October 4, 2012
Ask the Industry
Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera
Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera? It’s the bacon-or-cheese argument of the 2012 major league season, a decision that is weighted in preference rather than a universally recognized consensus. Both players have historic cases to make, just as the fatty pig meat and the pressed curds of milk are each historic in their deliciousness. On one hand, you have a rookie sensation whose electricity could power Paris, a player with an unprecedented debut campaign that draws comparisons to a young Mickey Mantle, only better, which isn’t exactly normal. This generational performance just happens to share a space with another generational performance, a statistical feat of such lore and reverence that the mere hunt and proximity to such an accomplishment is worthy of high praise and metallic hardware. Miguel Cabrera is the most feared hitter in the game, and when the dust settled on the 2012 season, his out-of-fashion slash line made him the winner of the Triple Crown, the first of its kind in the American League since 1967, which isn’t exactly normal either.
My head swims when I read about the absolutes of the game, my thoughts beaten down by the weight of the value argument, the binary answer to a question without a clear path to certainty. We all approach the game with different eyes, forming conclusions based on explosive mixtures of subjectivity and concrete data. Without a perfect recipe for value, we each make our own cocktails that are heavily rooted in our own experiences, be they on the field or on the computer screen. I’m not here to present one side of the argument over the other, or to paint one side of the fence a color that will instigate condemnation from a disapproving majority; the baseball industry doesn’t wear one suit, and when I polled ten contacts to get their take on the Trout/Cabrera debate, the answers were as diverse as the job titles next to their name. From the top of the industry food chain to the bottom, I asked a simple question of value, which yielded a surprisingly close vote.
Before I get to the results and share just a few of the thoughts from insiders, I want to preface with a call for respect for those that participated in this article. Each voice has earned the right to call major league baseball their home, which neither guarantees an intelligent and rational nature to their response nor elevates their words beyond criticism. With different approaches and experiences, they form an opinion just like everybody else, albeit opinions that come from behind the curtain rather than the cheap seats or the sofa. As a hot temperature topic, opposing thoughts, especially those wearing the old-school label in the face of a new-school bully, will most likely be met with contempt, and perhaps ridicule. I get it. I can’t say I understand the rationale of some of the arguments that I received, but I respect the voices providing those responses, and I hope you can do the same.
The Final Vote: Mike Trout wins the MVP with 6 out of 10 industry votes
Pro-Trout (a few select quotes):
“Trout. Defense at a premium position is the difference maker for me.”—Front office executive
“I understand that, to some degree, this individual award depends on how your team does and accordingly that Trout loses some ground because of that. The key word is “some." Not infinite, but “some.” I think it is reasonable to believe that at some point, a player can be so far ahead of another that he still gets the award despite his team not making the post season. When you break down what these two contributed, it isn’t very close; perhaps Trout exceeds not only Cabrera’s value but another 50% of Cabrera’s value. Really? Being in the “right” division (the Central instead of the West) is enough to shift the lead to Cabrera? That seems way out of whack to me. In effect, that is a giant step towards making the “did he play on a playoff team” a requirement to win the award. Voters have not behaved that way in the past and if I were voting, I would not behave that way today.”—Front office executive
“Trout should win the MVP. He was the better player and without him the Angels may have finished under .500. In fact, you could even argue—although not very well—that Verlander was as valuable as Cabrera to the Tigers' winning ways. The Tigers would have been a good team even without Cabrera, but the Angels would have finished last in the AL West without Trout; that's the difference for me.”—Front office/scouting department
“Trout for me. While Cabrera is having a MVP season as well and is on pace to win the Triple Crown, Trout changed the culture and attitude of an entire ML team. They were downtrodden and struggling till the day he showed up. He revitalized Torii Hunter, Albert came out of his funk and they started playing outstanding baseball. You asked me about Most Valuable Player….Trout, best player Cabrera.”—Pro Scout (former player)
“I'm going with Trout, and the primary reason is position and defense. What he did as a plus-plus center fielder is what gives him the edge, albeit slight, over Cabrera.. But acting like some WAR or WARP or whatever leader board is how the MVP ballot should line up is ludicrous.”—Front office/Scouting department
Pro Cabrera (a few select quotes):
“Cabrera, though very close and a real head-scratcher. Would have liked Trout in ML entire year versus 89 PA at AAA before 4/28 call up. Both have MVP performances, but Cabrera is not only in MVP territory, but is in Triple Crown reach—a real achievement not done since ’67 Yaz. Though Trout’s defensive run prevention is plus-plus, and offense is plus, I still feel Cabrera’s likely Triple Crown offense offsets some of Trout’s offensive & defensive performance.”—Pro Scout (former player)
“Cabrera. The bat and a full-season of production.”—Pro Scout
“ I would lean towards Cabrera. I am not as focused on the potential Triple Crown as most people who would vote Cabrera, although I do think it is a nice accomplishment. I think Cabrera has had a slightly better offensive season and while Trout is the better defender and plays a priority position, I think Cabrera should be rewarded for moving to 3B for the good of the organization.”—Front office/Player Development
“Miguel Cabrera is the MVP. Mike Trout is a better baseball player, but so is Robinson Cano, Matt Kemp, and a handful of others. None were more valuable to their club, over the course of the season, than Cabrera. He was consistently great for 6 months, 161 games. He had a better 2nd half and, more importantly when talking about value, he was at his best during the pennant race. The Triple Crown was last achieved 45 years ago. No matter what you think of AVG, HR, and RBI, the feat is amazing. There's value in all 3 categories. The most I believe is in the ability to drive in runs. RBI aren't about luck. It's bat control and sacrificing personal stats like AVG to do whatever is needed to get the run in. Cabrera was even better in these situations. Cabrera was also supposed to be a killer at 3B. He ended the season with only 13 errors and somehow had a range factor higher than Adrian Beltre. He hardly cost the Tigers the way everyone assumes. Trout was very good in CF, but did move to LF late in games 35 times for Peter Bourjos. Either Bourjos can't play LF or he's that much better than Trout in CF.”—Scouting (former player)
Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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