Trout jumps Cabrera for MVP as AL gets three new leaders

Thursday September 19th, 2013

Mike Trout's all-around game may finally carry him past Miguel Cabrera for the MVP award.
Robert Beck/SI

The penultimate Awards Watch of the 2013 regular season finds new leaders in all three American League awards compared to just a week ago but the same trio holding the top spots in the National League. For the reasons why, see below.

Note: All stats are through Wednesday, Sept. 18. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. The number in parentheses after a player's name reflects his rank on the previous list. Rookies are players who, prior to the current season, had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors or spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster prior to rosters expanding on Sept. 1.

Most Valuable Player

American League

1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (2)

Season Stats: .330/.435/.570, 26 HR, 92 RBI, 108 R, 33 SB

2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers (1)

Season Stats: .347/.443/.653, 44 HR, 134 RBI, 100 R

I said last week that I'd "give Cabrera one more week before I take him out of the top spot." Cabrera has perked up over that span, starting every game and going 7-for-23 (.304) with a double, a homer and six walks. Still, he has hit a mere .220/.385/.317 in September when not sitting due to his abdominal strain, and with Trout having hit .328/.494/.590 this month with home runs in each of his last three games, I had to make the switch this week.

As someone who believes Trout was clearly the most valuable player in baseball last year and that team performance has no relevance to individual awards, I couldn't in good conscience argue that Cabrera has been better to this point this season. It's extremely difficult for me to put the man leading the majors in all three slash stats second on this list, but Trout is in the top three in the majors in all three categories and within seven points of Cabrera in the most important one, on-base percentage. As was the case last year, I believe that Trout's baserunning (those 33 steals have come at an 83 percent success rate) and fielding compensate for Cabrera's clearly superior performance at the plate.

However, unlike last year, and in contrast to the wins above replacement metrics, all of which favor Trout by a lot (bWAR: 9.1 to 7.0; fWAR: 10.2 to 7.5; WARP: 10.5 to 7.5), I don't think Trout's lead here is significant. Cabrera is most likely still going to win this award, and the player most likely to steal votes from him is Chris Davis, who will get a lot of credit for Baltimore's success this season. However, these rankings reflect how I would vote if the season ended today, and right now, I'd vote for Trout, though I see it as close enough that the final 10 games could put Cabrera back on top.

3. Chris Davis, 1B, Orioles (3)

Season Stats: .292/.374/.646, 51 HR, 134 RBI, 100 R

Davis' 51 home runs are an Orioles record and his 134 RBIs have tied Cabrera for the major league lead. The comparison between those two is apples-to-apples because the value of both players is contained almost entirely in their performance at the plate. Cabrera has Davis beat on all three slash stats despite playing in a less-friendly home ballpark, and Cabrera's advantage in on-base percentage is a whopping 69 points. Given the difficulty of separating Cabrera and Trout in terms of overall value, Davis' clear inferiority to Cabrera makes him an easy pick for third place in this race.

National League

1. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates (1)

Season Stats: .327/.408/.523, 20 HR, 81 RBI, 93 R, 27 SB

McCutchen is the Trout candidate in the NL. His raw batting stats don't measure up to those of the Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt, but with his fielding and baserunning factored in, he is clearly the league's most valuable player. McCutchen gets an extra boost from park adjustments given the extremes of Pittsburgh's PNC Park and Arizona's Chase Field as illustrated by his league-leading (and park-adjusted) 164 OPS+. Combine all that with the Pirates' first winning season and playoff berth since 1992 and this is a far less controversial ranking than Trout's, but the logic behind it is the same.

2. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (2)

Season Stats: 14-9, 1.94 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 (214 K), 4.28 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 3 CG, 2 SHO, 185 ERA+

Kershaw has posted a 4.26 ERA in three September starts (though that was mostly due to his giving up five runs in five innings in the first of those three) and will have had seven days off by the time he starts again on Saturday (see below), which has taken a lot of the momentum out of the Kershaw-for-MVP movement that crested in late August. Still, he has been the best pitcher in baseball this year, and not by a little. He's not really threatening McCutchen anymore, but he still deserves to be here.

3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks

Season Stats: .305/.406/.556, 34 HR, 118 RBI, 97 R, 15 SB

Goldschmidt has hit .548/.600/1.000 over his last eight games (17-for-31 with seven extra-base hits and four walks) to slip past the also-hot-but-not-that-hot Matt Carpenter for the third spot on this list and past Pedro Alvarez for the NL home run lead. Goldschmidt also leads the NL with 310 total bases.

Cy Young

American League

1. Max Scherzer, RHP, Tigers (2)

Season Stats: 19-3, 2.95 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 10.1 K/9 (227 K), 4.63 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 142 ERA+

Scherzer dominated the Royals on Sunday (7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 12 K), tying his season high for strikeouts, though he didn't get his 20th win due to a lack of run support. That performance, combined with a stinker by Chris Sale, put Scherzer back on top, even without considering his sparkling 19-3 record.

2. Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers (3)

Season Stats: 12-9, 2.79 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 11.9 K/9 (256 K), 3.76 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 147 ERA+

One of the more startling signs of the Rangers' collapse is that, over his last six starts, Darvish has turned in five quality starts and posted a 3.38 ERA but has gone 0-4 and Texas has lost all six of those games. That's because the Rangers have scored a total of 11 runs (1.8 per game) in those contests. Darvish's last two starts were both 1-0 losses, and he has four such losses on the season. Switch those to wins, and his record would be 16-5.

3. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox (1)

Season Stats: 11-13, 3.08 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.6 K/9 (214 K), 4.86 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 4 CG, 1 SHO, 141 ERA+

It shows you how close this race actually is that it took just one bad start (5 2/3 IP, 6 R) to knock Sale from the top of my list down to third place. That poor outing came against Cleveland, against whom Sale is now 0-4 with an 8.61 ERA this season in four starts. In 24 starts against the rest of the majors this season, he is 11-9 with a 2.37 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP.

National League

1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (1)

Season Stats: 14-9, 1.94 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 (214 K), 4.28 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 3 CG, 2 SHO, 185 ERA+

Kershaw has looked human in September, so, given that he was leading the major leagues in innings prior to Adam Wainwright's start Wednesday night, the Dodgers have opted to push his next start, which was also due to come on Wednesday, back to Saturday to give Kershaw a breather and set him up to start the first game of the Division Series. That won't impact this race. Kershaw has had this award wrapped up for a while now.

2. Matt Harvey, RHP, Mets (2)

Season Stats: 9-5, 2.27 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 9.6 K/9 (191 K), 6.16 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 157 ERA+

After visiting Dr. James Andrews on Monday, Harvey, who was diagnosed with a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament at the end of August, announced that, on Andrews' recommendation, he will attempt to avoid Tommy John surgery via a two-month rehabilitation program. That won't impact this race, either, but it's an encouraging sign that Harvey may be able to compete for this award next year as well.

JAFFE: Harvey's choice of rehab over Tommy John surgery a reasonable one

3. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Marlins (3)

Season Stats: 12-6, 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.7 K/9 (187 K), 3.22 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, 179 ERA+

Wainwright, who is having a fine season, has thrown 56 2/3 more innings this year than the rookie Fernandez, who was shut down after 172 2/3. However if you add 56 2/3 innings of a league average ERA (3.75) to Fernandez's line, his ERA would still be a mere 2.57 to Wainwright's 2.98. Given how dominant and consistent Fernandez was for the final three and a half months of his season, that's all the evidence I need to keep Fernandez (and Harvey, who threw 178 1/3 innings) above Wainwright and the similarly qualified Cliff Lee (207 2/3 IP, 2.95 ERA).

Rookie of the Year

American League

1. Wil Myers, RF, Rays

Season Stats: .300/.363/.497, 13 HR, 49 RBI

In the last week, Myers has gone 11-for-26 (.423) with four walks, just two strikeouts and seven of his 11 hits going for extra-bases, helping the Rays pull out of their dive to go 5-2 over that span. He now leads American League rookies in home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage (minimum 200 plate appearances) and slugging (min. 50 PA) and has come to the plate just 45 times fewer than Jose Iglesias, the only other AL rookie hitter in the discussion at this point.

2. Chris Archer, RHP, Rays (1)

Season Stats: 9-7, 3.02 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 2.57 K/BB, 5.8 IP/GS, 2 SHO, 126 ERA+

Archer started twice in the last week and put up this combined line: 12 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 13 K. That was strong work from the 24-year-old, who now has a 2.56 ERA over his last 14 starts, but it wasn't not enough to hold off the charge of his teammate Myers.

3. Jose Iglesias, SS, Tigers (2)

Season Stats: .312/.357./.397, 3 HR, 29 RBI

Over the last week, Iglesias went 2-for-12 without a walk or an extra-base hit and has gone 2-for-16 since having a nine-game hitting streak snapped on Sept. 11.

National League

1. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Marlins (1)

Season Stats: 12-6, 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.7 K/9 (187 K), 3.22 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, 179 ERA+

2. Yasiel Puig, RF, Dodgers (2)

Season Stats: .336/.404/.553, 17 HR, 39 RBI, 62 R

With Fernandez done for the year and just 10 games left for Puig and the Dodgers, I don't see a change coming in this race. Fernandez, the only rookie to factor into the MVP or Cy Young rankings above, should win this award easily, with Puig the runner-up.

3. Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves (3)

Season Stats: 12-8, 3.14 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 (160 K), 3.56 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, 123 ERA+

Teheran just barely holds on to third place in this race this week, edging out the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu by virtue of a few points of ERA+ and Teheran's better K/BB and K/9 rates (Ryu is at 3.06 and 7.2, respectively, in the latter two categories). Shelby Miller remains hot on the heels of Teheran and Ryu, but his lower innings total (19 2/3 fewer than Ryu) makes it easy to rank Miller fifth overall.

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