At the end of the 2011/12 NFL season, there were many debates on Around The Horn, Pardon The Interruption, and SportsCenter about who should win the MVP: Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees? I understand that Drew Brees set the the record for most passing yards in a single season but the answer was Aaron Rodgers and it was not close. It did not deserve to be debated. Aaron Rodgers was just a better quarterback than Drew Brees in 2011 and was in the best player in football. But because ESPN needed something to talk about, this debate was had.
As I mentioned earlier, there are some races in MLB that are not yet decided and there are certain players that are legitimately "in the discussion" and this post is dedicated not only to weed out who "is in the discussion" and who is not but also for me to declare who I think should win each race at this time. Since the baseball season is not yet over, my view is subject to change but I also don't want to see a Dustin Pedroia win an MVP just because a Josh Hamilton or a Carlos Quentin got injured within the last month of a season as opposed to the first month (I don't freaking care when a player gets hurt. Game 1 carries the same weight towards a team's win/loss record as does Game 162).
So let's start with Miguel Cabrera and the AL MVP race:
Winner: Mike Trout (LAA)
In The Conversation: Nobody
Grantland's Andy Greenwald said this about Justified not getting an Emmy nomination in 2012 for Best Outstanding Drama, "...Some will kvetch over the absence of Justified, but where would you put it? It's no longer an insult to suggest something might be the seventh- or eighth best hour on TV." Greenwald is saying that being a runner up is not a bad thing and is implying that Justified did not deserve a nomination because when you can only nominate six television shows and you are the seventh best television show, you're not snubbed by not being nominated.
That's the way I feel about Miguel Cabrera. Miguel Cabrera is the second best player in the American League right now. He is having an amazing season and he is an amazing player and I do not mean to take anything away from him but being 2nd best isn't good enough to deserve to win the award.
According to Fangraphs.com, Mike Trout has the best WAR (overall value in terms of both offense and defense) in baseball, the best wOBA (total offensive value) in baseball, and is the 5th best defensive player in the American League. Miguel Cabrera is not even a top 30 defender in the AL. In 2012, Mike Trout has displayed all five tools and is elite at them. Trout can hit (his .333 AVG leads the AL), he can hit for power (he is 9th in the AL in ISO), he can field (see his fielding above), and he can steal bases (not only does Trout have the best Spd and BsR score in the AL according to Fangraphs but he also leads all of baseball in stolen bases with 45 and has only gotten caught stealing 4 times for an incredible 92% success rate). OK, that was only four out of the five but I don't care about Trout's throwing arm because he is elite at everything else.
Miguel Cabrera is third in the AL in terms of WAR (also behind Robinson Cano), second in wOBA, and is a bad defender (he has a negative 7.5 Fld rating and a negative 10.7 UZR/150). The only aspect of Miggy's game that is better than Trout's is in terms of power. Cabrera has the 5th best ISO but only 25 points higher than Trout's.
While you can argue to your heart's content that Miguel Cabrera is the second best player in the American League (and truthfully that fact is not set in stone) he is not in the conversation to defeat Mike Trout for AL MVP.
Winner: Ryan Braun (MIL)
In The Conversation: David Wright (NYM), Andrew McCutchen (PIT)
I will say that this race is not completely Braun's for the taking but I believe Braun should repeat as the NL's MVP and I say this with no reservation (versus last year where I did have reservation with Braun vs. Matt Kemp) that Ryan Braun is the best player in the National League. He has the best WAR and the best wOBA (according to Fangraphs) in the NL and has been consistent all year. Wright is 2nd in the NL in terms of WAR and McCutchen is 3rd (also according to Fangraphs). While Wright is by far the best defender out of the three (McCutchen has negative defense) and plays at a more premium position, the combination of both offense and defense favors Braun over Wright. Braun's 7.1 WAR is by far and away better than Wright's 6.4 and McCutchen's 6.2.
According to ESPN, Andrew McCutchen has the best WAR in the NL with 6.4, David Wright has the 2nd best with 6.1, and Ryan Braun is tied for 5th best with 5.8. To be honest I don't know how ESPN created their own WAR statistic and why there is such a huge discrepancy with Braun (maybe ESPN has a steroid user equation in their algorithm and Fangraphs does not?) but I will put my faith in Fangraphs over ESPN 1000 times out of 100 when it comes to advanced statistics. That being said, I'm sure ESPN has super smart baseball people working for them and if they say McCutchen is better than Braun this year then at minimum there is an argument to be made that Andrew McCutchen deserves the NL MVP.
