The members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) definitely have their work cut out for them when it comes to picking this year’s American League recipient of the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award, better known as the Most Valuable Player award. For me, the case is undeniably murky. Still, if I had a vote to submit, I would lean ever-so-slightly towards Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera.
Let me explain…
When reviewing the criteria for the AL MVP award, a few thoughts came to mind. Don’t worry, I didn’t hurt myself. But, in my opinion, there were some glaring points that the members of the BBWAA take into consideration that drastically hurt both Mike Trout, of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Miguel Cabrera. I bet you didn’t think I was going to go there! But, of course, detractors on both sides of the fence seem keen to harp on these issues.
The three criteria, which can be found on the BBWAA’s website are:
1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
3. Number of games played.
No one can argue against the offensive prowess of either Cabrera or Trout. It’s Cabrera’s level of defensive play that raises scrutiny. The unfortunate thing for Cabrera is that Trout is the cream of the crop in centerfield for the Angels. Hold on-
let me back that train up real quick: I should have said ‘thing(s)’, plural. Here’s why: Cabrera’s problem is that he is no longer at first base. Let me make this real clear…
His willingness to go to third base, in order for the Detroit Tigers to sign Prince Fielder, will be the bane to his MVP candidacy.
Cabrera went from being a plus-defender as a first baseman to being, at best, an average third baseman. Don’t get me wrong; he is still serviceable. He makes the routine plays, he has a strong throw to first, and he can start double plays to second, all while committing few errors. But, he has a huge lack of range, and, when sizing him up defensively against Trout, he falls short. I don’t like to speculate with ‘if scenarios’, but if he was at first base, that defensive mountain would not be as high to climb for Cabrera. Regardless, there may be light at the end of this tunnel: his willingness to play third base for the sake of the organization may also help him when it comes time to vote.
Looking beyond the game of baseball, Miguel Cabrera has kept his nose clean, from a legal standpoint since his DUI conviction in 2009. Additionally, he is clearly dedicated to helping his team win at whatever cost. Cabrera returned to his former position at third base to open the door for the Detroit Tigers to sign first baseman Prince Fielder in the past offseason. He did it willingly, and he did it eagerly. During a presser in January, Tigers’ skipper Jim Leyland stated that when he made the initial Sunday phone call to Cabrera asking him about the organization’s plans to sign Prince Fielder, Cabrera was “100 percent on board”. So much so, that he lost upwards of 20 pounds in order to more effectively man the position. Effort? Check. And, if the recent video that has surfaced of Miguel Cabrera ‘stealing’ a fan’s sign that read, “Fire Leyland” is of any consequence, then his loyalty is definitely not in question. Anyone that has watched a Tigers’ game or postgame interview can attest to the fact that Cabrera is always wearing a smile and being a positive influence on his teammates.
However, the 9.5 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) that Mike Trout currently sports, could easily overshadow those elements of Cabrera’s argument. WAR is an attempt to analyze a player’s batting, fielding and base running statistics into one comparable statistic. Cabrera’s WAR is hanging out at 6.7. That’s excellent, but, still lacking in the increasingly popular sabermetric department.
The crux of Trout’s case lies in the fact that, in Major League Baseball, where divisions and wildcards are determined by 1, 1.5, or even 2 games, there’s going to be a tough time garnering validation as the ‘Most Valuable Player’. You see, Trout having missed the first 22 games of the season is the most negative aspect of his shot at being the American League MVP. When you miss a game, you hold zero- mark that- ZERO value to your team. There is a major difference having an 0-4 night at the plate, from a statistics standpoint, and still manning your position on defense. But, for Trout, he wasn’t even playing in the other half of those 198 innings; he contributed absolutely nothing to his team either offensively or defensively. Yes, it’s not his fault, but it does matter. Cabrera has played a good part of the second half of the season in pain due to problems with his ankle and lower leg. But, he has not taken a single trip to the disabled list this year (or his career for that matter), and only missed a grand total of 1 game.
Naturally, and I agree, this MVP race will likely be decided in the final weeks of the season. This race is, at this point, just too close to call. If the Detroit Tigers make the playoffs, Cabrera is your MVP. If the Angels make it, Trout’s your guy. However, if Cabrera fails to win it this year, he’ll join Eddie Murray as the only players to finish in the top five of the MVP voting six times yet never win. What a testimony to Cabrera’s consistency, and what a travesty that would be.