Point/Counterpoint: Cabrera or Trout?

The most anticipated of baseball's 2012 awards was handed out Thursday as Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera beat out Angels rookie Mike Trout for the American League's Most Valuable Player. But which player really deserved the award? Two of our writers duke it out.
Mike Trout, left, and Miguel Cabrera both made strong cases for American League MVP honours. (Getty Images)

The most anticipated of Major League Baseball’s 2012 awards was handed out Thursday night as Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera beat out Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout for the American League’s Most Valuable Player.

Cabrera made history this season by becoming the first player in 45 years to win his league’s Triple Crown, finishing first in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. Trout, 21, put together one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time while immediately earning a reputation as perhaps the most exciting player in baseball.

So who really deserved to win the AL MVP? senior writers Jesse Campigotto and Doug Harrison duke it out:

Campigotto: Trout!

My argument for Mike Trout can be summarized in one sentence: The award is supposed to go to the Most Valuable Player, not the Most Valuable Hitter.

Miguel Cabrera is a slightly better hitter than Trout, but there’s more to baseball than just batting, and Trout trumps Cabrera by a much wider margin in those other facets of the game than Cabrera tops Trout at the plate.

Let’s start with baserunning. Trout stole 49 bags while being caught just five times, for a stellar 90.7 per cent success rate. Cabrera’s 80 per cent is excellent as well, but it came on only four stolen bases. A player’s ability to take the extra base on a teammate’s batted ball is much harder to verify, but given Trout’s huge edge in stolen-base ability, it’s fair to figure he beats Cabrera there too.

Fielding is another skill that can be tough to quantify, despite recent statistical advances. But Ultimate Zone Rating, which measures a player’s ability to turn balls hit into his vicinity into outs, is considered one of the better advanced tools (it’s certainly better than the old standby "errors" which really only measures sure-handedness while ignoring range). According to Fangraphs, Trout posted a UZR per 150 games this year of 11.0, meaning he saved the Angels 11 runs with his glove, putting him among the better outfielders in baseball. Cabrera’s UZR/150 was minus-11.2, meaning he cost the Tigers 11 runs and ranked as the worst everyday third baseman in the game.

I’ve conceded that Cabrera is a better hitter than Trout, but the gap is not nearly as wide as you might think. Yes, Cabrera won the Triple Crown. And, yes, he crushed Trout in RBIs (139 to 83) and homers (44 to 30). But Trout suffers in those kind of counting stats because the Angels weren’t savvy enough to bring him up from the minors until a month into the season. Don't penalize him for that.

As for the other Triple Crown category, Cabrera beat Trout for the batting title by four points (.330 to .326) but Trout topped Cabrera in on-base percentage (.399 to .393), which in the post-Moneyball era is widely accepted as a far superior stat to batting averaging when it comes to determining a hitter’s value. Cabrera is viewed as the far better slugger, and his .606 slugging percentage led the AL by a wide margin, but Trout is no slouch in the power department. He finished third with a .564 mark.

One last argument I want to address is the notion that Cabrera was "more valuable to his team" (whatever that means) because Detroit won the AL Central while Los Angeles missed the playoffs out of the AL West. Fine, but the Angels actually won one more game than the Tigers, so what are we rewarding Cabrera for here? Playing in a much easier division than Trout?

Hats off to Miguel Cabrera for winning the Triple Crown. It’s a great accomplishment. He was the best hitter in baseball in 2012. But Mike Trout was pretty darn good at the plate himself. And the best all-around player.

Harrison: Cabrera!

This week’s MLB award announcements seem to have gone quietly into the night, relatively speaking, much like another Colby Rasmus 0-for-4 performance in September.

But that all changed Thursday, with heated debate about who was most deserving of 2012 American League MVP honours: Detroit Tigers veteran Miguel Cabrera or Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout.

Cabrera was the right choice, especially in a year in which he led the AL in batting average (.330), home runs (44) and runs batted in (139) to capture the first Triple Crown in 45 years!

Trout, who recently captured league rookie of the year honours, was close to Cabrera in average (.326) but not nearly as productive in homers and RBIs, two categories – rightly or wrongly – that have been weighted heavier than others in previous MVP discussions.

Sure, the Angels centre-fielder was superior to Cabrera in stolen bases (49-4) and from a defensive perspective, but remember, the Tigers infielder did make a solid transition back to third base this past season (.966 fielding percentage) after playing across the diamond at first, so that should count for something. Plus, isn’t there a Gold Glove award for defensive prowess?

And let’s face it, when is the last time an MVP debate in either league centred around stolen bases as the tipping point? For years, the focus has been on which player has the most homers, RBIs and carries his team into the post-season.

Also in Cabrera’s favour was the fact he boasted a 1.079 on-base-plus-slugging percentage to Trout’s .824 mark from Aug. 24 through the end of the regular season, so the Tigers slugger clearly dominated when the pressure was at its highest point of the season, while Trout perhaps was displaying the inconsistencies/fatigue of a first-year player.

While some (my friend Jesse, for one) will cite Trout’s superior on-base percentage (.399 to Cabrera’s .393) to help support the former’s value, who was better in the clutch? With runners in scoring position, Cabrera hit .356 to Trout’s .324 average. How about with two outs in an inning? Again, Cabrera prevailed .346-.338.

Furthermore, Cabrera helped his team all season (playing 161 of 162 games) whereas Trout didn’t earn a promotion from AAA until late April. Enough said.

Major League Baseball could have quieted debates like this several years ago by changing the name of the award from MVP to most outstanding hitter (which it should) but baseball often doesn’t like to mess with tradition, so be prepared for more Cabrera/Trout-like arguments in the future.

For now, it’s time to tip your cap to Cabrera, the AL’s 2012 MVP. But don’t fret ,Trout fans I see MVP awards in his future.