that the AL MVP is Mike Trout.