Guess who decided MVP?

November 16, 2012 

Miguel Cabrera didn’t thank the Seattle Mariners after winning the American League’s Most Valuable Player award Thursday by a surprising margin. Cabrera can be forgiven the oversight: During the contentious national baseball debate between the old fogies who favor traditional stats versus the nerdy geeks who analyze advanced metrics, the Mariners were as far away from the MVP race as they were from the playoff race.

But the Mariners – well, two of them, anyway – were factors in Cabrera’s victory over Mike Trout, the sensational Los Angeles Angels rookie.

Take a bow, Hisashi Iwakuma.

You too, Blake Beavan.

If the Seattle right-handed pitchers don’t handcuff Trout in 2012, he finishes as the AL batting champion. And if Trout finishes as the batting champion, a substantial case for Cabrera – that he deserved the MVP because he won baseball’s first Triple Crown in 45 years – is out the window.

Owning two-thirds of a Triple Crown is an impressive achievement, but as Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Smarty Jones would tell you – if, like, they could tell you – there’s a difference between an almost Triple Crown and an actual Triple Crown.

Back to Trout. Once the Angels promoted the eventual rookie of the year from the Pacific Coast League (his spring training was all but lost to a sinus infection), he hit .326 while belting 30 homers and stealing 49 bases in 54 attempts, and he patrolled center field with the flair of an acrobat.

Mike Trout did it all … except when the poor kid had the misfortune to face two obscure middle men in the Mariners’ rotation. Trout was 2-for-12 (.167) against Iwakuma, and 2-for-9 (.222) against Beavan. If Trout manages two more hits off each of them, his average jumps to .333, and he displaces Cabrera as batting champion.

It’s not as though Trout was dominated by the Mariners in general. In 17 at-bats against ace Felix Hernandez, he had nine hits – including a double, a triple and a home run – and eight RBI.

Think about this: Trout drove in 83 runs, and 10 percent of them came off pitches thrown by King Felix, the only Mariners player whose name casual fans on the East Coast recognize. And yet Iwakuma owned him, and Beavan had his number, and as I am thinking about this myself, I am reminded of the wisdom of former pitcher Joaquin Andujar.

“There is one word in America that says it all,” Andujar once said. “and that one word is, ‘You never know.’ ”

If I’d been given an MVP vote, it would have gone to Trout. I’m one of those old fogies who has converted from statistical traditionalist to a believer in advanced metrics. I don’t understand the complex mathematical formulas – anything more complex than a standard multiplication table makes me dizzy – but some really bright people have found a way (sort of) to quantify a player’s defensive work, while adjusting the offensive numbers to the quirks of his home park.

As a force capable of creating the runs that win games, and preventing the runs that lose them, the Angels’ dynamic center fielder trumped the Tigers’ serviceable third baseman. And let’s not even broach the nonsense about using Detroit’s first-place finish in a soft AL Central as a tiebreaker over the Angels’ third-place finish in a strong AL West.

Trout’s Angels won 89 games. Cabrera’s Tigers won 88.

But I can appreciate the MVP case for Cabrera, whose team was two games out of first place on Aug. 31. Cabrera hit 11 home runs, with 30 RBI, over the stretch drive. The fact the veteran first baseman was amenable to moving to third base, enabling the Tigers to put free-agent slugger Prince Fielder into the infield mix, was the very essence of an MVP.

Still, it was the Triple Crown that separated Cabrera from Trout. Old stats, new stats, whatever: When you lead a baseball league in hitting, homers and RBI, when you’re the first player to do this since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, the phone call informing your status as Most Valuable Player is not unexpected.

Trout’s emergence as baseball’s best all-round talent, at age 21, energized the debate with some high-octane fuel. If he stays healthy, I suspect he’ll win an MVP award down the road.

Heck, he might even win three or four or eight of them. There’s no ceiling that can be put on the spectacular Angel in the outfield – unless he’s trying to hit the pitches of Hisashi Iwakuma or Blake Beavan.

Against those guys? All bets are off.


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