|The Cabrera-Trout MVP race will be remembered for a long time. (Getty Images)|
Miguel Cabrera is the right choice. The rest is just sound and fury.
The award is not Player of the Year. It is not Most Awesome Overall Skills. And it most certainly is not a Math Bowl.
It is the Most Valuable Player award, and the term Valuable is where the water gets muddy and the math gets murky.
Mike Trout is a sensational player, the Second Coming of Mickey Mantle. If he is graced with good health and good fortune, he is going to win multiple MVP awards by the time he's finished.
But his time is not now. Not for this year's MVP award.
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In the end, in a nutshell, here it is: Nobody combined overall statistics, badass lineup presence and value to his team more than Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
Trout came close. Very, very close. Close enough that if he were to have won, well, then, that's the way it would go and we all should accept that because he absolutely is deserving, too.
And this is what bothers me most about the most contentious MVP vote in memory. Civility in this country long ago was tossed overboard, to the detriment of every single one of us. Politics. Music. Movies. You cannot have a debate in modern society without the zealots on one side refusing to even consider reasonable points made by the other side.
I know the numbers. I know the runs scored and the WAR and the absolutely astounding leather work on Trout's side. I watched him most of the summer. I saw a ton of him in person. Lick your finger and stick it in an electrical outlet, and you'll get only a miniscule portion of the electricity Trout produces.
His 10.7 WAR – the Baseball-Reference.com version of WAR – is 20th-best among all batters going back to 1901. Trout is right there with names like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds. He also led the American League in runs scored (129) and stolen bases (49).
Trout's season was historic.
Here's the thing: So was Cabrera's.
But set aside, for just a moment, the fact that Cabrera this year became the first player to win baseball's Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Because a player should no more be automatically awarded an MVP for a Triple Crown than he should for posting an historic WAR number.
The MVP is not about one aspect of the game, or two. It is not only about quantifiable categories, which drives my Sabermetric friends crazy, but that's the way it is. It is about many different things, and how they all fit together into the overall package.
The margin between Cabrera and Trout in this race is slimmer than the margin between Kate Upton's epidermis and her skinny jeans.
But there is separation, and as the voters correctly ascertained, the most important overall separation favors the Tigers' slugger.
One is that Cabrera played in 161 of the Tigers' 162 games. Trout, through no fault of his own, missed almost all of April because of poor roster decisions by the Angels. Then, he faded a few degrees in September, appearing as if his fuel tank was starting to run low. His 35 strikeouts in September were his highest for any month. He was not even the MVP of his own team down the stretch, Torii Hunter was.
Remove April and September from Trout's MVP resume, and that's a four-month season. Again, I get it -- the numbers don't lie. He still led the AL in runs scored, regardless of how many games he played. That is an amazing feat.
But when the cases are this close, I'll take the guy who was on the field for his team for the entire month of April, and the guy who carried his team down the stretch.
Cabrera did not fade any degrees in September. With the season down to its final gasp and first place was there for the taking, he got better and better. And yes, he led his team to a division title. That matters.
Trout's Angels, even though they won one more game than the Tigers (89, to 88), finished third in the AL West and didn't even qualify for the second wild-card slot. That matters.
Another thing: You never heard one single complaint from Cabrera when the Tigers signed first baseman Prince Fielder last winter and asked Cabrera to vacate first and move back to third. He merrily complied.
Where do you multiply that into your WAR equations?
Cabrera posted his Big Boy numbers in the midst of a position change, and yet many of those supporting Trout, in citing his extraordinary defense (and oh man, is it ever), have gone overboard bashing Cabrera's defense while failing to acknowledge the whole position change thing.
Plus, despite their narrative, Cabrera is not the butcher at third base they'd have you believe. He not going to win any Gold Gloves anytime soon, but he did make a couple of plays down the stretch that helped the Tigers win the AL Central.
Cabrera essentially played the season's final month on one foot while nursing a badly sprained ankle that the Tigers mostly kept under wraps. I watched Cabrera play on it both in Chicago and in Detroit in September, and as he explained to me then, “Just go play, man.”
He added: “If it was really, really hurt, [the Tigers] wouldn't let me play. They always ask how I'm feeling, do I need a day to DH?”
And he always answered, absolutely not.
Does he get extra points for this? No. But that, too, is part of the word “valuable.” That matters, too.
My friend Sean McAdam who covers the Red Sox for CSNNE.com uses the word “nuanced” in his MVP argument. I like Sean, even though he voted for Trout (full disclosure: I did not vote for AL MVP this year. I did have a vote for NL MVP). And I really like his word, “nuanced.”
That's what this is. You can stack arguments in favor of Trout to the top of the Big A in the Angel Stadium parking lot. Polling expert Nate Silver did just that in this excellent piece for the New York Times. Silver is one of the founders of the great and groundbreaking Baseball Prospectus and earlier this month he went 50-for-50 in correctly forecasting the presidential election, state by state. I've been math-challenged my entire life and, next to Silver, I feel like I need a lifetime of tutoring in simple remedial math.
But you can also stack arguments for Cabrera as high as the green-eyed Tiger prowling atop the Comerica Park scoreboard. And while I enjoy the new frontiers Sabermetrics have opened and while I am not anti-math … the batting title, the ERA race, those statistical departments are about the math and nothing but.
The MVP award? That factors in other variables as well, some of which simply are not quantifiable. Sorry.
If it's just about the math and nothing else, then let the end-of-season WAR leaderboards double as MVP ballots. And the fact is, I listen to and read some of the Trout arguments, and I find myself nodding in agreement. I was almost sold. Still am.
But then I think of Cabrera's September, and how he shoved over to third base without a peep. I zero in on the word “valuable”, and how that applies to this award. Again, it is not Player of the Year. It is not for an individual in a vacuum.
That 22 of 28 voters saw fit to list Cabrera first is just about right on target here.