Last year we saw a fascinating race for the American League Most Valuable Player Award between Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles of Anaheim rookie phenom Mike Trout. Cabrera is generally regarded as the best hitter anywhere at the present time, and his leading the AL in home runs, batting average and runs batted in for the first Triple Crown since 1967 (Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox) made a powerful argument in his favor, as did his leading the Bengals to the AL Central Division championship.
For those of the New School of Advanced Metrics, however, it wasn’t so cut-and-dried: Trout, the 20-year-old sensation, hadn’t been called up until April 28, yet had aired some stunning numbers including leading all of Major League Baseball in runs scored (139) and stolen bases (49, only caught 5 times!) and topping the AL in On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage Plus (measured against the entire league) of 168, meaning he was 68% better than the league average. These were numbers that warmed the hearts of the stat-geek crowd and were topped off by a stunning Wins Above Replacement Player of 10.9, easily cresting the benchmark of 8.0 that is regarded as MVP-worthy. Cabrera’s critics pointed out that Miggy’s mark of 7.3 placed him third behind Trout and the New York Yankees’ nonpareil second-baseman, Robinson Cano.
It was a lively and informative debate and really wasn’t decided until the Cabrera-backers delved into the Advanced Metrics themselves and found that Miggy had been the key factor in leading his team to the divisional gonfalon with outstanding “clutch” numbers in September while Trout, who wasn’t bad at all in this regard, could not vault his Halos over the Oakland Athletics or Texas Rangers. Cabrera was MVP, Trout was runner-up, and could take solace in his AL Rookie of the Year Award.
There is no question however that having produced a spirited discussion in 2012, it is almost certain that in 2013 Advance Metrics will determine most, if not all, the post-season award winners. Let’s take a look at the half-way mark and see where we are, first in the American League.
You may not have heard of Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles, but their young third-baseman is an emerging superstar, and he leads AL position players in WAR at 5.0. I see the Orioles on a daily basis, and it’s hard not to love this kid. He is the top defensive WAR guy in the AL at 2.6, he is batting well over .300, he has 38 doubles (an astounding number!), 118 hits, and did I tell you he plays Gold-Glove defense? Still he is going to have to contend with teammate Chris “Crush” Davis and yes, Miguel Cabrera to win the MVP and Advanced Metrics or not, the voters love the long ball.
Among the AL pitchers, the race is not so clear-cut. Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox leads with a 4.3 WAR, and has some good standing in Earned Runs Allowed (one of the “traditional” stats), as well as good strikeouts-per-nine-innings and hits-per-nine-innings, though he doesn’t lead in any of those. If Detroit’s Max Scherzer continues to win (he is 13-0 as of this writing), it will be hard, but not impossible, to deny him unless he wins, say 25 games. We saw King Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners win the 2011 AL Cy Young with a 13-11 won-loss record, remember, but Felix dominated in all the subtleties.