Let's Dial Down The Ugly MVP Discussions

Stay Calm, It's Only Baseball

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Miguel Cabrera led the American League in batting average. Mike Trout was second. Advantage, Miggy.

Trout was third in on-base percentage, Cabrera was fourth. Advantage, Rookie.

Cabrera led in OPS (on-base plus slugging). Trout was second. Advantage Miggy.

Trout led the AL in OPS+ (OPS adjusted for different ballpark factors). Cabrera was second. Advantage Rookie.

I swear if somebody comes up with OPS++windchill factor, we could demonstrate that because Cabrera plays in Detroit, Trout plays in Southern California and the Angels played seven hitter-unfriendly April games in chilly Minnesota, New York and Cleveland before Trout was called up to the majors, Miggy deserved to be Most Valuable Player based on that stat alone.

OK, OK, that's my long-winded, statistically snarky way of saying I was rooting for a tie between Cabrera and Trout until the moment Cabrera was named the MVP Thursday night. That's right. I was pulling for a repeat of the one time Willie Stargell and Keith Hernandez tied for NL MVP in 1979.

Although these are the first words I've written about the 2012 MVP race, I long ago grew sick of it. Sick because of the name-calling and "intellectual certainty" in so much of what I've read on the Internet about it the past two months.

Somewhere along the line good, healthy fun baseball debates have turned into intellectual, even moral judgments. In short, if you agree with me, you're right. If you don't, you are an idiot. If you are a devotee of the most advanced numbers, you live in your mom's basement and sit around all day in your underwear playing video games. If you use more traditional numbers and argue on behalf of the knowledge that can be culled simply by watching the game, you are an old, out-of-touch curmudgeon.

I respect what the advanced numbers show. I respect what the eye tells you. I also have a Baseball Hall of Fame vote and have grown reluctant to share the ballot publicly because of the withering and contemptuous attacks that are sure to follow. Honest words about the difficulties involved with inducting potential steroids users are met with scorn. Admitting that there was room on your ballot for both clutch postseason performers like Jack Morris and a so-called compiler like Bert Blyleven is met with accusations of being "statistically hypocritical." It's ugly. And it's getting uglier.

In that way, the 2012 AL MVP race was just like the 2012 political races, minus the ubiquitous Linda McMahon ads. So it was zero surprise when New York Times numbers wizard Nate Silver, who won the gold medal in forecasting the Electoral College, returned to his baseball roots to join the MVP argument. Of course, Silver picked Trout. The advanced sabermetrics pointed him in that direction. God bless his figure-filbert soul, at least Silver didn't engage in the name-calling.

I would have voted for Cabrera. Barely, maybe less than barely. And I might have been wrong. That's not an admission of mental or character weakness. That's an assertion of strength. That's how close it was. That's how much both of these guys deserved the award. Frankly, I was disappointed Cabrera was named first on 22 of the 28 ballots (Trout got the other six) by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The landslide will serve only to bring more name-calling.

Both sides might try to make their debate sound more nuanced, but in a lot of ways it came down to Triple Crown vs. WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a metric used to demonstrate how many more wins a player would give his team as opposed to a "replacement level" player at his position. Trout led the AL at 10.7 while Cabrera was a distant fourth. There are a few different WAR formulas — measuring defense is not a statistical absolute — yet any attempt to quantify the overall value of a player in my mind is a worthwhile endeavor. Having said that, attempting to diminish the Triple Crown that Cabrera won is to totally miss its historical merit, his brilliance and the pressure Cabrera had to carry through a pennant race. Let's face it. The national media aren't breathing down your neck if you're chasing the WAR, Ultimate Zone Rating, Win Probability Added Triple Crown.

To read some of this stuff you'd think Cabrera winning the first Triple Crown in 45 years was tantamount to an RBI single in a beer-league softball game or that WAR is the end result of needless mental masturbation. Granted, the RBI historically has been a little overrated. When a guy hits in the middle of the order, he's going to get more chances, yet if it was easy why didn't all the 3-4-5 hitters have 139 RBI like Cabrera? There's no denying he was a run-producing machine.

And round and round we go. One side calls the other geeks, while one calls the other so out of touch that they use typewriters. The irony is the real old school guys love complete players like Trout. They love his defense. They love his base stealing. They love his energy.

And it's not like the traditionalists never voted for those players. Look at 2001. Ichiro, who batted .350, had 56 stolen bases, played stellar defense, edged Jason Giambi, .342, 38 homers, 120 RBI. And long ago, when King James was much bigger than Bill James, Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon won the 1942 MVP ahead of a much more deserving Triple Crown winner named Ted Williams.

Forty-nine stolen bases in 53 attempts, taking the extra base, avoiding the MLB-leading double plays that Cabrera had, there is a good argument to be made that Trout's overall play more than made up for Cabrera's edge with the bat. Yet those who point out that the Angels were 6-14 before Trout showed up and 83-59 afterward must also accept, through no fault of his own, that he missed an eighth of the season. Cabrera was there, frosty Motown start to frosty Motown finish. Those who go bonkers for Trout's terrific play in center must admit he played a third of the time in left, a far less demanding position. And those who point out that the Angels won one more game in a tougher division than the Tigers must also recognize that Cabrera led his team into the postseason.

Granted he was ordinary at third base, but Cabrera was not a butcher. Also, he moved there to allow Prince Fielder to play first. Best I can tell there's no sabermetric for unselfishness. The award is called MVP to his team, folks, not best all-around player, and things like leadership do matter.

Yet ultimately, I give Cabrera the narrowest of margins — I could be wrong — based on how he produced in pressurized situations of September. Trout's numbers were OK after Sept. 1: .285, five homers, nine RBI. Cabrera's were excellent: .333, 11 homers, 30 RBI.

See, I think leading your team into the playoffs, winning the first Triple Crown since Yaz in 1967 when everybody is watching does matter. I have an OPS bias, too, the combination of reaching base and power is essential for baseball greatness. By the way, Cabrera had the best Weighted on Base Average [WoBA], the new-age OPS.

The point here is Cabrera's victory isn't as idiotic as some surely will argue, nor was it as ironclad as the final results showed. For both great players, like Jim Caple over at ESPN.com, I wished it was a tie. For the rest of us, I wish we would quit screaming at each other.

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