Second baseman Robinson Cano has appeared on a multitude of AL MVP ballots in his career. He finished as high as third in voting for the 2010 campaign. Does the Seattle Mariners‘ $240 million man make a compelling case for MVP in 2014? Let’s look at the numbers and examine the facts.
The award itself has been handed out to the standout player in each league since 1931 by the Baseball Writers Association of America. There is no clear-cut definition of what “most valuable” really means according to the BWAA, but instead it is left open to interpretation by each individual voter.
In 2013, Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates was named MVP of the NL. One would have to think that voters were somewhat swayed or persuaded that year by the fact the Pirates made the postseason for the first time since 1992. McCutchen had a great deal to do with that. His batting average ranked him seventh in the NL, tied for the ninth most in home runs, tied for 11th in runs batted in and sixth in stolen bases. He did not lead his league in any respective batting category. Instead, McCutchen finished highest in overall rankings for on-base percentage (third) and hits (also third).
There were NL players who arguably posted superior individual statistical seasons to McCutchen in 2013. Paul Goldschmidt (.302-36-125) and Freddie Freeman (.319-23-109) are good examples of this. The Pirates’ transition from many years of irrelevance to contender status clearly weighed heavily on voter’s minds. His wins above replacement (WAR) of 8.19 was the third highest in all of MLB, behind only Mike Trout and Carlos Gomez.
Now that we understand the MVP process is a somewhat convoluted one, the case for Cano in 2014 can be looked at. We know the facts. The Mariners would probably not be in contention for the playoffs if not for the efforts of their All-Star second baseman. Of all offensive players in 2014, Cano ranks fourth in WAR at 5.39. As August draws to a close, he has the second highest batting average in the AL at .328. He also ranks second in OBP, third in hits and tied for 17th in RBI.
It is Cano’s digression in his power numbers that make his case for MVP less convincing. When it comes to home runs, he is barely on the radar for league standouts with only 11. Baltimore Orioles‘ Steve Pearce and Minnesota Twins‘ Oswaldo Arcia are a couple of names who have clubbed more long balls than Cano in 2014, and neither of them are everyday players.
Cano posted his highest career WAR in 2012 when he finished fourth in AL MVP voting with the New York Yankees. It was a remarkable 8.4 that year — higher even than McCutchen’s WAR number last season. Like anyone in the hunt for AL personal accolades in 2014, the biggest obstacle to overcome is the guy who mans center field for the Los Angeles Angels.
Trout leads the league in offensive WAR with 6.7, ranking inside the AL’s top five in runs, HRs, RBIs and OPS. Because the Angels are crushing a majority of their competition this year and represent one of baseball’s best teams, it would take a truly unforgettable stretch run by Cano to oust Trout from being the favorite of the two players to take home their first ever MVP award.