The 2012 MLB regular season came to a close last night and while there wasn't quite as much drama as the final day last year, there were still a few significant developments.
The New York Yankees won and the Baltimore Orioles lost, meaning the Yankees clinched the #1 seed in the AL and home-field advantage through the ALCS, while the Orioles get one of the two wild card spots and will play a winner-takes-all game on Friday to see who gets to play....the Yankees.
The Oakland A's won three straight against the Texas Rangers, completing an improbable comeback to win the AL West. As a result, they get the #2 seed in the AL and will play the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS. Meanwhile, the Rangers' loss means they get to travel to Baltimore on Friday to play the Orioles. Again, winner of that game will advance to face the Yankees in a 5-game ALDS series.
As for the National League...ah, who cares. This is an American League post. That said, congrats to the Washington Nationals for clinching home-field through the NLCS. And I'm looking forward to rooting for the Braves to win the winner-takes-all wild card game on Friday, so that Chipper Jones can make one last run at a 2nd World Series ring.
The biggest development of the night, however, happened in Kansas City where despite Miguel Cabrera's 0-2 night, he became the first player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown. For those who don't know, the Triple Crown is awarded to a player who leads his league in batting average, home runs AND RBIs. Cabrera's final stat line of .330/44/139 won him the award. This is an amazing feat on so many levels. I mean 45 years? Imagine what has happened in 45 years, and not a single MLB player has led his league in all three categories during that time period until now. Hats off to Miguel Cabrera, your 2012 American League MV....wait, what's that? Cabrera didn't win the MVP? I mean I know the voting hasn't taken place yet, but he's a lock, right?
In the words of a barely still-alive-Lee Corso, not so fast!! There is this guy named Mike Trout who plays for the Los Angeles Angels who might have something to say about that.
If you watch baseball coverage on ESPN or read about it on any sports website, you undoubtedly have heard analysts debate this exact issue: Trout or Cabrera for AL MVP. And the debate really boils down to old school versus new school.
The "old school" way of looking at baseball stats is to focus primarily on the three Triple Crown categories - average, home runs and RBIs. Historically, the players who hit the most home runs and knocked in the most runs would win the MVP (as long as their batting average wasn't awful). Also, old school baseball guys value the player's team making the playoffs. As an example of this, look at last year's NL MVP race. Matt Kemp had historically great numbers but the Dodgers missed the playoffs and Ryan Braun won the award. So what is my point here? Well, all the old school factors weigh heavily in favor of Miguel Cabrera winning the AL MVP. As I mentioned earlier, he won this award called the Triple Crown that is pretty damn special. Factor in that the Tigers won the AL Central and made the playoffs, while the Angels finished 3rd in the AL West and did not, and Cabrera is your AL MVP!
To avoid boring you with things like OPS+, let's just say that the "new school" way of looking at baseball stats factors in a lot more than just average, home runs and RBIs. These new school stats factor in the ballpark a player plays most of his games in, the player's defense, base running ability and a lot of other "stats" that some would argue leads to a more well-rounded analysis of a player's value. As you might have guessed, the new school approach favors Mike Trout for AL MVP. I am an unapologetic Tigers homer, but even I can make the case for Mike Trout winning the MVP. In 2012, Trout hit .326 with 30 home runs and 83 RBIs. Ok, but those numbers are all less, and some are significantly less, than Cabrera. Fine, Trout's 129 runs scored were 20 more than any other player in the majors and his 49 stolen bases were also tops in the majors. By most accounts, Trout is the best defensive center fielder in baseball - and if you don't believe me, go to MLB.com and search the video archives. Finally, Trout has had this unbelievable season as a ROOKIE who only just turned 21 years old! If you love a storyline, and most baseball people do, then Trout putting up these historic numbers as a 20 year old rookie should all but guarantee he wins the AL MVP.
Ok, but how do you compare Cabrera's "old school" Triple Crown stats with Trout's "new school" base running and defense? That is where WAR comes into play.
WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. Again, there is A LOT that goes into this stat, and I'm not qualified to explain it all. But what is boils down to is this: smarter people than you and me developed a formula to measure an individual player's value as compared to the average replacement-level player at his position. This formula takes into account the standard hitting stats, but also factors in defense and base running. The formula provides a player with a number, and that number represents the amount of wins the player added to his team's total as compared to an average replacement-level player at that position.
As you can probably imagine, WAR favors Trout in this debate. Trout's WAR for 2012 is 10.7. In the history of baseball, only about 100 times has a player finished the season with a WAR of 10.0 or higher, and most of those seasons were a long time ago. Again, for comparison's sake, Trout led the MLB in WAR. Robinson Cano was 2nd, at 8.2. Cabrera was 5th, at 6.9.
So who is the AL MVP? I really think it boils down to which camp you are in - old school or new school. Many people will vote for Cabrera based solely on his Triple Crown. I have no problem with that, but I'd only ask one follow up question: if Josh Hamilton hit 2 home runs last night and ended up with 45, would you then NOT vote for Cabrera because he didn't win the Triple Crown? Seems silly for your vote to swing on another player's performance, no? And if you vote for Trout, do you factor in that his team did not make the playoffs? What about the fact that he had 14 less home runs and 56 less RBIs than Cabrera?
If I had a vote, I'd vote for Cabrera. But I would never get a vote because of my Tigers' bias. The bottom line here is that there is no right or wrong answer. I think Cabrera will win the MVP because the new school way of thinking hasn't fully caught on yet amongst the voters for MVP. It's hard to look at Cabrera's .330/44/139 and not think MVP. Then you take a second to really comprehend what winning the Triple Crown means, and he seems like a runaway favorite. Just don't be surprised if the vote is closer than you think it should be. In any event, Cabrera is only 29 years old and Trout is 21. I'll see you back here in a year when we are most likely debating the same thing.