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Awards season: At his best when Tigers needed it, Cabrera gets MVP nod

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Jon Heyman says R.A. Dickey should win the NL Cy Young. (US Presswire)  
Jon Heyman says R.A. Dickey should win the NL Cy Young. (US Presswire)  

No, Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown doesn't make him an automatic MVP.

And yes, Mike Trout is a worthy, even deserving candidate.

But Cabrera is still the MVP here.

Cabrera not only won the first Triple Crown in 45 years, he hit far better than anyone in the league in the second half, exactly when the Tigers came back to win the American League Central. He had a .667 slugging percentage after the break and a 1.074 OPS, both best in the AL. Cabrera was at his best when the Tigers needed him.

Cabrera led the AL in slugging percentage and OPS in addition to batting average. But any measure, he was the best hitter in baseball.

Cabrera demonstrated what a team player he could be when he surrendered his position within a second of being asked. That allowed the Tigers to sign Prince Fielder to play first base. Without Cabrera's call to move, the 2012 Tigers are an average team.

We've seen so many players who were supposedly great team men balk at giving up their positions for the good of the team. Yet Fielder didn't flinch. Not even for a second. Cabrera could have played king, and prevented Fielder's $214 million signing.

"Not only did he do it, he's maybe the only player in the game who could move from first base to third base and play it OK for a whole season," one rival executive said.

Without Fielder, the Tigers don't sniff the AL Central title. Without Cabrera, they're a .500 team at best.

Cabrera did everything he possibly could for the Tigers this year.

The new stat people say the Triple Crown doesn't equate to an automatic MVP, and they are right about that. Ted Williams won the Triple Crown twice when he didn't win MVP, and I'd agree it's illogical to say those three important but arbitrary stats translate into an irrefutable MVP.

The new stat people say Trout had the better all-around year, and it's quite possible he did.

Trout's baseball-best WAR of 10.4 (according to FanGraphs.com) reflects his superior defense and base-running, things that have nothing to do with the Triple Crown. Cabrera was trailing at 7.2, third best in the AL behind Robinson Cano (7.7).

The case that Trout was a better player this season probably can be made, with or without WAR. I agree that WAR is a useful tool, but unlike the raw (coincidentally, WAR backwards) numbers, it's dependent on values the formula-devising people place on both offensive and defensive stats.

If someone wants to tell me Trout was slightly better than Cabrera, I'll buy that that's possible, based on better defense and base-running. But it's hard to say it's proven via WAR. Even the new stat people will admit the defensive metrics aren't reliable year to year (and obviously the MVP is a one-year award).

WAR is a valuable tool. But it isn't precise, and it isn't perfect. In fact, there are a couple different WAR numbers, caused by different folks putting premiums on slightly different numbers. I'm using FanGraphs.com here.

Perfect? Could anyone possibly make a claim that Cano played better than Cabrera? Would anyone put him ahead of Cabrera on their MVP ballot because his WAR is higher? I certainly hope not.

If someone wants to say MVP means "best," they can vote that way. But "valuable" and "best" are not exactly synonymous, and precedent suggests that a player's impact on the pennant race counts (only last year, Ryan Braun beat Matt Kemp in the NL despite Kemp's slightly better year).

New stat people will tell you it's a bad precedent. But it's still hard for them to make a case that "valuable" equates to "best." They'll try to tell you it could mean value to the team. But of course, the MVP isn't a team award, it's a league award.

New stat people will say all games count equally, but not all games are equal in tight races, not when the pressure of the pennant race increases as they go.

New stat people will tell you it doesn't matter who's in the playoffs, and who's not. But the players you talk to, almost to a man, believe that's really what matters, and that it should matter for MVP (there are a couple exceptions, as a handful of players are new-number oriented).

If someone wants to tell me Trout is the MVP, I'm OK with that. He had a spectacular year no matter what the metric. I was with him up until the finishing few weeks.

But Cabrera, I believe, won the award with his big finish. He had a 1.032 OPS in September compared to .836 for Trout (of course OPS doesn't take into account base-running and defense). Cabrera's big finish put the Tigers into the playoffs.

I get it that Trout's Angels won one more game, and that their record was better with him than the Tigers were with Cabrera (the Angels were 6-14 when Trout was promoted). But the goal is to get into the playoffs. I understand that's largely dependent on one's teammates and division, but everyone understands that's every good player's objective when the season begins.

New stat people will tell you that to go by new stats is "logical" and "rational." They might call the others Luddites.

Keith Olbermann, who I like on baseball, suggested on Twitter that Trout should win because the new stats are more "sophisticated."

I respect anyone who tells me Trout is MVP, and I won't do any name calling here.

A strong case could easily be made for Trout. But the case for Trout would be dependent on accepting WAR despite its obvious imprecision, disregarding the standings and diminishing Cabrera's season because he's only an average third baseman (or had been a good first baseman).

