Why the AL MVP vote was wrong

Miguel Cabrera won the AL MVP Thursday night, and there was something wrong with the voting.

But that wasn’t necessarily it.

ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian said sabermetricians would consider Cabrera’s victory over Mike Trout “a travesty.” They shouldn’t. Cabrera is the game’s best hitter, and led all of baseball in slugging percentage and OPS. His MVP was his fourth straight top-five finish, and sixth in the last eight years. He hit .330, slugged .606 and hit 44 homers — those numbers don’t shout travesty.

Cabrera was a worthy choice. Trout was a better one (and I say that as the proud keeper-league owner of Cabrera, whose personal Triple Crown includes my wedding day, birth of my son and someone else picking Hideki Matsui fourth at our 2003 draft so I could take Cabrera fifth).

It seems ironic to hear all the outrage this week over the Marlins’ trading off of their best players. Where was it in 2007 when the Marlins dealt a 24-year-old Cabrera, still a third baseman, for Cameron Maybin? Now that was a travesty.

Baseball voting has come a long way to heeding sabermetrics — Felix Hernandez doesn’t win the Cy Young with a 13-12 record without them. But even progress sometimes slows like Cabrera on the bases for a Triple Crown (Cabrera won the Triple Crown? “So did Secretariat,” says Hitler on the YouTube parody Hitler learns Miguel Cabrera is AL MVP).

There are two things on Trout’s side: Nate Silver and history.

The former isn’t often wrong — just ask Mitt Romney. Silver said Trout’s baserunning (49-for-54 stealing; 12 additional runs scored compared to three less runs scored for Cabrera, according to Silver) and defense (11 runs saved in centerfield compared to 10 lost by Cabrera, back at third, according to Silver) surpassed Cabrera’s offensive edge.

The latter –history — often is, and can be erroneously applied. There’s precedent for Triple Crown winners not winning MVPs — it happened to Ted Williams, not once, but twice. Unlike Cabrera, Williams deserved them both (for the four times a Triple Crown winner did not win the MVP, see below).

But Cabrera’s victory wasn’t the biggest error voters should be charged with. That belongs to Robinson Cano’s fourth-place finish. Cano is the Yankees’ second baseman who hit .313, slugged .550, had a .929 OPS, won a Gold Glove and had a WAR 1.3 points higher than Cabrera’s.

Sixteen voters picked Adrian Beltre third; six picked Cano third. Defensible, perhaps, if objectively wrong. But four voters left Cano completely off their MVP ballots, which could be understood only if they were postmarked after the Yankees were swept by the Tigers (the deadline is the end of the regular season). And one of those four was a New York writer.

That’s as hard to understand as one of the late Phil Rizzuto’s train-of-consciousness soliloquies during the middle of Yankee broadcasts. Four of 28 voters is one-seventh of the electorate; we’re treading dangerously close to baseball illiteracy.

Cano was the best second baseman in baseball and the best player on the AL team with the best record. He supplied middle-of-the-order power at a middle-of-the-infield position.

If not for Trout, sabermetricians might have been touting Cano’s candidacy, if only to be contrarian. On the four ballots that omitted Cano were votes for Josh Reddick, Rafael Soriano, Alex Rios and Raul Ibanez.

Raul Ibanez over Robinson Cano? There’s your travesty.

Ted Williams won Triple Crowns in 1942 and 1947 and was second in the MVP voting each time. (He also was second in 1941, when he hit .406). A closer look at Williams and two other players won Triple Crowns, but did not win MVPs:

1933: The Philadelphia A’s Jimmie Foxx won the AL Triple Crown and AL MVP; the Philadelphia Phillies’ Chuck Klein won the NL Triple Crown and did not win the NL MVP. Neither player’s team won the pennant, but Foxx’s finished third, Klein’s seventh, 31 games behind. Klein finished behind pitcher Carl Hubbell of the world champion New York Giants, and WAR said he should have: 8.6-7.3. That could be because Klein’s numbers were lower than usual — 28 homers and 120 RBIs to go with a .368 average — or because Hubbell’s were so good (a 1.66 ERA and .523 OPS against in 308.2 innings).

1934: Lou Gehrig slugged .706 — almost 300 points more than Mickey Cochrane’s .412. Not only did Cochrane win the MVP and Gehrig did not, but the Yankees’ first baseman finished fifth behind two more Tigers and Yankees’ ace Lefty Gomez in a tight five-player race. Gehrig hit .363 and 45 homers and knocked in 165; his 10.1 WAR was almost three times more than Cochrane’s 3.7. Gehrig probably didn’t complain, although Jimmie Foxx may have — his 8.6 WAR was good for 10th in the voting.

1942: Williams finally finished ahead of Joe DiMaggio — the latter was seventh — but lost the MVP award to Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon. It was your classic good player having a great year beating a great player having a greater year, like Charles Barkley winning the 1993 NBA MVP over Michael Jordan. Gordon hit .322 and 18 homers, walked 79 times, stole 12 bases, slugged .491 and had a 7.8 WAR (only .4 less than the current Yankee second baseman). Williams, though, had a 1.147 OPS that was 247 points higher than Gordon’s, and led the league with his .356 average, 36 homers, 137 RBIs and 10.2 WAR. The vote was closer than the pennant race the Yankees won by nine games over Williams’ Red Sox, Gordon winning by 21 points (and getting three more first-place votes). Gordon was a Veterans Committee pick for the Hall of Fame, despite a shortened career (he was the Indians’ second baseman on their last World Series champs in 1948). He hit 253 homers and received MVP votes in eight of his 11 seasons — he lost two to World War II and retired at age 35.

1947: The voting for DiMaggio’s victory over Williams was one point (202-201), much closer than their statistics. Williams’ OPS was 220 points higher (1.133-913) and he led DiMaggio in virtually every offensive category: average (.343-.315), on-base percentage (.499-.391), slugging (.634-.522), walks (162-64), home runs (32-20) and so on. WAR wasn’t close — Williams’ 9.6 more than doubled DiMaggio’s 4.5. But the Yankees finished first and the Red Sox third, 14 games behind.

sources: radicalbaseball.blog.spot.com, baseballreference.com, bbwwaa.com

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6 Responses to Why the AL MVP vote was wrong

  1. Mike says:

    Ypur personal triple crown….Best laugh I’ve had all week. Needed that. Still laughing. God bless Reserve.

  2. Dudley says:

    This brings up the obvious question. Who did Hitler root for before the Angels?

  3. Cousin Larry says:

    Good arguments. But….Cabrera’s Tigers made the playoffs on his back, the Angels were the second biggest disappointment in the AL West. We spend more than four decades bemoaning the absence of a Triple Crown winner in the majors. One comes along. He’s legit. But loses the MVP to a rookie? Wasn’t going to happen. Trout’s year was outstanding. But he is not Calico Joe. Not yet.

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