Author: Matthew Pouliot

Mike Trout

Mike Trout, baseball’s best player, is denied MVP award


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 was better from Aug. 24 until the end of the season.

Why Aug. 24? Oh, that’s right, Cabrera had a good game that day and Trout had a good one the day before.

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.

Buster Posey first catcher in 40 years to win NL MVP award

Buster Posey

The Giants’ Buster Posey was the runaway winner for National League Most Valuable Player honors Thursday, claiming 27 of the 32 first-place votes.

Posey was listed in the top three on every ballot to finish with 422 points. Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun came in second place with three first-place votes and 285 points. Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen was third with 245 points. He edged the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina even though he got no first-place votes and Molina got two. Molina finished with 241 points.

Besides those four, only one player got a top-three vote: Braves closer Craig Kimbrel was second on Tracy Ringolsby’s ballot. He finished eighth overall. San Diego’s Chase Headley was fifth, while the Mets’ David Wright and the Nationals’ Adam LaRoche tied for sixth.

Back from the broken leg that limited him to 45 games in 2011, Posey hit .336/.408/.549 with 24 homers and 103 RBI in 530 at-bats for San Francisco last season. He won the batting title because of a rule amendment that disqualified suspended teammate Melky Cabrera. Baseball-reference’s WAR had him as the league’s top player ahead of McCutchen and Braun.

Posey became the first Giant to win the award since Barry Bonds won his fourth straight in 2004. He’s the first catcher since the Reds’ Johnny Bench in 1972. Twins catcher Joe Mauer was the AL MVP in 2009.

The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without Miguel Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera

The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without Justin Verlander
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without Austin Jackson
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without Prince Fielder
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without Max Scherzer
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without Doug Fister
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs had they played in the AL East
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs had they played in the AL West
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs had MLB tossed the divisions and used a balanced schedule
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs had Jerry Reinsdorf spent like Mike Illitch
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs had John Danks not had a lost year
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs had the White Sox traded for Anibal Sanchez instead of Francisco Liriano

Miguel Cabrera was the biggest reason for the Tigers’ modest regular-season success.  But the simple fact that his team made the playoffs and Mike Trout’s didn’t is a ridiculous justification for giving him the MVP award. The Yankees wouldn’t have made the playoffs without Robinson Cano. The Rangers wouldn’t have made the playoffs without Adrian Beltre. The Orioles wouldn’t have made the playoffs without Matt Wieters and Adam Jones and probably a handful of others. And I’m pretty sure Cabrera would be the first to say that several of his teammates were invaluable to the Tigers’ cause.

None of that means Cabrera shouldn’t be MVP. But the award is meant to go to the most valuable player in the league, not the best player on a team that just happened to squeak into the playoffs.

The case against Torii Hunter helping the Tigers

Torii Hunter

It’s not hard to see why the Tigers were regular-season disappointments in 2012; the bottom half of the lineup, which was so productive the year before, stumbled badly:

OPS by lineup spot, from 2011 to 2012
No. 5:  .797 to .671
No. 6: .842 to .654
No. 7: .720 to .700
No. 8: .768 to .695
No. 9: .637 to .603

Victor Martinez was supposed to hit fifth, but he missed the entire season. Delmon Young, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch and a lousy assortment of second basemen all contributed to the funk.

In adding Torii Hunter on a two-year, $26 million contract on Wednesday, the Tigers took a step towards lengthening their lineup, even if the plan is to hit Hunter second initially. Martinez is expected to DH regularly and hit fifth. Andy Dirks, who will be moving from right to left, figures to hit sixth against righties.

That Hunter is an upgrade for the Tigers seems pretty obvious. For all of the praise heaped on youngster Avisail Garcia, there’s little reason to think he’s ready to be a full-time player in the majors.

I’m just not at all convinced that Hunter was the right upgrade for the Tigers. He’s worth the $13 million per year and more if he has two more seasons at his 2012 level, but the chances of that happening are very slim.

Before suddenly hitting a career-best .313 last year, Hunter had never in his entire career deviated more than 25 points away from a .275 average; his high was .299 and his low was .250. He came in at .281 in 2010 and .262 in 2011.

Going along with the fluky average was a career-low isolated slugging percentage. Hunter hit just 16 homers after finishing with at least 20 in every full season of his career. He hit 23 in both 2010 and ’11. He didn’t make up for it with extra doubles, either; he hit just 24.

Hunter also had one of the lowest walk rates of his career, with just 38 bases on balls in his 140 games.

One might say he was cutting down on his swing in an attempt to stroke more singles. But if that were the case, how would one explain his career-high strikeout rate? Hunter fanned in 23 percent of his plate appearances last season, up from 16 in 2010 and 19 in 2011.

Everything except Hunter’s batting average on balls in play suggests he was on the decline, and no hitting statistic is more prone to random variation that BABIP. If Hunter had hit his usual .300-.310 on balls in play instead of a ridiculously high .389, he would have had his worst season since 1999.

Maybe the whole thing was a fluke. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hunter hit a few more homers and strike out a bit less next season. But his average is coming down, probably way down. If he hits his usual .270, then he’s not going to be all that great of a No. 2 hitter. And if he falls to .250-.260, hardly an unlikely possibility at age 37, he’s really more of a No. 6 or No. 7 hitter.

It’s not a signing worth condemning, not when it’s only two years. Hunter still plays very good defense in right field. He gets all kinds of points for leadership. He’s just not likely to be quite the upgrade the Tigers think they’re getting.

David Price becomes first Rays pitcher to win Cy Young Award

David Price

After tying for the league lead in wins and finishing first in ERA, David Price claimed his first American League Cy Young Award on Wednesday, picking up 14 of the 28 first-place votes.

Justin Verlander, last year’s Cy Young and MVP winner, finished second with 13 first-place votes and totaled 149 points to Price’s 153. Jered Weaver came in third, though he didn’t get the remaining first-place vote. That went to Rays closer Fernando Rodney, courtesy of Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The four-point margin of victory was the closest in an AL Cy Young race since Mike Cuellar and Denny McLain tied for the award in 1969.

Price tied Weaver at 20 wins and ended the year with a 2.56 ERA, just ahead of Verlander at 2.64. Weaver, at 2.81, was the only other AL starter to finish with a sub-3.00 ERA.

Verlander received less run support than Price and ended up at 17 wins. Still, many will argue that he should have won the award. He led the AL in innings pitched and strikeouts. He threw 27 more innings than Price and 50 more innings than Weaver. He also was pitching in front of the worst defense of the trio and in the most favorable park for hitters. On the other hand, he did pitch in the weakest of the AL’s three divisions.

Price previously finished second in the Cy Young balloting to Felix Hernandez in 2010. The three-time All-Star is 61-31 with a 3.16 ERA since debuting with the Rays at the end of the 2008 season.