What is it that makes you the Most Valuable Player to your league? Is it where you help your team finish? Is it how much better you were than a replacement level player, such as the WAR statistic? Is it all about your overall numbers?
It had been 45 years since Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemski won the last Triple Crown in Major League Baseball before Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera accomplished the feat in 2012. With 14 winners of the Triple Crown in the modern era (since 1900), maybe winning the Triple Crown is not as impossible as the 45 years have seemed to make it, but it is still an impressive feat.
Ted Williams was the last Triple Crown winner, his 1947 season, to not win the MVP in his dynamic season. He lost out to Joe DiMaggio, whose 4.5 WAR was drastically less than Williams’ 9.6 that season; however, DiMaggio and the Yankees won the World Series, defeating the Brooklyn Dodgers in seven games that season, while Williams and the Red Sox finished 14 games back of the Bronx Bombers.
If WAR is important in evaluating talent and perfomance, should Williams have won the award in 1947, even while playing on a team that did not perform as well as DiMaggio’s? If the Triple Crown is rare, shouldn’t that have given Williams the boost he needed for the votes? It was rare in those days, as well, even though Williams had won the Triple Crown in 1942 without winning the MVP, as well, losing out to New York Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon, while outperforming him in WAR 10.2 to 7.8 in that season.
WAR meant nothing then, but neither did winning the Triple Crown. So, what is going to happen when voters turn to statistical analysis and sabermetrics to determine who was the MVP of the American League in 2012? While sabermetrics was not around during the days of Ted Williams being overlooked, the fact that the Triple Crown meant little to voters is not a good sign for Miguel Cabrera.
With an emphasis on WAR for some voters, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout will steal a lot of votes from Cabrera. Trout led the whole league in WAR, running away with the lead with a 10.4 WAR in 2012. Miguel Cabrera, even with his Triple Crown season, totaled a 7.2 WAR, 8th in MLB and 3rd in the AL.
Trout deserves the attention, though. He joined the Angels on April 28 and the team went 82-59 (.582) with him on their roster, and just 7-14 before he arrived. Had the club not sent him down to Triple-A, the Angels may not have finished five games out in the AL West and four games out of the Wild Card. While he already showed that he is valuable with his Wins Above Replacement stat, it is scary to think that he could only get better, having just turned 21 years old on August 7.
The issue that Miguel Cabrera runs into, even with his team making the playoffs and winning the Triple Crown, is that the last Triple Crown winner, Yastzremski, had a 12.1 WAR, best in the AL and better than Brooks Robinson and his 8.6 WAR in 2nd place in the AL.
Because of how rare the feat is, Miguel Cabrera should win the American League MVP. While his defense was an issue at times (Baseball Reference gave him a defensive WAR of -0.2), he dominated offensively, leading the Tigers to a comeback over the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central to earn a playoff spot. Without Cabrera, there is no way that Detroit would be in the playoffs. Trout proved his worth, but he will be at home until spring training after finishing game 162 on Wednesday.