AL Cy Young
Winner: Justin Verlander (DET)
In The Conversation: Felix Hernandez (SEA)
This race actually and legitimately deserves a conversation because both King Felix and Verlander have the same WAR: 5.8 and because everyone has automatically decided that Hernandez is the front runner- a fact I do not agree with. I have always been a huge Felix Hernandez fan (as evidenced by an old GOI post I wrote entitled My Bromance With King Felix) and I like him a lot, but I do not believe he deserves the Cy Young this year over Verlander.
I understand that Hernandez has been absolutely phenomenal and lights out for the past month or two but this award is not about who has had the best month of even the best half. This award is about who has had the best year. I undoubtedly answer that question with Justin Verlander. Hernandez was pretty bad to average during the first half of the year and before his Perfect Game there were many fantasy analysts (mainly Matthew Berry) who publicly stated to trade away Felix for pennies on the dollar because he did not believe he was the same pitcher. While this is just an anecdote about fantasy baseball and normally would not have any bearing on who should win an actual baseball award, in a race this close and with an opinion like that which was supported by evidence on the field, it is a deciding factor to place Verlander over Hernandez. You should never say "trade this player away because of his poor pitching performance" about ANY Cy Young winners during any point in his season.
I understand that Verlander has been bad in his last few starts and that he's second to King Felix in terms of FIP but if you ask me who has been the most consistent in his elite-ness in 2012 I would say it is Verlander and it is not close. Hernandez's apex in 2012 might be better than Verlander's but it's not by much and Hernandez's floor is much farther down than Verlander's.
NL Cy Young
Winner: Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
In The Conversation: Gio Gonzalez (WAS)
Maybe you can make the argument to also include Johnny Cueto in this discussion but that would go against everything this post stands for.
Kershaw has the best WAR among pitchers in the NL with 5.1 and Gonzalez is 2nd with 4.9. Gonzalez has the K/9 edge over Kershaw. Gonzalez is 2nd in the NL with 9.48 (First is his teammate Stephen Strasburg with a K/9 over 11) and Kershaw is 6th with a 8.97 K/9. Clayton Kershaw leads all National Leaguers with 206 strike outs compared to Gonzalez's 191 (4th best in the NL). Normally I would say that K/9 is a better stat than strike outs but Kershaw has 25 1/3 more innings pitched than Gio while only starting one more game than Gio.
I think looking at total innings pitched is important when comparing K/9 vs. SO but it is also just a good statistic in general. Kershaw pitches an average of 6.89 innings per start versus Gonzalez's 6.25 innings per start. Going deeper into games is a skill (and frankly one Kershaw did not possess early in his career) because it not only puts less tension on your bullpen but it means you can be effective for longer. Kershaw leads all major league pitchers in inning pitched. Gonzalez is 12th. (NOTE: IP is a factor that is taken into account in WAR).
Another factor to include is this debate is FIP. First is Strasburg but second is Gonzalez with 2.85 and third is Kershaw with 2.94. That being said, WAR is still the better overall metric and WAR takes into account FIP.
I don't think the argument between Kershaw and Gonzalez is as close as the argument between Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander but I still think it's razor close nonetheless. There are many great points you can make for Gio and they are all valid but I believe WAR conquers all.
AL Rookie Of The Year
Winner: Mike Trout (LAA)
In The Conversation: Are you kidding me? Did you really ask this question?
The guy is the best player in the American League and is a rookie. Obviously he's the hand down Rookie of the Year. I apologize for writing so many words about this.
NL Rookie Of The Year
Winner: Bryce Harper (WAS)
In The Conversation: Wade Miley (ARI)
"Wade who? The the f*** is Wade Miley? Plus, I don't know any young pitchers for the Diamondbacks not named Tyler Skaggs or Trevor Bauer." All legitimate questions and points random every day baseball fan I just made up for the purposes of this post. The reason Wade Miley deserved to be in the conversation is because Wade Miley (4.3) has an outright better WAR than Harper (3.7). Wade Miley has been the 7th best pitcher in the NL this year. Bryce Harper has been the 24th best position player in the NL this year. Harper is guaranteed to win this award but as I'm writing this post I'm questioning my decision to say Harper even deserves the award.
Despite the fact that Miley has the WAR advantage, I asked The Hardball Times' Jeffrey Gross why Bryce Harper deserves the NL ROY over Miley and this is what he sent me (via text so ignore the grammar):
Wade Miley's xFIP, tERA, and Sierra are all 3.8+ versus a 3.1 FIP. I suspect some HR and LD luck is at play, 6.7% HR/FB. Mediocre K% but good control. Harper has only played 2/3 of the season and has essentially been as valuablePersonally, I think the "luck" argument that advanced statisticians argue has gone a little but too far and sometimes playing in more games is a skill that needs to be taken into consideration, but if I had a vote for NL ROY I would probably vote for Harper. However, I think the fact that you would not be "wrong" if you voted for Wade Miley means he actually is in the conversation.
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