Trout outstanding, but Miggy most valuable to club
Triple Crown winner led Tigers to division title, while rookie's Halos fell short
When the votes were counted, this supposedly white-hot election ended in a landslide.
Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers is the 2012 American League Most Valuable Player. In the voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, announced Thursday night, Cabrera received 22 first-place votes. Outfielder Mike Trout of the Angels finished a distant second with six first-place votes.
What happened? Wasn't this supposed to be one of the greatest debates in baseball history?
What happened may require a brief review of the award's essential semantics. Many of Trout's supporters argued, not without reason, that he was the best player in the AL. But the award is not for the best player. It is for the most valuable player.
Voters in both leagues went in the same direction. Cabrera's team won the AL Central. Trout's team finished third in the AL West.
In the National League, Ryan Braun had an indisputably better offensive season than Buster Posey, but Posey's Giants won the NL West, while Braun's Brewers finished third in the NL Central. The voters went decisively with Posey, giving him 27 of 32 first-place votes.
The salient argument on behalf of Trout was that he was a better overall player than Cabrera, that he was in fact, the best player in the AL. And that may have been true.
Cabrera, in an interview on the MLB Network just after the award was announced, underscored the respect for Trout.
"I never expected I was going to win, because Mike Trout had an unbelievable season," Cabrera said.
That statement gave evidence of the high regard in which Trout is held, along with Cabrera's inherent modesty. Trout's rookie season was breathtaking in its impact. But the issue was not best, it was most valuable.
Without Trout, where would the Angels have finished? Unless you believe that they would have been 15 games worse, they still would have finished third.
Without Cabrera, where would the Tigers have finished? It wouldn't have been first. They may have still have been better than most of the remainder of the AL Central, but they would have been no better than second.
Trout's position in this election was probably better at the end of August than it was early in October. In September, Cabrera had the best month of what was already a spectacular season. In September, Trout's production waned.
It is true that the Tigers played in a much less competitive division than the Angels. But when the Tigers needed a late push to pass the White Sox, Cabrera carried them. He played hurt much of the second half of the season, but he still played in 161 games.
The Angels, meanwhile, finished third in a three-team race. They also finished with a record that was one game better than that of the Tigers, and Trout was obviously not to blame for the Angels coming up short in their division.
But at the end of the day, the Tigers, led by Cabrera, qualified for the postseason and the Angels did not. This election becomes part of a trend in this direction. The last nine AL MVPs have all played on teams that qualified for the postseason.
This is obviously a major deal with the voters. Again, this reinforces the whole concept of most valuable. An individual player is rewarded, not only for his individual success, but for his part in his team's success. It wasn't Trout's fault that the Angels finished third, but it was to Cabrera's credit that the Tigers finished first.
We don't have to relive the entire debate about the Triple Crown. Let's just note that becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years is one demonstration of Cabrera's worth.
He had a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs. He had the highest slugging percentage in the AL, by a wide margin, at .606. His OPS of .999 also was a comfortable first. The fact that he had a higher OPS in 2010 and '11 does not prove that this was some sort of average campaign for him. It simply underscores that he has been extraordinary for some time.
It is true that Cabrera is neither Brooks Robinson at third nor Rickey Henderson on the basepaths. It is true that Trout is a five-tool player, while Cabrera is not.
Trout's skill set is as wide and deep as it is indisputable. Trout, at age 21, was unanimously named as the BBWAA's AL Rookie of the Year. Good for him. This was a choice both obvious and richly deserved. But this does not make him the American League's MVP.
Miguel Cabrera was so valuable to the Tigers that he probably moved beyond most valuable into most invaluable. He made the difference between his team's season being deeply disappointing and reaching the promised land of the postseason. That is the kind of thing that defines a Most Valuable Player.
Given these circumstances, the overwhelming support for Miguel Cabrera in this election should not be seen for what it is, a genuine tribute.