Cabrera, Trout Both Had MVP Cases But Triple Crown Means Something

DENVER—The biggest joke about the American League MVP vote was all the moaning and groaning about the results.

The Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera is the 2012 AL MVP. The Angels’ Mike Trout is the runner-up.

That’s no disgrace. Trout’s in high cotton, too. Cabrera, however, won the award. And the final tally was decisive, with Cabrera outpointing Trout 362-281.

It wasn’t a blowout. It was, however, a strong statement of the AL’s 1-2 punch.

Cabrera, the first person in 45 years to win the Triple Crown but the fourth consecutive Triple Crown winner to claim an MVP, was named first on 22 ballots and second on six. Trout was first on six ballots and second on 21, slipping to third on one of the ballots cast by a panel of two media members for each of the 14 AL cities.

That led to the uproar that many want to couch as a new school vs. old school showdown, which the old school won. That’s tough to buy. What the self-proclaimed new school conveniently overlooks is the so-called old school gives strong consideration to statistics, but instead of looking for a single number that provides an answer, the old school also looks at the intangibles.

And the intangibles include an emphasis on the term “valuable.”

Value Judgment

This isn’t a player of the year award. Baseball has one of those for offensive players, called the Hank Aaron Award, and the Baseball Writers Association of America hands out one of those for pitchers, called the Cy Young Award.

This is the Most Valuable Player Award, and only the BBWAA has that award. It is, in fact, copyrighted by the BBWAA, which adds to chuckles when critics call for the award being taken away from the BBWAA.

Among the most vocal critics was Keith Law of ESPN, a one-time analyst in the Blue Jays front office who now is quick to proclaim his admiration for scouts and their ability to unearth raw talent. Of course in his new job he needs to curry the favor of scouts so he can benefit from their evaluations of young and amateur talent.

This time, however, he attacked the folks who supported Cabrera.

Law certainly understands what it’s like to be in the firing line with a questionable awards ballot. It was in 2009 that Tim Lincecum edged out Chris Carpenter for the National League Cy Young Award. Law gave his first-place vote to Lincecum but gave his second-place vote to Javier Vazquez of the Braves, who had fewer wins and a higher ERA than Lincecum, Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, the top three finishers. He was upset that his vote was made public, even though that’s a longstanding BBWAA policy.

Not only was Law the only voter to put Vazquez on the ballot, but he also was one of two voters (of the 32 who voted for NL Cy Young) who didn’t have Carpenter on his ballot. Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus was the other, and he voted for Wainwright, Lincecum and Dan Haren.

Carpenter, who was released by the Blue Jays after the 2002 season by the J.P. Ricciardi administration of which Law was a part, is no Javier Vazquez. He does, however, have a 1-2-3 Cy Young Award ledger, winning the award in 2005, finishing third in 2006 and finishing second in 2009.

Triple Crown Winners

Voters who claimed that voting for either Cabrera or Trout was unjustifiable made a mistake. Cabrera did, after all, become the first player to claim a Triple Crown since 1967, and the fourth Triple Crown winner in a row to win the MVP, joining Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, Frank Robinson in 1966 and Mickey Mantle in 1956.

Ted Williams was the last Triple Crown winner who did not win an MVP, falling short in both 1942 and 1947. As great a player as he was, Williams did suffer unfairly because of his refusal to cozy up to the media.

While Joe Medwick won the MVP in 1937, Lou Gehrig actually finished fifth in the 1934 voting, which historians blame on the fact the Yankees finished in second place that year.

The only other Triple Crown winners since the BBWAA created the MVP in 1931 were Jimmie Foxx and Chuck Klein, both in 1933. Foxx won the MVP, and Klein, who had won the NL award the year before, fell to second in 1933, behind Carl Hubbell.

There is a common thread to each of the Triple Crown winners who lost out on the MVP—the players who claimed the award that year played for first-place teams. Hubbell won the NL award in 1933, helping the New York Giants to a World Series championship. While the Yankees finished second in 1934, Mickey Cochrane, who won the MVP, helped Detroit to an AL pennant.

Williams lost both times to a Yankee: Joe Gordon in 1942 and DiMaggio in 1947. The Yankees won AL pennants both years.

That would seem to underscore the notion that voters do put an emphasis on the world valuable, which often translates into championships.