Angels center fielder Mike Trout’s blend of power and speed and offensive numbers those tools produced — and his defense at a key position and value as a leadoff man are extraordinary stuff.
Trout played for a team that won one more game than third baseman Miguel Cabrera’s Tigers, but in the end his team failed to make the postseason when 10 teams did. And when that playoff push heated up in August and September, Trout’s production lost steam. He batted .284 in August and .289 in September, his worst months, and during the crunch time of September, Trout drove in nine runs, stole seven bases and struck out 35 times, all season highs.
Meanwhile, Cabrera was hitting .333 with 11 homers and 30 RBI and slugging .675 in September, leading a Tigers charge past the White Sox into first place in the AL Central after he had batted .357 with eight homers and 24 RBI in August.
It’s somewhat curious that Cabrera’s Triple Crown feat – he led the AL in average, homers and RBI — is viewed as less significant even though Cabrera became the first player to do it in 45 years. (Cabrera’s feat is more impressive considering he faced about 100 more pitchers that season than Carl Yastrzemski did during his 1967 Triple Crown season, and he had tougher, deeper bullpens to contend with. And don’t forget that Cabrera is a right-handed hitter Yaz, a lefty, had the advantage of facing more opposite-throwing arms. But that’s another debate.) And those who maintain that .330 isn’t an impressive figure for a batting title, does the fact Cabrera had only seven infield hits say anything? To me it’s one of many things that points to what a great, pure hitter Cabrera is.
And that is something that seems to have been overlooked in all of the Cabrera/Trout arguments and statistical analysis. Cabrera is a better hitter, a tougher out than Trout. Ask any AL pitcher which poison they’d choose with the game on the line and they will say they’d rather face Trout than Cabrera.
The numbers support that, too: In the seventh through ninth innings, Cabrera had an OPS of 1.060 with 16 homers with 41 RBI. In late and close games, Cabrera batted .337 with a 1.040 OPS. His overall average with runners in scoring position? .356. With two outs and runners in scoring position, Cabrera was a .420 hitter with a 1.211 OPS.
I want to say there is some value in that.
Trout, meanwhile, had an Alfonso Soriano-like advantage of leading off games, facing starters searching for a rhythm with no need to tiptoe around the strike zone. In late and close games, Trout batted .277 with three homers and two doubles. He batted .260 with nine stolen bases, eight homers, 18 RBI and 28 runs scored in the seventh through ninth innings.
Because I had a vote for the AL MVP, late in the season I asked a couple of executives, scouts and numerous White Sox players who they would vote for and they all said Cabrera. There was no hesitation in any of the responses. Here’s what every pitcher I talked to said: When they pitched against the Tigers, no matter where they were in the order they ALWAYS knew where Cabrera was looming – four hitters away, two, whatever. Not that Trout was a guy they wanted to face, but believe me, they were more worried about Albert Pujols coming in the Angels order than Mike Trout.
Trout is a five-tool wonder who had a sensational season, statistically and otherwise. What a talent he is, what a joy to watch, and only a rookie. I hope he treats us to more great things next season and beyond. I hope the loud and strong case for Trout as MVP is about him and not about a metrics debate.
Cabrera, in my view, is the Most Valuable Player in the American League. His peers believe he is, he won a Triple Crown and led the league in OPS and he led his team to a World Series. And he was at his best under pressure when it counted most.