1. Mike Trout - .326/.399/.564, 30 HR, 49 SB, .422 wOBA, 175 wRC+, 10.4 fWAR, 10.7 rWAR
2. Miguel Cabrera - .330/.393/.606, 44 HR, 4 SB, .416 wOBA, 166 wRC+, 7.2 fWAR, 6.9 rWAR
3. Robinson Cano - .313/.379/.550, 33 HR, 3 SB, .392 wOBA, 148 wRC+, 7.7 fWAR, 8.2 rWAR
4. Adrian Beltre - .321/.359/.561, 36 HR, 1 SB, .386 wOBA, 140 wRC+, 6.5 fWAR, 6.6 rWAR
5. Austin Jackson - .300/.377/.479, 16 HR, 12 SB, .368 wOBA, 132 wRC+, 5.5 fWAR, 5.3 rWAR
6. Justin Verlander – 2.64 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 9.03 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 2.94 FIP, 3.31 xFIP, 6.8 fWAR, 7.5 rWAR
7. Prince Fielder - .313/.412/.528, 30 HR, 1 SB, .397 wOBA, 152 wRC+, 5.0 fWAR, 4.5 rWAR
8. Joe Mauer - .319/.416/.446, 10 HR, 8 SB, .374 wOBA, 139 wRC+, 5.1 fWAR, 4.1 rWAR
9. David Price – 2.56 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.74 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 3.05 FIP, 3.12 xFIP, 5.1 fWAR, 6.4 rWAR
10. Josh Hamilton - .285/.354/.577, 43 HR, 7 SB, .385 wOBA, 139 wRC+, 4.7 fWAR, 3.3 rWAR
It’s been a two man race for quite a few weeks. Traditionalists pointing to Triple Crown numbers and Sabermetricians pointing to WAR to determine the award. I presented a new angle earlier, even though I don’t personally agree with it (at least not all by itself). It mainly comes down to the following areas:
Offense: Cabrera simply beats Trout in almost every offensive stat imaginable, HR, RBI, AVG, SLG, OPS, etc. However, Trout edges out Cabrera in two ballpark adjusted stats, OPS+ (171 to 166) and wRC+ (175 to 166). Playing time is a huge component though, and Trout missed most of the month of April, stuck in AAA. That’s enough for me to say that Cabrera has been the best offensive hitter in the American League this year.
Defense: Defense is hard to quantify, especially when we only have one year of data on each player (Trout only has one year, period and Cabrera is playing a position he hasn’t played in quite a while). My two “go to” stats have been UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved). Cabrera has not been the disaster at 3B that everyone predicted, but putting preseason expectations aside, Cabrera has shown to be a negative on defense. UZR has him rated as the 5th worst defensive third baseman in baseball in 2012 at -9.2 runs. DRS is kinder on Cabrera, only rating him -4 runs on defense.
Trout has lived up to his scouting report as being very good on defense, using UZR and DRS as the metrics. UZR says that Trout has been worth 13.3 runs, tied for 9th among all outfielders in 2012. DRS rates him even better, 3rd among OF at 21 runs saved this year.
Using one year of data can be deceptive, though. People may claim that Cabrera isn’t as bad as these numbers suggest. But even ignoring all numbers and just using the eye test, it should still be concluded that Trout is a better defensive outfield than Cabrera is a third baseman. The question now is, is it significant enough to make Trout the more valuable player in 2012?
Intangibles and Others: Ok, so maybe you agree that Cabrera is the better hitter, but Trout has been the better overall player. However, there are intangibles that may put Cabrera back on top. Arguing that "valuable" isn't always synonymous with "best." For example, Cabrera moved to 3B to accommodate the signing of Prince Fielder. How much value is that worth? Cabrera had a much better August and September to push his team to the playoffs while Trout slumped and the Angels fell to 3rd place and out of the playoffs (even though the Angels ended up with a better record than the Tigers). How much value do you give that? Maybe you give Cabrera the MVP for winning the Triple Crown, a feat that hasn't happened in 45 years, end of discussion. According to run expectancy, Trout has given his team bigger hits than Cabrera when context is factored. How much value is that worth?
One thing that might personally sway me to the Miguel Cabrera side is if we factor in career stats. Normally, this is an award to showcase that particular year, but it can be argued that Cabrera has deserved the award in the past. Giving him the award in a year that is this close can sort of “make up” for the fact that he hasn’t gotten it yet. Trout is young, has a long, bright future in his career. He will have plenty of time to win the award if he is really this good.
Conclusion: There’s no right answer here. They intentionally leave the MVP voting rules vague to leave it up to the individual voter’s discretion. How much weight you give to each area will determine who you believe is the winner. I just happen to come to the conclusion that Trout’s value was more valuable than Cabrera’s in 2012.
One thing’s for certain, there has been a ton of debate on this this year. It’s sad to see some arguments come down to degrading the other player to make their player appear better. These are two very special seasons that we just witnessed this year.