Miguel Cabrera

Cabrera vs. Trout brings to mind 2001 AL MVP battle

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Except this time, the shoe is on the other foot.

2001 was probably the height of the steroid era. Over in the NL, Barry Bonds had his record 73-homer campaign, with Sammy Sosa chipping in 64 and even Luis Gonzalez hitting 57. Things weren’t quite so silly in the American League, but consider that Rafael Palmeiro had 47 homers and 123 RBI and finished tied for 14th in the MVP balloting.

There were five legitimate candidates for AL MVP that year, none necessarily head and shoulders above the others:

Roberto Alomar (2B Cle): .336/.415/.541, 20 HR, 100 RBI, 30 SB in 575 AB
Bret Boone (2B Sea): .331/.372/.578, 37 HR, 141 RBI, 5 SB in 623 AB
Jason Giambi (1B Oak): .342/.477/.660, 38 HR, 120 RBI, 2 SB in 520 AB
Alex Rodriguez (SS Tex): .318/.399/.622, 52 HR, 135 RBI, 18 SB in 632 AB
Ichiro Suzuki (RF Sea): .350/.381/.457, 8 HR, 69 RBI, 56 SB in 692 AB

Most correctly figured the balloting would come down to Ichiro and Giambi. Ichiro had the narrative, having just arrived from Japan in time to lead the Mariners to a record 116-win season. He was also vying to become the first player since Fred Lynn in 1975 to win both the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in the same year. Giambi was second to Ichiro in average, first in OBP and first in slugging, all for a 102-win A’s club. Maybe Rodriguez was truly the AL’s best player, but his Rangers won 73 games; he ended up finishing sixth in the balloting.

Of course, statheads at the time believed Giambi was more valuable than Ichiro. We weren’t quite so noisy about it then, but it seemed pretty obvious to us. No amount of speed and defense from a right fielder was making up for 300 points of OPS. In fact, Ichiro wasn’t even the Mariners’ best player; Boone had pretty much the same OBP, an extra 100 points of slugging and probably the greater defensive value of the two.

Alas, Ichiro won in a close vote. He got 11 of the 28 first-place votes, compared to eight for Giambi, and he won 289 points to 281. Boone got seven first-place votes and finished third. Alomar, playing for a first-place Cleveland team, got the remaining two first-place votes and finished fourth.

11 years later things have swung the other way around. The 2012 AL MVP will come down to these two guys:

Miguel Cabrera (3B Det): .325/.390/.601, 43 HR, 136 RBI, 4 SB in 612 AB
Mike Trout (CF LAA): .321/.395/.557, 30 HR, 80 RBI, 48 SB in 546 AB

And now the statheads favor the all-around player. It’s not hard to see why. Ichiro and Giambi were separated by 300 points of OPS. Cabrera and Trout are separated by 40. Defense and baserunning certainly makes up for that.

As for the Triple Crown, it’s really neat, but in the end, it wouldn’t make Cabrera any less valuable if someone else in the league had hit .360 or finished with 50 homers. Cabrera isn’t outpacing the rest of the league this year like Giambi did in 2001. Giambi had 97 points of OPS on anyone else in the league. Cabrera has 39. Giambi’s OPS+ was 199, Cabrera’s is 164. Cabrera had higher OPSs and OPS+s in both 2010 and ’11.

And Trout, obviously, is hitting a whole lot better than Ichiro did in 2001. He’s second in the AL in OPS. Ichiro was 26th. Trout has a 167 OPS+, Ichiro was at 126.

There is one complicating factor: because Trout opened the year in the minors, Cabrera has played an extra 22 games. That carries quite a bit of weight in my mind. I’d still vote Trout, but I’m not going to be all that disappointed when Cabrera wins.

It seems to me that everyone dug in on Trout vs. Cabrera weeks ago, which is a shame, because it really has rendered September irrelevant. It’s also pretty sad, since it seems like no one can write a column defending their choice without attacking the other side.

Here’s the way I see it: Trout is having a historic season, with a legitimate flaw in that he was a non-factor in April. Cabrera is having a Cabrera season; he’s one of the game’s three best hitters and thus is worthy of MVP consideration on an annual basis. He’s about due to win one. He hasn’t been the best player, but he has been awfully good for 22 more games than the other guy. And one imagines Trout will be a candidate a few more times before he’s done.

James McCann is in The Best Shape of His Life

Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann blows a bubble while warming up during a spring training baseball workout, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Lakeland, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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As I note every spring, “Best Shape of His Life” stories aren’t really about players being in The Best Shape of Their Lives. They’re about players and agents seeking to create positive stories.

We know this because the vast majority of Best Shape of His Life claims are about guys who were either injured the season before, guys who had subpar years the season before or players whose conditioning was a point of controversy the season before. These folks, or their agents + reporters who have little if nothing to write about in the offseason = BSOHL.

James McCann hurt his ankle last season and had a subpar year at the plate. So not only is he a perfect BSOHL candidate, he went old school with the claim and hit it right on the money, verbatim:

Spring training is less than a month away, folks!

Bo Jackson is not gonna change kids’ minds

1989:  Bo Jackson #16 of the Kansas City Royals practices his swing as he prepares to bat during a game in the 1989 season.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last week Bo Jackson said that, if he had it to do all over again, he would have never played professional football and that he would never let his kids play. The sport is too violent, he said. “I’d tell them, ‘Play baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, just anything but football.’”

Fair enough. Thom Loverro of the Washington Times, however, thinks that Bo could do more than simply give his opinion on the matter. He thinks Bo should become an official ambassador for Major League Baseball:

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, pick up the phone right now and call Bo Jackson. Tell him you have a job for him — vice president of something, whatever you would call the man in charge of converting a generation of young athletes to baseball. And pay him what he wants.

You won’t find a better symbol of the differences between the two sports than Bo Jackson. After all, he was an All-Star in both. Bo knows football. Bo knows baseball.

Bo, tell the children — baseball over football.

The Children: “Who is Bo Jackson?”

Yeah, I’m being a bit flip here, but dude: Jackson is 54 years-old. He last played baseball 23 years ago. I’d personally run through a wall for Bo Jackson, but I’m 43. I was 12 when he won the Heisman trophy. While he may loom large to middle aged sports writers, a teenager contemplating what sport to play is not going to listen to someone a decade or more older than his parents.

This isn’t terribly important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s indicative of how most columnists process the world through their own experiences and assume they apply universally. It’s probably the biggest trap most sports opinion folks fall into.