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Cabrera worthy AL MVP selection over Trout

Rookie's overall numbers tops, but he wilted down stretch when vet carried Tigers to playoffs

Phil Rogers

On Baseball

8:46 PM CST, November 15, 2012

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Hey, what do you know? We got it right.

My 28 fellow baseball writers who are empowered to pick the American League Most Valuable Player Award did the right thing in picking Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera over the remarkable Mike Trout, with the margin bigger than expected. Cabrera received 22 first-place votes, 16 more than the rookie with unparalleled metrics.

He was surprised to be an easy choice.

"This means a lot,'' Cabrera said on a conference call. "I'm very humbled. I thought it was going to be close. … I did not expect to win. Thank God (the baseball writers) vote for me.''

While the vote was cast as old school against new school, in the end it was more about winning. Cabrera carried the Tigers into the playoffs, making up a three-game deficit to the White Sox with only 15 games left. They wouldn't have done that without Cabrera being the rock in the middle of the lineup.

Cabrera hit .343 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs in 37 games after Aug. 23, including three three-hit games against the White Sox. During that time, the 21-year-old Trout hit .269 with six homers, stealing eight bases, as the Angels finished third to the A's and the Rangers in the AL West.

He was far and away the most complete, most spectacular player in the game but it was Cabrera, the Tigers' seemingly always grinning third baseman, who delivered within baseball's timeless context.

That is, he did what the Tigers needed him to do to reward his owner, his front office, his teammates and his team's fans with a ticket to the second season. Excluding the 1994 strike season, 19 of the last 20 AL MVPs have come from playoff teams, and it didn't make sense to leave Cabrera out of that line just because Trout did more for the people who had him in fantasy leagues.

Without the closing kick of Cabrera and the Tigers, Trout would have been a deserving winner. There's no debate about that. But the case for Cabrera was just a little bit better, as the final vote tally — 362 to 281 — illustrate.

Some will paint the outcome as another example of BBWAA members being out of touch with statistical analysis and baseball's new math. Even brilliant pollster Nate Silver, late of Baseball Prospectus, weighed in before the vote was announced with a piece on his New York Times blog headed "The Statistical Case Against Cabrera for MVP.''

In it, Silver uses mathematical formulas to show that Trout's baserunning and defense were worth 23 runs to the Angels while Cabrera's station-to-station baserunning and awkwardness at third base cost the Tigers 13 runs — a difference of 36 runs. Was Cabrera that much better of a hitter?

Probably not, but he carried a team with a flawed lineup — leadoff man Austin Jackson and cleanup hitter Prince Fielder were also essential pieces — into the playoffs. Silver responds to that by pointing out the Angels won 89 games, one more than the Tigers. It's a good point but until MLB eliminates divisional play not an especially persuasive one.

"Perhaps 10 or 20 years ago, when evaluations of baserunning, defense and clutch hitting were murkier, stat geeks would have argued that Cabrera deserved the MVP on the basis of the hard evidence,'' Silver writes. "Now that some of the 'intangibles' have become measurable, we know that Trout did more of the little things to help his team win. It's the traditionalists who are using statistics in a way that misses the forest for the trees.''

There's no question that the means of measuring performance have evolved. MLB has changed too. Now five teams in each league — more than one in every three in the 14-team AL this season — go to the playoffs. When I weigh MVP candidates, I'm going to look at players on those teams before I consider guys whose teams didn't meet that standard.

This year there was no way to get past Cabrera.

And by the way, it's about time he won. Miggy was second to Josh Hamilton in 2010, receiving five first-place votes, and was a strong candidate again in 2011, finishing fifth behind teammate Justin Verlander. It was his time. Like the chance to get past the White Sox down the stretch, he didn't let it get away.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers