Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera Debate Pits Old School Baseball Against New School

By Randy Holt
Trout: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE/Cabrera: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

In case you haven’t heard, Buster Posey was named the Most Valuable Player in the National League on Thursday. The reason you may not have heard is because all of the noise surrounding the American League side of things.

The race between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera was a tightly contested affair in the past few weeks of the season, and the debate began long before the award was handed out. But at the end of the day, it was Cabrera that the BBWAA chose as the most valuable in the AL.

There’s no doubt that Cabrera was deserving of the award. He won the Triple Crown, finishing at the top of the American League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. It’s an feat that hasn’t been realized in decades. But unless you’re a designated hitter, which Cabrera is not, the MVP award goes far beyond what you can do with the bat.

And Trout’s skill goes miles beyond what he does at the dish.

At the plate, Trout was an absolute monster this season. He hit .326, just four points behind Cabrera, hit 30 home runs, and knocked in 83 in just 139 games. His offensive numbers, by themselves, would have merited some MVP-type consideration. But it’s the other ways in which Trout contributes that should have left him with the award.

In those 139 games, Trout stole 49 bases. 49. That’s an absolutely absurd amount of swipes. He’s also a force with the glove, routinely making highlight-reel plays out in centerfield. The fact that the Los Angeles Angels didn’t make the playoffs should have no bearing on whether or not Trout should have won the award, as it should not in any sport.

What Cabrera winning the award has led to is an eruption of a debate between the old school way of thinking in baseball and the new school. Folks who fall into the former category look on the traditional stat categories (average, home runs, RBIs) as the most important, obviously explaining why Cabrera won the MVP award so handily.

But those who subscribe to the new way of thinking about baseball, and looking into advanced statistics, fall on the side of Mike Trout. On-base percentage might not be an especially advanced stat, but Trout did post a .399 this season. That’s a few points better than Cabrera. Those advanced-type statistics obviously go much deeper, and many of them favor Trout by a mile.

Look at Wins Above Replacement. Some argue the validity of WAR, but all you need to know is that Trout’s was up near 11. Cabrera sat at just a shade under seven. That difference in baserunning and fielding actually proved to be quite a sizable difference when it comes to WAR.

Specifically focusing on fielding, we come across Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which focuses on how many runs a player saves over the course of the season with the glove. Trout’s was well over 11. That’s elite. It’s Gold Glove caliber. He probably should have won the award over Adam Jones.

Cabrera on the other hand, is deep into the negative. Making the move over the third base, Cabrera’s glove actually cost his team runs. Not that that comes as a surprise to anyone.

As intriguing as the Trout vs. Cabrera debate is on its own, it’s even more extraordinary to take a deeper look at the argument. There are two completely different schools of thought within the baseball world. One of them obviously resides heavily in the BBWAA, as evident by Cabrera winning the award. But ask anyone from the other side, and they’ll tell you that it should have been Mike Trout.

At the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong with either candidate. Both of them were very worthy candidates and may have been the two most valuable players in all of baseball, not just the American League. But this isn’t anywhere near the last time we’ll hear or see this debate. It’s a new age in the game of baseball, and those who subscribe strictly to the traditional way of thinking could be in for a rough time.

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