Definition of most valuable? MVP voters explain
Differing opinions led some to choose Trout, others to go with Cabrera
ANAHEIM -- It was November 2012 all over again.
Angels outfielder Mike Trout was the best all-around player on a team that missed the playoffs, while Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera was the best offensive player on a team that won its division. And the two sparked another Most Valuable Player debate, with Cabrera's second straight landslide victory to win the AL award lending itself to more speculation than justification.
It was team wins vs. individual contributions, WAR vs. OPS, speed vs. power, old-school vs. new-school -- part two.
Thirty members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote annually for the award, two representing each of the 15 AL cities and 11 voting on it for a second straight year.
Twenty-four of them listed Trout and Cabrera among the top two, in either order. But Cabrera, who led the Major Leagues in batting average (.348), on-base percentage (.442) and slugging (.636), was first on 23 ballots -- one more than after his Triple Crown season of a year ago.
That's ultimately what swayed Tom Verducci of MLB Network and SI.com, who noted that Cabrera was the first right-handed hitter to lead his league in all three slash-line stats since World War II.
"Mike Trout had such an amazing season, it took another historic one to be considered a bit better," said Verducci, who had Cabrera first, Trout second and Orioles first baseman Chris Davis third. "Miguel Cabrera's overall and clutch-hitting numbers were too good to deny."
But Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network and FoxSports.com judged the two on overall body of work, which made him one of five to put Trout atop his ballot (the other two first-place votes went to Davis and A's third baseman Josh Donaldson ).
"I generally prefer my MVP to come from a contender, but why should Trout be held responsible for the failings of his owner, general manager, manager and teammates?" said Rosenthal, who made Trout, Cabrera and Donaldson his top three. "I love Cabrera, but Trout is far superior as an all-around player, and when you put it all together, more valuable."
Sixteen voters responded to email inquiries on Thursday (full responses appear here), and their choices appeared to boil down to two questions:
1. Was Cabrera's superior offense enough to make up for Trout's advantages on defense and on the bases?
2. How much, if at all, should the Tigers' playoff berth and the Angels' sub-.500 record have factored into the equation?
Many of those who chose Cabrera over Trout -- again the Major League leader in Wins Above Replacement -- cited No. 2 behind their reasoning.
"[Cabrera] was an easy choice over Mike Trout for me, in large [part] because I think that the MVP should come from a playoff team, especially now that we're in an era in which one of every three teams goes to the playoffs," said MLB.com's Phil Rogers, who voted Cabrera-Trout-Donaldson.
"Trout is the best all-around player in the league, I agree -- but I weigh offensive output higher than defensive metrics for MVP candidates, and Cabrera remains the better hitter," said former BBWAA president Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. "I do always consider how teams finish as a factor, too. It's not always the deciding factor, but it's a big consideration."
The Tigers made the playoffs and reached the AL Championship Series for a third straight year; the Halos finished in third place in the AL West with a 78-84 record.
Some believe that shouldn't matter, that Trout shouldn't have been penalized because the Angels' rotation was subpar or Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton struggled, or their bullpen was never at full strength. Then there are the others -- including Trout's own manager, Mike Scioscia -- who believe a player's individual contributions matter little if it doesn't lead to meaningful October baseball.
But it's the term "valuable" that appears to foster differing viewpoints. The letter sent to BBWAA voters states "there is no clear-cut definition of what most valuable means." Consider the responses of Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com and Tim Brown of Yahoo!.
"I'm very sympathetic toward the argument that Trout shouldn't be penalized for the fact that his team had a losing record," Morosi said. "But I don't see this vote as penalizing Trout, so to speak. This is more rewarding Cabrera for what he did. He put together one of the best offensive seasons we've seen in generations, he did it while playing hurt for the past two months, and he was the difference in his team winning the division. To me, that's what 'most valuable' means."
Here's why Brown went with Trout first and Cabrera second:
"In its simplest terms, my first-place vote went to the most complete player in the game. While Mike Trout did not necessarily hit with Miguel Cabrera, he was so far superior outside the batter's box that I believed it more than covered that ground. The issue of 'value' continues to be kicked around. My view is this: the best player carries the most value."
By one of the all-encompassing stats, Trout was the best player. His 10.4 fWAR easily led the Majors. Cabrera's was 7.6.
But to pin the Trout argument solely on WAR would be shortsighted.
Trout's .323/.432/.557 slash line didn't match up to Cabrera's, nor did his 27 homers and 97 RBIs (Cabrera hit 44 and drove in 137). But when you put it all together -- total bases from hitting, extra-base opportunities, walks, hit by pitches, net steals, reaching on errors and ground-ball double plays -- Trout contributed 57 extra bases for his team while committing 11 fewer outs than Cabrera, which leads some to believe the Angels outfielder was actually better offensively.
Then there's what Trout did on defense: His 4.4 Ultimate Zone Rating in left and center field far exceeded Cabrera's minus-16.8 at third base.
"I think [Cabrera is] the best hitter in the game," said NBC Sports' Joe Posnanski, who does not factor team success into his MVP ballot. "But you know, Trout is an amazing hitter himself. And when you take into account the rest -- defense, baserunning, the various contextual differences of their ballparks -- it seemed pretty clear to me that Trout had the better season."
But while a lot of Trout supporters hardly factored WAR, several of those who voted for Cabrera say Detroit's AL Central title had little to do with their decision.
Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, who sided with Trout over Cabrera last year, was impressed by Cabrera's 1.311 OPS with runners in scoring position (Trout's was .993). Jeff Wilson of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted, among other factors, that Cabrera hit more homers and drove in more runs against the Tigers' main rival, the Indians, than any other team.
Many, like Chad Jennings of The Journal News in suburban New York, were simply "overwhelmed by Cabrera's offensive production."
"Ultimately, I'm glad my vote isn't the only one that counts," Jennings said. "I can't pretend I have this figured out. I simply have an opinion. I'm skeptical of defensive metrics, and although I give the WAR stat significant consideration, I think it's flawed and can't be the end of the discussion. I guess the decision of Cabrera vs. Trout depends on what you value and how you view the award. I don't think there's a slam-dunk choice one way or the other."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.