The Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout debate fascinates me for any number of reasons. The reason it is so compelling is that it brings so many opposites to bear in debating decisions and value. As this is the political season, of course, everyone must bash the other candidate and make strong appeals that to not believe in their guy is akin to idiocy.
So, before we go further, let’s just say this: both men have had fantastic seasons and neither would do a discredit to being memorialized with the award.
As for the various distinctions and factions that could be divided here, we have:
1) The value of defense and base running versus slugging power and driving in runs. Let’s just say that Trout is no slouch in the power department this year, but the difference in how one views them is how much emphasis is placed on the former versus the latter, where Cabrera holds the edge.
2) The value of milestones, and which milestones are important. Miguel Cabrera very well could wrap up the Triple Crown this weekend, and according to this, a sizeable number of people think he is the MVP if he wins that, but not if he doesn’t. Trout and Cabrera are separated by .004 right now in batting average, and the lead is reversed in on base percentage. Basically an imperceptible wash. Cabrera has a one home run lead on Josh Hamilton with two games left. Hamilton missed time recently with the eye issue. Is Cabrera less of an MVP candidate if Hamilton ties him in the final two games? More of one because an unrelated event may give him a narrow victory in the category?
3) Age and Career Achievement. Let’s face it, Trout is very young, and Cabrera is putting up a fantastic year for a guy who has never won but on balance is among the best in the game. Will this carry weight?
4) Team Accomplishments. This is an interesting and twisted one. Cabrera’s team is now in the playoffs; Trout’s is not. Of course, the Angels have won two more games. As Rany Jazerlyi said on 810 radio in Kansas City this morning, a vote for Cabrera on this basis is a vote for geography, and the Tigers competing against the White Sox, Royals, Twins and Indians.
Let’s put aside all the talk, though, and the references to how many times a Triple Crown winner has or has not won it, and just ask this. How did the voters view other similar seasons to both of these guys? We don’t even have to talk about WAR.
I went through to narrow down a list of similar seasons for each. (Trout type seasons are more rare, of course). For Trout, it was seasons with 550 plate appearances, at least 30 stolen bases, and at least 20 home runs, and an OPS+ of at least 140. Those limits gave us 52 seasons since 1961–the start of the expansion era.
For Cabrera, going with at least 630 plate appearances, a batting average of between .310 and .350, between 36 and 52 home runs, 20 or fewer stolen bases, and an OPS+ between 150 and 185 produced an almost identical 53 seasons over the same span.
I then took those seasons and ranked each by how close they were to Trout’s and Cabrera’s, respectively, in the following categories: G, PA, HR, BA, OBP, SLG, Net Stolen Bases (SB-CS), and OPS+.
Here are the ten most similar seasons to each, and where they finished in MVP voting. Obviously, any given season may depend on what others do and how the player is perceived.
- Barry Bonds, 1990 (1st)
- Cesar Cedeno, 1972 (8th)
- Ryan Braun, 2011 (1st)
- Barry Larkin, 1996 (11th)
- Reggie Sanders, 1995 (6th)
- Joe Morgan, 1976 (1st)
- Hanley Ramirez, 2007 (10th)
- Cesar Cedeno, 1973 (11th)
- Rickey Henderson, 1990 (1st)
- Howard Johnson, 1989 (5th)
Mike Trout has four MVP’s on his list, including both from the 1990 season, when Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson both won by all-around play that included home runs, high batting average, and stolen bases. The other lessons here? Cesar Cedeno was probably really under-appreciated as a young player. Barry Larkin interestingly won the MVP the year before this 1996 season, but fell to 11th in voting despite another strong year. As much as some people want to craft Trout’s candidacy as some sort of referendum on WAR, Trout winning as an all-around player with home runs, stolen bases, and high on base percentage wouldn’t exactly be novel.
- Albert Pujols, 2005 (1st)
- Hank Aaron, 1962 (6th)
- Albert Belle, 1998 (8th)
- Frank Thomas, 2000 (2nd)
- Billy Williams, 1972 (2nd)
- Albert Pujols, 2004 (3rd)
- Adrian Beltre, 2004 (2nd)
- George Foster, 1977 (1st)
- Jim Rice, 1979 (5th)
- Chipper Jones, 2001 (8th)
Cabrera’s comps include two MVP season, Pujols and Foster. Cabrera-type seasons are more likely to be recognized as among the best and finish top 5. None of them finished lower than 8th in voting. Three of them came up just short, something that Cabrera hopes to avoid.
I would say that on balance, seasons like Mike Trout’s are more likely to win MVP, and that’s even without discussing WAR or getting detailed on defense, but it certainly is a close call based on past seasons and whether they won MVP. Of course, those other factors like winning the Triple Crown and Tigers making the playoffs will play a role in some voters’ minds this time around.
[photo via US Presswire]