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Wednesday, Apr 16th

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Miggy or Mike? Let the debate begin

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Miguel Cabrera

What if the American League decided on MVPs like voters choose presidents? Here's a presidential-style debate over the merits of Detroit's Miguel Cabrera and the Angels' Mike Trout when it comes to the Most Valuable Player award.

(Editor's note: Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the voice of the Lansing Lugnuts, is writing for Ballpark Digest this offseason. Here's his first effort; you can expect to see his byline regularly, both on ballpark profiles and a weekly column.)

Moderator: We shall keep this straightforward and to the point: Who should be voted the 2012 American League Most Valuable Player? Mr. Cabrera’s camp, you have the floor first.

Cabrera’s Proponent: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, of all the facts you hear tonight, there are two facts that are inarguable. First, Miguel Cabrera captured the Triple Crown this season, leading not just the American League but all of baseball in batting average, home runs, and RBIs.  He is the first player to win the Triple Crown since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski back in 1967. Second, Cabrera’s Detroit Tigers made the playoffs, winning the AL Central division title. Did Mike Trout’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim make the playoffs? No, they did not. An historic Triple Crown season plus a playoff berth equals an easy MVP vote for Miguel Cabrera.

Moderator: Mr. Trout’s camp?

Trout’s Proponent: Much obliged. No, Mike Trout’s Angels did not make the playofs this year; their 89-73 record left them four games behind Wild Card winners Baltimore and Texas but above Miguel Cabrera’s 88-74 Detroit Tigers. Remember, Trout wasn’t even called up to play for the Angels until April 28th, at which point they were a disappointing 6-14. That’s an 83-59 record once Mike Trout was a part of the ballclub.  (pause) It must be nice to play in the AL Central, rather than the far tougher AL West. Did you know that the Tigers went just 13-20 against the West this year?

Moderator: Mr. Trout’s camp, you are fully aware that the Tigers and Angels split their 10-game season series, 5-5.

Trout’s Proponent: Yes, and Cabrera batted just .200 with four RBIs in nine of those games. Trout, meanwhile, played in all ten, hitting .262 with an equal four RBIs and a remarkable 11 runs scored in 10 games. Mike Trout not only outplayed Cabrera this season, he outplayed Cabrera in the season series.

Cabrera’s Proponent: (laughing) Trout outplayed Miguel Cabrera this season? What, did he somehow also win the Triple Crown?

Moderator: What are your facts, Mr. Trout’s camp?

Trout’s Proponent: Mike Trout topped Major League Baseball this year in Offensive WAR, an acronym that stands for Wins Above Replacement, the top metric to evaluate a baseball player today. Put simply, if Trout and Cabrera were each replaced by a league-average player, Trout’s team would suffer far more than Cabrera’s team.

Cabera’s Proponent: WAR? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. You statheads are full of it.

Trout’s Proponent: Ignorance aside, Mike Trout was better than Miguel Cabrera in 2012. He also led Cabrera in Adjusted OPS+, which standardizes the statistics while taking factors such as home ballpark into account. Plus, he had the best Offensive Winning Percentage in the Majors, a statistic created by Bill James to measure the rate of a player’s offensive performance. Want more? Mike Trout led the Major Leagues in on-base percentage, stolen bases, and runs scored. He scored 129 runs this year, 20 more the next best player, a certain Miguel Cabrera.

Cabrera’s Proponent: (rolling eyes) All these stats...

Trout’s Proponent: You started it, with your trumpeting of the Triple Crown. That’s all it is, batting average, home runs, and RBI -- simple stats, nothing else. Nowadays, we’re smart enough to figure out even better stats to use to evaluate a player.

Cabrera’s Proponent: You want numbers? When his team needed him most, Miguel Cabrera batted .357 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs in August and then slugged 10 more homers and drove in 27 runs in September. That’s why the Tigers came back to grab the division title. That’s valuable. That’s an MVP. Mike Trout may have been sensational in May and June, I’ll grant you that, but when the Angels needed him most, what did he do? He batted .257 in September, and the Angels were passed by the A’s.

Trout’s Proponent: He still drew 20 walks and scored 21 runs in 27 games during the final month.

Cabrera’s Proponent: How nice for him.  Some more numbers for you, since you love them so much: You know what Trout’s OPS was in September?   .836.  =You know what Miggy’s was?  =1.032, following on the heels of a .990 June, a 1.086 July, and a 1.092 August.  T=hose are spectacular, wouldn’t you agree?

Trout’s Proponent: I would, but --

Cabrera’s Proponent: Listen, I’m not hating on Mike Trout. I admire him.  He’s going to be a great player for the Angels for years to come.  Heck, I’d vote him the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year without a question in my mind. But no one, no one, was more valuable than Miguel Cabrera in the American League. Not when it counted.

Trout’s Proponent: Okay, look: Mike Trout posted a higher WAR than Cabrera. Trout’s team posted a better record than Cabrera’s--

Moderator: We’ve been over this already.

Trout’s Proponent: Let me finish. We could argue over whether Trout or Cabrera put up the better hitting numbers this year until we’re both frustrated and tired. What you’re missing is that baseball is multi-faceted, and hitting is only one element of the game. Mike Trout crushes Miguel Cabrera in both fielding and baserunning. Trout is a brilliant center fielder. Cabrera is a lousy corner infielder. Trout is one of the fastest men the Major Leagues have ever seen. Cabrera is slow. Add those two advantages to Trout’s brilliant offensive numbers and it’s a cinch: Mike Trout is the 2012 American League MVP.

Moderator:  Well, thank you very much to both of you, this has been --

Cabrera’s Proponent: You’re down by one run. Bottom of the ninth. Bases loaded. Two outs. Who do you want as your batter, Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout?

Trout’s Proponent: That’s an absurd hypothetical scenario. I’m not playing along.

Cabrera’s Proponent: You’d want Miggy Cabrera, and you know it. He’s the most feared hitter in baseball today.

Trout’s Proponent: (exasperated) Great, so hand him the 2012 AL Hank Aaron Award.

Cabrera’s Proponent: Say what?

Trout’s Proponent: The Hank Aaron Award. Top hitter in the league. Look it up.

Cabrera’s Proponent: Hey, I like that. Miguel Cabrera, 2012 American League MVP and Hank Aaron Award Winner.

Trout’s Proponent: No, Trout’s the MVP. Defense. Baserunning.  WAR.

Cabrera’s Proponent: September. Triple Crown. Playoffs.

Moderator: Thank you very much, both of you. We hope this has helped any undecided voters with their decision-making, and we wish you a fine evening.

Photo of Miguel Cabrera by Keith Allison via flickr.

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