Every few years a player distances himself from the field of MVP candidates by having a truly remarkable season.
Two players in the American League did so this year: Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers and Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. On the surface Cabrera may seem to have a more legitimate claim to the MVP throne, but after examining the numbers in detail, it is clear that Trout added the most value to his team.
Cabrera won the first Triple Crown in 45 years, and only the 15th ever, by leading the league in home runs (44), RBIs (139) and batting average (.330).
In fact, he led the majors in home runs and RBIs and was only .006 points behind San Francisco Giant Gerald “Buster” Posey for the highest batting average.
While these numbers are certainly impressive, they do not compare to Trout’s.
Trout finished second to Cabrera in batting average (.326) and finished in the top 25 in home runs and RBIs despite batting from the leadoff spot and missing almost all of April. Trout outstripped Cabrera in hits per game (1.31-1.27), runs scored (129-109) and on-base percentage (.399-.393). Trout also grounded into a mere seven double plays, compared to Cabrera’s league-leading 28. Trout led all the majors with 49 stolen bases and was caught stealing only five times.
Trout further distances himself from Cabrera in defense statistics. Trout’s stellar defensive efforts saved his team 22 runs this season. Cabrera cost his team four runs. Trout also had a higher fielding percentage (.993-.966) and only committed two errors compared to Cabrera’s 13.
Defensive and offensive wins above replacement are baseball sabermetrics that measure how many wins a player is worth to the team in comparison to the caliber of a replacement player. Cabrera’s -.2 dWAR shows that the Tigers have not benefited from his third base performance.
In comparison, Trout’s dWAR is 2.2, while his oWAR (8.6) is 1.2 points higher than Cabrera’s. Trout’s combined WAR of 10.7 signifies that the Angels could have lost 11 more times this season.
Some critics point out that Trout failed to lead his team to the playoffs, while Cabrera’s contributions allowed the Tigers to win the AL Central. The Angels did, however, win one more game (89-73) than the Tigers and played the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics, two playoff teams, regularly. The Angels’ worst month was April (6-14); Trout did not join the team until April 28 and since then his team had the best record in the majors.
Since the start of the live-ball era in 1920, only five of 11 Triple Crown winners have also won the MVP. Just because no one has earned a Triple Crown since 1967 does not make the feat more impressive. We have seen Cabrera’s season before, but Trout’s season was unique and truly one for the record books.