Much has been made, and will continue to be made, of the Most Valuable Player Award announcements coming at 6 p.m. on MLB Network. While the front-runner for the National League distinction isn’t clear-cut — though Giants catcher Buster Posey is the likely front- runner — the debate, for weeks, has centered on the award in the American League. Should it go to the first triple crown winner since 1967 (Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera) or a player (Angels’ Mike Trout) who, despite being called up in late April, was at the top or near it in many major offensive categories, and was a far superior defender and base runner?
The debate, as some have framed it, is the old-school traditionalists who see the triple crown as the most coveted single-season hitting achievement in baseball versus the new-school stat heads who, with the benefit of advanced numbers analysis, can measure a player’s impact in all facets of the game. But really, advanced metrics and WAR (wins above replacement) aside, the conversation shouldn’t be about that. Advanced statistics aren’t needed to tell that Trout is a far better defender and base runner than Cabrera, enough to make up the differences in their offensive production; eyes alone can do that. So, really, the debate is about whether defense and base running can be almost completely ignored when awarding an MVP award.
In other words, proponents of Cabrera focus simply on his magnificent achievement in three major categories — and hitting .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBI most definitely was — and forget that he was an average third baseman, better suited given his bulk to play first base. And, that his base running was nowhere close to Trout’s 49 stolen bases, efficiency (only caught stealing five times) and his stellar ability to take the extra base when able.
(Per Washington Post policy, we’re not allowed to vote in these awards. But it may sound as if I’m a Trout proponent, which wouldn’t exactly be wrong.)
Posey is the likely front-runner for the NL award given he primarily plays a premium position, the most demanding on the field, catcher and still produced a magnificent season at the plate: .336/.408/.549 with 24 home runs and 103 RBI, seemingly carrying his team’s offense for stretches. But a case for easily be made for Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, an elite defender in left field and stud at the plate (41 home runs, 112 RBI and 30 stolen bases), or St. Louis’ Yadier Molina, the best fielding catcher in the majors, who blossomed with a .315/.373/.501, 22-home run and 76-RBI season.
Braun, the defending MVP who produced just as good a season this year, likely won’t receive it because of backlash for his overturned suspension for a positive drug test. And Molina, though a relatively better defender at his position than Posey or Braun, probably didn’t do enough offensively and hits in a better lineup than the other two.
Nationals Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond, by virtue of not being among the five finalists for the award, will not win the award. But expect them to get a few fringe votes, especially LaRoche for his 33-home run, 100-RBI, Gold Glove season, and deservedly so.
NL candidates: Buster Posey, SFG; Ryan Braun, MIL; Chase Headley, SDP; Andrew McCutchen, PIT; and Yadier Molina, STL.
AL candidates: Josh Hamilton, TEX; Robinson Cano, NYY; Adrian Beltre, TEX; Mike Trout, LAA; and Miguel Cabrera, DET.