In handing Miguel Cabrera the American League MVP award, the voters weren’t making a statement that Cabrera’s four additional points of batting average, his 14 homers or even his 56 RBI made him a better player than Mike Trout last season.
Because this isn’t really about who was the better player.
Sportswriters decided long ago that the Most Valuable Player isn’t necessarily the best player. Because the best player is often quite obvious. One doesn’t need any inside knowledge to deduce the best player. In fact, it’s very much in the best interests of the BBWAA to keep the MVP criteria ambiguous and controversial. It’s the debate that keeps the machine going.
Mike Trout was pretty obviously a better overall player than Miguel Cabrera this year. He hit .326/.399/.564 to Cabrera’s .330/.393/.606, while playing in the tougher environment for hitters. He also grounded into 21 fewer double plays. Cabrera was still probably a bit more valuable offensively, but Trout more than made up for that with his defense and baserunning.
So what trumps that…
Cabrera won the Triple Crown.
But he wouldn’t have been any more or less valuable had Jose Bautista remained healthy and hit 50 homers. It’s a really cool feat, but the title adds nothing to his value.
Cabrera’s team made the postseason.
But the Angels had a better record while playing in a better division. Also, for what little it’s worth, the Angels were 81-58 when Trout played and 8-15 when he didn’t.
Cabrera moved to third base for the good of the team.
He never wanted to move off third base in the first place. Trout opened the season in the minors “for the good of the team” and never uttered a peep, even though that decision could have cost him millions in future earnings, the Rookie of the Year award and, as it turns out, the MVP award.
Cabrera certainly did have better stats than Trout over the final five weeks. But here’s another truth: Cabrera’s RBIs were the difference in one Tigers victory down the stretch (3 RBI in a 6-4 win over the Twins on Sept. 29). Trout’s RBIs were equal to or greater than the Angels’ margin of victory on Sept. 30 against Texas (solo homer in a 5-4 win), Sept. 9 against Detroit (solo homer in a 3-2 win), Aug. 28 against Boston (two RBI in a 6-5 win) and also in that Aug. 23 game that no one wants to count (two RBI in a 14-13 win).
In my opinion, the best argument for Cabrera as the AL MVP is that he was the league’s second best player and he played in 22 more games than the best player, which has a whole lot of value. It’s hardly his fault, but the fact is that Trout contributed nothing for three weeks in April. Cabrera already had six homers and 16 RBI by the time Trout was called up.
And I’m OK with Cabrera getting the MVP. He’s been one of the game’s best players for a long time, and he hadn’t won one before. He’s not Juan Gonzalez; he’s a legitimately superb hitter and a sure-fire Hall of Famer unless he suddenly falls off a cliff. He wasn’t quite as good as Trout in 2012, but then, Trout’s 2012 campaign trumps that of most MVPs most years.