By Steve Silverman
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Frank Robinson won the triple crown with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966, and he was clearly the American League’s Most Valuable Player.
Carl Yastrzemski won the triple crown the following year for the Boston Red Sox — although Harmon Killebrew tied for the league lead in home runs with 44 — and Yaz was clearly the MVP because he carried the Red Sox to the American League pennant.
That was the end of baseball’s triple crown winners.
Until this year.
No player led either league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in until this year, when Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera accomplished that feat.
When they hand out the MVP award on Thursday, Cabrera is no better than a slight favorite to get the award. Unlike Robinson and Yastrzemski, Cabrera has a worth challenger in Angels rookie sensation Mike Trout.
This battle has turned out to be a great one, and it is being fought on several fronts. Traditionalists seem to back the burly Cabrera because of his propensity for bashing the ball all over the lot. His smooth swing and knowledge of the pitchers he faced on an everyday basis has earned him a lot of old-school backing.
Cabrera hit .330 with 44 home runs and 139 runs batted in. His batting average was actually 14 points below what he hit in 2011. Many traditionalists like to ignore modern stats like on-base percentage, but it’s too important to overlook. Cabrera had an OBP of .393, significantly below the .448 he had in 2011.
Neither of those stats should diminish his accomplishments in 2012. He was a brilliant hitter, but he may not have been as dominant as his backers want you to believe.
Trout is the best pure rookie to come into the American League since Fred Lynn was a rookie in 1975. Ichiro Suzuki won the Rookie of the Year and the MVP award with the Seattle Mariners in 2001, but he was not truly a rookie. He had dominated Japanese baseball for eight-plus seasons and never should have been eligible for the Rookie of the Year award. Saying he was a rookie is insulting to Japanese baseball.
Trout was remarkable from a statistical point of view. To name just a few of his achievements, Trout became the first player in Major League history to have 30 home runs, 45 stolen bases and 125 runs scored in the same season.
Trout hit .326 for the season, hit 30 home runs and drove in 83 runs. He stole 49 bases, scored 129 runs and he had a .399 OBP.
Trout is much faster running the bases and is a much better defensive player. He has no limitations in center field.
Cabrera is one of the most limited fielding third basemen in recent memory. The fact that he could handle the position’s minimum requirements is worthy of some applause, but if the ball was not hit right at him he couldn’t make the play.
When you compare everything — old-school stats, new-school stats and the eye test — it really is a close battle.
New-school advocates love to downgrade the RBI stat and criticize it for being “random,” but if you don’t buy into that argument — and I don’t — Cabrera has an advantage.
Cabrera drove in 56 more runs than Trout.
That’s not kitty litter.
Trout seems likely to be an MVP-caliber player for many years. He is a remarkable 20-year-old baseball player who is several years away from reaching his peak.
Cabrera is 29 and at the peak of his talent. He has the kind of skills to be a great player until his late thirties, but he does not take care of himself the way many peak athletes do.
When Cabrera is driven and motivated, he will continue to be great. However, you wonder how well this 240-pound player will take care of himself in the future.
Conditioning is not one of his priorities.
Go ahead and give Cabrera the 2012 MVP, but pencil in Trout for a spectacular career that will likely include multiple MVPs himself.
Who do you think is more deserving of the AL MVP? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…