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Injuries didn't slow Miggy in pursuit of MVP repeat

Tigers slugger built on award-winning numbers of last year despite no Triple Crown

DETROIT -- One year later, the Miguel Cabrera-Mike Trout MVP debate is on again. The argument for Cabrera might actually be a little bit stronger than it was a year ago.

If voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America agreed, Cabrera would be the first back-to-back American League Most Valuable Player since Frank Thomas of the White Sox in 1993-94.

The winner will be revealed Thursday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network and

Cabrera didn't repeat his Triple Crown, but he had a statistically better season, from a career-best .348 average to a 30-point jump in slugging percentage to a 49-point leap in on-base percentage. He became the first player to lead the league in all three categories since Joe Mauer in 2009, the year he won AL MVP in a near-unanimous vote.

Cabrera matched his home run total despite hitting only one in September. He fell one short of his previous season's RBI total despite playing in 13 fewer games and having 18 fewer at-bats with runners in scoring position. He not only led baseball with a 1.078 OPS, he topped everyone else in baseball by at least 74 points, the largest gap by a player since Barry Bonds in 2004.

Cabrera did it not only with a groin injury that hampered him in September and required surgery at season's end, but with injuries that limited his mobility since the end of June.

"He wasn't 100 percent for the whole last month and a half," teammate Justin Verlander said. "In my book, that makes him every bit more the MVP than it would have otherwise. I think 90 percent of baseball players would've been sitting on the couch not playing, dealing with what he's dealt with this year."

None of these comprised the argument against Cabrera last year. That was built mostly on advanced metrics that rewarded Trout for his ability to reach base, his efficiency running the bases, and his defense in center field. Even in sabermetrics, however, the gap was narrower.

Though Cabrera's defense hurt him more in metrics this season than last, based a little on his late-season injuries, he still raised his Wins Above Replacement to a career-best 7.6 in 13 fewer games, according to Fangraphs. His offensive WAR, taking defense out of the equation, reached 9.0, according to baseball-reference, a full run above his previous career high, though still well below Trout. Cabrera's runs created reached a career high of 147 this season, according to STATS, taking the Major League lead. His ratio of runs created per 27 outs, moreover, hit 10.35, more than a run better than anyone else in baseball.

Nobody in the AL had more go-ahead RBIs than Cabrera's 37. His 15 game-winning RBIs ranked fourth among AL hitters.

For those who take into account a team's standing for a player's actual value, Cabrera's lead seemingly widened. Of the three AL MVP finalists, Cabrera is the only one whose team made the postseason. And unlike last season, the Tigers' third consecutive AL Central title did not come with a worse record than teams that missed out in other divisions. Detroit went 13-13 in September, the month in which Cabrera's injuries had their biggest impact on his performance.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera