Cabrera's win over Trout for AL MVP proves team results matter
The AL MVP vote turned out to be landslide for Miguel Cabrera over Mike Trout. Despite all the debate, it was the confirmation that the individual contributions we make, be it in sports or society, gather enhanced value when they are part of an overall successful effort.
For instance, Andruw Jones and Evan Longoria both hit home runs on the last day of the 2011 season. Each counted exactly the same in their home run total. But the value of the home runs because of the context -- Longoria putting his Rays into the postseason, Jones hitting one in a meaningless game for New York -- were entirely different.
The discussion about the Triple Crown oddity and the sabermetrician's equivalent of it, WAR, because it is another overrated bauble, distracted from the obviousness of what happened.
On Aug. 23, Trout was the presumptive MVP who led Cabrera by 19 points in batting average and 35 points in OPS. Both played on teams on the outside of a playoff spot: the Angels were 2 ½ games out of the wild card and the Tigers were 1 ½ games out of the AL Central lead.
Here's what happened after that:
Trout:.269/.369/.455 (.824 OPS), 6 HRs, 11 RBIs
Cabrera: .343/.394/.686 (1.080 OPS), 13 HRs, 34 RBIs
The Angels missed the playoffs while the Tigers won the AL Central.
That's not close. Trout had no April to speak of -- spending all but three games of it in the minors -- and now he also had far less value from the pennant race than Cabrera to put on his side of the scale. It really wasn't much more complicated than that. Twenty of the past 21 AL MVP winners played for a team that qualified for the postseason -- an enhanced value that is easier to obtain than ever before, with a record five of the 14 AL teams (15 next year) moving on. Just as there are high leverage situations within ballgames, there are high leverage games in a season.
Trout's supporters argued that winning didn't matter, though they contradicted themselves with the argument that Trout's team won more games than Cabrera's team. That's like a basketball team complaining they lost a game in which they made more field goals than the other team. You know the rules going in: the first three postseason spots are determined by divisions, not a simple tally of wins.
The pejorative nonsense about "new school" and "old school" was sad. Everybody uses advanced statistics, though how they weigh them varies. In fact, if Albert Reach can get on a Hall of Fame ballot next month essentially for publishing a baseball magazine for seven years in the 19th century (it helped sell his baseballs), someday Sean Forman, the brains behind baseballreference.com, should be on one. Who else has put more information just clicks away for fans and media? Delving not so deep into Forman's mine, for instance, can reveal this:
Even if you don't believe in "clutch" as a skill, Cabrera delivered in high leverage situations at an extraordinary level. Again, the numbers are readily available. Assigning value is interpretive, which should make for respectful debate that makes the award so fun.
Both Cabrera and Trout deserved to win. Cabrera has replaced Albert Pujols as the definitive best hitter in the game. His ability to hit for average and power is unmatched. He is one of only two players in the past 78 years to lead the league with 40 homers, a .330 average and a .600 slugging percentage. The other was Mickey Mantle in his iconic 1956 season, when Mantle also won both the Triple Crown and the AL MVP. Trout effects games in more ways than anybody in baseball and given the choice of any player should everyone be cast into a draft, I would pick Trout. He is a joy to watch and already, at 21, one of the best baserunners I ever have witnessed. Congratulations to both.
Consider the torch officially passed. The next generation is the now generation. Of the 180 votes for the top three spots on the 60 MVP ballots, 161 of them, or 89 percent, went to players in their age 29 season or younger: Mike Trout, 20, Buster Posey, 25, Andrew McCutchen, 25, Craig Kimbrel, 25, David Price, 27, Ryan Braun, 28, Miguel Cabrera, 29, Robinson Cano, 29, Yadier Molina, 29, and Jim Johnson, 29. Nobody in his 30s got a first-place vote.
The only baseball elders to even sneak into a top three on a ballot were Adrian Beltre, 33, with 17 votes, and Derek Jeter, 38, with 2.
Keep this in mind when you want your club to extend a star player or sign a free agent that takes him well into his 30s. Combined votes for 30-and-older players like Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Jimmy Rollins, Scott Rolen, Lance Berkman, Michael Young, Paul Konerko, Mark Teixeira and Ichiro Suzuki: 9 out of a possible 600.
We have returned to the late 20s as the sweet spot of a player's career. In the decade since drug testing was introduced in 2003, only three out of 20 MVPs were in their 30s when they won: Barry Bonds twice and Alex Rodriguez, both PED users. The NL has produced eight straight MVPs from age 25 through 29 since Bonds won MVPs at age 36, 37, 38 and 39 from 2001-04.
One fun debate is who will become the first player of this generation to win a second MVP. Cabrera, after five top five finishes, has won his first. Buster Posey has won his first. At the age of 25, Posey already has two world championships, a Rookie of the Year award, a batting title and an MVP. That's almost a modern day DiMaggio (four championships, two batting titles and one MVP by age 25-- the rookie award wasn't created yet).
You also have Braun, Joey Votto, 29, and Dustin Pedroia, 29, looking for a second MVP. But here's one guess: Trout will win his first and second before those other guys win their second. He's that good.
I don't recall so much angst and anger about breaking up a last-place team. The Red Sox, who finished in the AL East basement, were hailed as geniuses for getting the Dodgers to bail them out. The Marlins, because of the reputation of their ownership, are vilified for getting the Blue Jays to rescue them. The risk in the Miami-Toronto deal is heavily on the Blue Jays' side. Take, as many Marlins fans would love to do, owner Jeffrey Loria out of the equation for a moment. The team lost 93 games last year and this is what they gave up:
Josh Johnson, an injury-prone pitcher with one 200-inning season who posted a 3.81 ERA last year and who was going to be gone at the end of next season as a free agent.
Mark Buehrle, a pitcher who at 34 next year will begin collecting $48 million over the next three years.
Jose Reyes, an injury-prone shortstop who turns 30 next year and while managing to stay healthy last season saw his batting average drop 50 points from 2011. He is due money he would never see if he were a free agent today: $96 million over five years.
John Buck, a 32-year-old catcher who hit .192, dropping his career average to .235.
Emilio Bonifacio, a speed guy with a lifetime .329 OBP.
Let's be real: If the Marlins kept this team together they were looking at another losing season with a $100 million payroll. If A's general manager Billy Beane, the guy who traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey last offseason, made this deal it would be hailed as a pro-active baseball move to shorten the rebuilding curve. But because it's the Marlins, a team nobody trusts, we get overheated, knee-jerk reactions that the commissioner ought to stop Loria. These are not the 1997 Marlins, folks -- a bigger travesty as teardowns go.
The mistake came long ago when the people and politicians of South Florida bought what Loria was selling when it came to a new ballpark supported by almost $400 million in public funds. (In their defense, he wasn't exactly up front about the team's finances, now was he?)
A year ago everybody in baseball was calling it a potential white elephant: the only way baseball would work in that place was to leverage the excitement of the building and a fattened payroll into a winning team that would help turn Miami into a baseball town. Even before Marlins Park opened, the odds of success looked lousy. The place was plagued by decidedly low levels of interest, with sponsorships (no stadium naming rights), ticket sales and residual business developments falling flat. Loria expected attendance of 2.6 million for his plan to work. By June, the manager was one of the most despised people in Miami and the team couldn't hit a lick. The business plan was dead by July. Loria drew 2.2 million to his glorified art gallery.
With the novelty factor gone and the 93 losses hanging over the franchise, attendance and revenues were going to crater even further this year. Baseball in South Florida is in trouble again after a bout of optimism that lasted an eyeblink. The way back is to cut losses and rebuild with young players.
Loria doesn't get any slack, not with the way he helped sink baseball in Montreal, not with the way he has run through managers and not with the way he has macro-managed baseball matters, such as shoving Heath Bell down the throats of his baseball operations people.
But mismanagement shouldn't beget more mismanagement. Now, Loria will have to spend some money on some players or else he will have the union pounding on his door again, only this time with something stiffer than just a warning to quit stuffing revenue-sharing checks in his pocket. But on a pure baseball level? Not even commissioner Bud Selig can stop the need to rebuild a bad team.