Cabrera's decision to give up his position isn't quantifiable. If you want to add the difference between Fielder and Brandon Inge, you can, and that makes Cabrera look even better. But in reality, there isn't a score you can give it.

Yet Cabrera's sacrifice is the single most important decision any player made this entire season to aid his team, and if that doesn't count toward the MVP, then something's wrong.

From start to finish, with his decisions and his play, Cabrera's the one who impacted the race and the games the most. He should be the MVP.

AL MVP

1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: It's definitely a debatable matter, as Trout was fantastic. But I dare folks to interview anyone who plays or manages in the Central Division.

2. Mike Trout, Angels: Amazing year. Did things very few have done, even after missing the first 20 games of the season. Deserving as well. These numbers win about 24 out of 25 years.

3. Adrian Beltre, Rangers: Incredible all-around player had 36 homers and a .921 OPS. A key reason the Rangers have topped the rival Angels in the last couple of years.

4. Josh Hamilton, Rangers: Sure, he's had a mélange of weird injuries. Still tough to ignore 43 homers and 128 RBI.

5. Derek Jeter, Yankees: Had an amazing 216 hits at age 37/38 and set tone for another title.

6. Robinson Cano, Yankees: Huge finish and 33 total homers make him statistically better than Jeter, but inattentive moments were noticed.

7. Adam Jones, Orioles: Terrific center fielder had breakout year with 33 homers in the O's surprise season.

8. Jim Johnson, Orioles: Key reason Baltimore dominated one-run games, putting it in the playoffs.

9. Prince Fielder, Tigers: Big addition provided typical season (30, 108, .313).

10. Chris Davis, Orioles: Some unreal moments, thanks to versatility (he even had a pitching victory) and light-tower power (six straight games with homers tied Reggie Jackson's Orioles record).

Tough omissions: Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter and Rafael Soriano

AL Least Valuable Player: Marlon Byrd, Red Sox. One of the worst years ever for a pro athlete. The single worst player in baseball was found to have cheated to even rise to that level. Was even worse for 100-loss Cubs.

NL MVP

1. Buster Posey, Giants: His .456 OBP and 1.102 OPS in the second half were best in baseball, even better than Miguel Cabrera's. Catcher with great back story made sure Giants ran away in the NL West after Melky Cabrera was suspended.

2. Ryan Braun, Brewers: He led league in slugging (.598), OPS (.987), home runs (41) and even had 30 steals. The overturned drug failure isn't why he's second here but rather fairness; he won last year when Matt Kemp had better overall stats due to team performance, so Posey should receive the same consideration.

3. Yadier Molina, Cardinals: Terrific all-around player could make case for top spot after superb season (.874 OPS). The year of the catcher.

4. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: A case could be made that he was the league's best all-around player, but the Pirates' usual collapse pretty well ensures he'll finish fourth.

5. Adam La Roche, Nationals: If you watched a lot of Nats games (I did), he was the best and most consistent player on the best team in the league.

6. Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Saver of 42 of 45 games gave Braves faith that they wouldn't blow games, or another season.

7. Kris Medlen, Braves: He's not going to get much Cy Young support since he was a starter for only a half year, but the value of victory certainty (23 straight Braves wins in games he's started) was immeasurable in ensuring no repeat collapse.

8. Aramis Ramirez, Brewers: Amazing all-around season (80 extra-base hits tied Braun) and big finish helped Brewers make run.

9. Bryce Harper, Nationals: He sparked a team that was decimated by injuries early with energy and passion, and wound up with 22 homers, 18 steals and an .817 OPS while solving his team's long-running center-field issue.

10. Aroldis Chapman, Reds: He finishes the list with a flourish, just as he successfully closed 38 Reds victories. On a balanced team, cases could be made for Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Johnny Cueto and certainly for Joey Votto, who will make most top-10 lists but missed this one because he missed so much time and the Reds pulled away while he was out.

Tough omissions: Ian Desmond and Carlos Ruiz.

NL LVP: Melky Cabrera, Giants. Great while he played, but turns out it was all a big lie, just like his Internet scheme. There's a reason the Giants don't want him around.

AL Cy Young

1. Justin Verlander, Tigers: Led league in innings and strikeouts, but the guess here is Price beats him. Coin flip.

2. David Price, Rays: He led the league in ERA and was consistent against the best in the league. Also very deserving.

3. Jered Weaver, Angels: He led the league in WHIP (1.02) and had the same 20-5 record as Price. His 3.0 WAR doesn't do him justice.

4. Fernando Rodney, Rays: Had one of the greatest years ever for a closer, with 48 saves in 50 tries and a 0.60 ERA. Eckersley-like. If someone tells me the winner, it's tough to argue.

5. Felix Hernandez, Mariners: Had more games than anyone with eight or more innings and zero or one runs. Chris Sale and the Orioles' Johnson are right there.

