Faceoff: Who will be the AL MVP?

The “v” in MVP stands for “valuable,” something that the Detroit Tigers’ third baseman Miguel Cabrera personified in the 2012 Major League Baseball season. The voter makeup for any MVP ballot seems to fall into two distinct camps: those who look purely at statistics and those who assess a player’s impact on their team’s success. The season Cabrera pieced together satisfies both of these camps in historic fashion.

Let’s start with the stats: Cabrera finished the season leading the American League in batting average (.330), home runs (44) and runs batted in (139), earning the Triple Crown for the first time since Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Cabrera became just the 15th player to accomplish this, joining an elite club that includes Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig. His 44 home runs are tied for the fifth most by a Triple Crown winner and are the third highest by an infielder winner.

Cabrera not only won the Triple Crown in the American League; he came within six batting average points of leading all three categories for the entire MLB. He finished leading the MLB in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and on base plus slugging. Cabrera was a statistical beast and put together a season that has not been seen for almost half a century.

Not only did Cabrera piece together a statistical gem of a season, but he also did it in a way that helped his team win. If the MVP trophy truly recognizes which player brought the most value to their team, this is where Cabrera pulls away from the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout. Cabrera played in all but one of Detroit’s 162 regular season games, showing endurance, consistency and reliability. Trout only played in 139 games for his team; however, in fairness, he was called up from Triple-A on April 28, three weeks into the season, missing the first 20 games.

The most eye-opening comparison between the two is their numbers in the last two months of the season. On Aug. 1 the Tigers trailed the Chicago White Sox by two and a half games in the AL Central. From that point on, Cabrera hit a stellar .343, driving in 52 runs while hitting 19 home runs. These strong numbers helped the Tigers pass the White Sox and take the division title as well as a spot in the playoffs. On the other hand, the Angels were four games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West on Aug. 1. In the last two months, Trout hit a subpar .283 and had only 28 RBIs. Due to these weak statistics, the Angels could not catch up to the Rangers and missed the playoff berth by four games after losing to the Oakland Athletics.

Trout put together a fantastic rookie season, but it was just that, a rookie season. His troubles late in the season showed his inexperience and inability to piece together a full season’s worth of production. Cabrera, in contrast, improved as the season progressed and performed in clutch situations. For that reason, Miguel Cabrera should clearly earn the most valuable player award in the American League.

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