Matthew Pouliot

Melky Cabrera

Melky Cabrera must not think he’s a .340 hitter

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Melky Cabrera signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Blue Jays, which seems pretty good given that he hasn’t played since getting slapped with a 50-game PED suspension and then got kicked to the curb by the Giants when he was eligible to return in the postseason.

Still, it’s a two-year deal at a fraction of what he figured to get previously. Even if he slumped some during the final month and a half and into the postseason, he was likely looking at something in the neighborhood of $50 million for four years as a free agent this winter. A strong finish could have netted him $70 million for five years.

So why lock into that extra year? Cabrera was no second-year guy needing financial security in the form of a long-term deal; he’s already earned about $11 million in his career. He could afford to gamble if he were confident in his ability to bounce back and put together a strong 2013 season. We may never know whether the Jays would have signed him to a one-year, $8 million deal if that’s what he preferred — they may have wanted that extra upside the second year provides — but it’s hard to imagine they or someone else wouldn’t have given him at least $6 million for 2013 alone.

It suggests to me that Cabrera doesn’t see himself coming back and having another season like his 2012. Because if he did, he would have taken the one-year deal and then chased the big payday.

Maybe I’m wrong. And I don’t want this to read as a condemnation of Cabrera. But it’s intriguing to me. I think of most athletes as supremely confident in their abilities on the field (or the court, track, rink, etc.). And while Melky took his game to a whole new level in 2012, he was also something much more than an $8 million player with the Royals in 2011. If he isn’t confident he can get back to that — if he doesn’t think of himself as being worth $15 million per year or what have you — then I’m not all that sure I’d want to sign him at any price.

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

Mike Trout
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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
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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
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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
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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.