AL Cy Old: Rickey Romero, Jays: Hard to recall the Jays' ace started 8-1. It finally took a five-inning, eight-hit, four-walk, four-run outing to break 13-game personal losing streak.

NL Cy Young

1. R.A. Dickey, Mets: He led the league in strikeouts, but most impressively managed to go 20-6 for the pretty awful Mets. Should win.

2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: He had the best WHIP (1.02) and was only one behind in strikeouts (221), even on a bum hip. He's no bum.

3. Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Also had 116 strikeouts compared to 14 walks.

4. Johnny Cueto, Reds: His main stats are slightly bettered by others, especially the 1.17 WHIP. Would take a big believer in WAR and ballpark difference to get a first-place vote.

5. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals: Excellent year, but he didn't get too many outs after the sixth inning of games.

NL Cy Old: Tim Lincecum, Giants: Hard to believe he finished last in the NL among qualifiers with a 5.18 ERA.

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Mike Trout, Angels: One of the greatest rookies ever, and probably the greatest. At age 20/21, no less.

2. Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics: A's were 12-22 when this awesome talent wasn't in the lineup.

3. Yu Darvish, Rangers: His 221 strikeouts were fifth best in the AL worthy of the money invested.

NL Rookie of the Year

1. Bryce Harper, Nationals: Energized a team that was decimated early.

2. Todd Frazier, Reds: He showed how valuable he was filling in for great veteran Scott Rolen, helping the Reds take control. His .829 OPS was slightly better than Harper's, too.

3. Wade Miley, Diamondbacks: Had a quiet superb season, outdoing the kid Diamondback pitchers with bigger names, like Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs. Had same WAR as Harper (4.8). Could easily win.

AL Manager of the Year

1. Bob Melvin, Athletics: Tie-breaker over Buck Showalter was division crown. Two of the greatest managing jobs ever.

2. Showalter, Orioles: Amazing. Had only one starter who started more than 20 games, and that was Wei-Yin Chen.

3. Joe Maddon, Rays: He's great every year, and this one is no exception.

Maury Wills Award (Worst Manager): John Farrell, Blue Jays. The first rule here is that there's no picking on anyone who's been fired. In Farrell's case, he's actually a hot commodity.

NL Manager of the Year

1. Davey Johnson, Nationals: He predicted a division crown, and delivered. Hall of Fame candidate.

2. Bruce Bochy, Giants: They sure don't look like an overwhelming team on paper. And until further notice, he seems right that Brandon Belt isn't a superstar, at least not yet.

3. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves: With obvious pressure (presumably, no one survives two straight collapses, even in amazingly stable Atlanta), he helped bring the Braves into the playoffs.

Bud Harrelson award (worst manager): Ozzie Guillen, Marlins. Since he hasn't been fired yet, he qualifies. Miami is still thinking about it, though.

AL Executive of the Year

1. Billy Beane, Athletics: Made so many great trades and signings it's hard to fathom. Cespedes for $36 million over four years may turn out to be the best of all (and Cespdes was smart not to take the six-year offer from Miami). Assist to A's scouting staff, which obviously gets more respect in real life than they did in Moneyball.

2. Dan Duquette, Orioles: After a near-decade absence, he proved he's still got it, acquiring Chen and Jason Hammel, calling up Manny Machado for third base and adding many veterans late for the clubhouse. Terrific job.

3. Jon Daniels, Rangers: The Darvish signing was a big gamble, and it paid off. Still benefiting from deals past.

Considerations: Brian Cashman deserves mention for Hiroki Kuroda, Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez, and Ken Williams for all the comeback guys on the Southsiders (Jake Peavy, Alex Rios and Adam Dunn).

Hawk Harrelson award (worst executive): Ben Cherington, Red Sox. He has an impossible job, no doubt about that, and he likely has a terrific future. But Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon weren't resume builders.

NL Executive of the Year

1. Mike Rizzo, Nationals: Pitching and defense mantra paid off, as did the gamble on Gonzalez. Bonus points for putting Stephen Strasburg's career ahead of immediate team interest.

2. Walt Jocketty, Reds: He quietly built one of the best-balanced teams in baseball. Don't be shocked if the win it.

3. Frank Wren, Braves: He's managed to keep the Braves highly competitive while the payroll has stayed at almost exactly $90 million for six straight years. Pretty amazing.

Considerations: Brian Sabean deserves mention for acquiring four productive outfielders (Angel Pagan, Cabrera, Gregor Blanco and Hunter Pence), though Cabrera's actual performance obviously has a very large asterisk attached to it. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak likely did the right thing, letting the Angels give Albert Pujols $240 million while instead signing Carlos Beltran for $26 million over two years, as the defending champions made it back to the postseason.

M. Donald Grant Award (worst executive): Larry Beinfest, Marlins. Of course, technically, owner Jeffrey Loria made the biggest moves, especially the Heath Bell (he has to be traded) and Guillen (he may go, too) calls. But as long as he's the leader of the baseball department, he counts here.

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