The American League's Most Valuable Player race is between the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera and the Angels' Mike Trout. The subplot is about new-age statistics versus traditional MVP thinking.
Of all the awards given out this week by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the AL MVP should spark the most vigorous debate, much like when the Mariners' Felix Hernandez won the 2010 Al Cy Young Award over the Rays' David Price and the Yankees' CC Sabathia. That year, Hernandez had 13 wins, but he dominated every secondary and sabermetric stat.
Cabrera was baseball's first Triple Crown winner since 1967 when he hit .330with 44 homers and 139 RBIs. Trout, 21, hit .326 with 30 home runs, 83 RBIs and 49 steals after getting a promotion from the minor leagues on April 28.
Trout, a center fielder, is the better all-around athlete, considering steals, speed and defensive range in the outfield. Trout can bat leadoff or in the middle of the order. Cabrera isn't versatile enough to hit leadoff.
The Angels were 6-14 when Trout was called up, but they rallied and contended and then finished third in the AL West. Cabrera's Triple Crown puts him in elite historic company, but defensively, at third base, he was average at best.
Sabermetrics say that Trout was more impressive with statistics such as wins above replacement (WAR), ultimate zone rating and defensive runs saved. But traditional thinking says that the Angels would have finished out of the playoffs no matter what Trout had done.
The argument for Cabrera as the MVP says that he had a history-making season on a team that won the AL Central. Would the Tigers have won the AL Central without Cabrera? Probably not, but there is this:
Given that the White Sox lost 17 games during a September collapse, the Tigers might have won anyway. Five more wins by Chicago in the final month might have cut the Tigers out of the playoffs. And then what would voters have thought about Cabrera?
Still, Cabrera should be the MVP winner. New-age statistics are valuable. Their precision is good for evaluating talent, but not so good that they should eliminate a Triple Crown hitter from winning an MVP.
In the National League MVP race, Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen is intriguing because he produced in a lousy lineup, but the winner is going to be the Giants catcher Buster Posey, who did just about everything for the Giants in their march to the postseason.
A look at other awards:
Manager of the Year: The Orioles' Buck Showalter had an amazing year, but Oakland's Bob Melvin was a smidge better. Showalter has support, but it is hard to deny Melvin given that he beat the heavy-spending Rangers and Angels with a roster that was depleted by the front office. ... The Nationals' Davey Johnson should win the NL award, but San Francisco's Bruce Bochy won with a light-hitting team, an injured bullpen and an inconsistent Tim Lincecum.
Cy Young Award: The prediction here is that Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals will finish second to the Mets' R.A. Dickey, even though Gonzalez had all the intangibles of helping a championship team. Dickey has more innings (233 2/3 to 199 1/3), more strikeouts (230 to 209) and a better ERA (2.73 to 2.89). ... The AL winner will be Price over the Tigers' Justin Verlander. Price's 21 wins with a runs-challenged team will separate the two.
Rookie of the Year: Trout will unanimously win in the AL. ... In the NL, the Nationals' Bryce Harper, the Reds' Todd Frazier and the Diamondbacks' Wade Miley each have a strong case. The prediction here is that Frazier and Harper will split votes, giving Miley the award.