The American League Most Valuable Player Award is staying in Detroit. Along the way, however, it's probably taking a side trip through Venezuela.
In the long-anticipated battle of historic seasons, Cabrera put an exclamation point on his 2012 Triple Crown campaign on Thursday with the AL MVP, beating out Angels rookie sensation Mike Trout in voting cast by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Cabrera received 22 of 28 first-place votes, with Trout receiving the other six. Cabrera finished with 362 points. Trout had 281, with the total points distributed on a 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
Well after the announcement on MLB Network, Cabrera was still surprised.
"That means a lot," Cabrera said on a conference call. "I thought it was going to be very close, because Trout did a very good job this season.
"You had two unbelievable seasons. I was not expecting to win, but I was like, 'Thank God they voted for me to get this award.'"
It marked the second straight MVP award for a Tigers player, Cabrera following in the footsteps of vocally supportive teammate Justin Verlander, and the first MVP for a Venezuelan-born player. It's the first MVP for a Tigers position player since Hank Greenberg in 1940.
Whether the vote reinforced the historic importance of the Triple Crown or the emphasis of offensive explosiveness over speed and defense, or the relevance of traditional stats over more recent metrics will be debated for quite a while. Regardless, the vote breakdown will likely be remembered for a long time as the agonizing balance of two amazing seasons and the catalyst for a statistical debate that's unlikely to end.
Yet after the win, Cabrera suggested new metrics and older stats can coexist. Moreover, he suggested the debate -- and the two historic seasons that prompted it -- was actually good for the game.
"It's exciting to see a player like Trout do that kind of stuff, what he did in the field," Cabrera said. "That's very exciting. People talk about that. People get excited about that. That's very good stuff, because people can understand how good baseball is. Hopefully every year is a battle like that."
It's hard to see another battle being quite like this.
Though Cabrera follows Carl Yastrzemski, Frank Robinson and Mickey Mantle in 1967, '66 and '56, respectively, as players to win an MVP in a Triple Crown season, the evolution of statistics in the 45 years since Yaz's feat led to debate over the significance.
Some modern stats that have turned standard reinforced Cabrera's feat as a hitter, including a .999 OPS that easily outpaced the league and 139 runs created that squeaked him past leadoff weapon Trout. Others had the opposite effect.
In almost any other season, the debate would've been muted. Trout's historic campaign, however, raised the bar far beyond a unanimous victory for him as AL Rookie of the Year.
Trout fell one stolen base shy of a 30-homer, 50-steal season, and he did it with just 54 attempts. His .326 average placed him second only to Cabrera in the batting race, OPS leadership, runs created and batting runs. Despite spending the first three weeks of the season in the Minors, he led the league in runs scored. It was a historic season for any player, let alone a 20-year-old.
The more the debate lingered, the more mentions came of Hall of Famer Ted Williams, a two-time Triple Crown winner in '42 and '47 who finished second in MVP balloting both times. Unlike Wiliams' Red Sox, Cabrera's Tigers made it to the postseason thanks to a September rally. Without Cabrera's offensive boost, it's extremely difficult to envision them getting there.
"I think if I don't win the Triple Crown, if I don't get into the playoffs, I think there's no question Trout would be the MVP," Cabrera said. "I think winning the Triple Crown helped me a lot to win this. I think [getting to the playoffs] helped me a lot."
Cabrera's late-season charge changed the look of the race statistically. While he batted .344 (73-for-212) with 42 runs scored, 19 home runs and 54 RBIs after Aug. 1, Trout hit .287 with 12 homers, 28 RBIs and 49 runs.
Slash those stats to just Sept. 1 onward, and the difference remains. Cabrera hit .333 with 11 homers, 30 RBIs, 23 runs and a 1.071 OPS in the season's final month. Trout hit.289 with five homers, nine RBIs, 23 runs and a .900 OPS.
The Tigers scored 130 runs from Sept. 1 to season's end. Cabrera scored or drove in 42 of them. Cabrera, leading only in RBIs going into August, took over the other two leaderboards in September, including his second consecutive batting crown.
"I think every year you play, you learn," Cabrera said. "The most important thing is you get better and you learn more. I learned how to finish strong. I learned how to help my team win games."
If not for playoff races, September would be like any other month. For the Tigers, however, it was the month that saved their season. Detroit actually finished with one fewer win than the Angels, but won a division title by beating out the White Sox in the final two weeks. The Tigers, however, played their best ball over the final couple months, two games better than the Angels.
That resonated with players, who had already awarded Cabrera with Player of the Year honors for both the Players Choice awards and Sporting News honors.
"I thought Miguel Cabrera deserved the award. I really did," the Brewers' Ryan Braun, NL MVP runner-up to the Giants' Buster Posey, said on Thursday. "I think historically, the guys that help their teams get to the postseason deserve extra credit. Cabrera was the best player down the stretch, had an incredibly strong finish to his season, helped his team get to the playoffs. He won the Triple Crown, which is unbelievable."
The vastly different offensive skill sets provided one challenge for the 28 MVP voters across 14 American League cities to consider. Defense was another, and Cabrera's move from first base to third in the wake of Prince Fielder's signing last January provided a wrinkle.
While Trout earned Wilson's AL Defensive Player of the Year honors, Cabrera proved better than expected, but still far from stellar at third. Yet his improved play down the stretch, highlighted by several standout plays that saved runs in late September, might have worked in his favor.
Cabrera argued his defense helped him in another way.
"It really pushed me to work hard," Cabrera said.
Manager Jim Leyland, who can now count Cabrera with Verlander and Barry Bonds as MVPs he has managed, thought the move helped Cabrera's all-around game.
"I think going to third base helped his total concentration in all phases," he said. "I think it helped him at the plate. He was always in the game. I think he really concentrated on third base and he did a great job."
That said, Leyland believes the Triple Crown was the difference.
"That got him over the hump," Leyland said. "If you can't vote for a guy that did what we did, then you might as well not have an award."
The MVP isn't going away regardless. It also isn't leaving Detroit for another year.
|Miguel Cabrera, Tigers||22||6||362|
|Mike Trout, Angels||6||21||1||281|
|Adrian Beltre, Rangers||1||16||9||1||1||210|
|Robinson Cano, Yankees||6||10||1||1||3||2||1||149|
|Josh Hamilton, Rangers||3||6||5||8||2||3||1||127|
|Adam Jones, Orioles||1||2||8||5||4||3||2||124|
|Derek Jeter, Yankees||2||1||4||1||3||2||1||1||73|
|Justin Verlander, Tigers||2||3||3||2||1||1||58|
|Prince Fielder, Tigers||1||5||1||2||5||5||56|
|Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics||1||2||2||3||2||4||41|
|Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays||2||5||6||33|
|David Price, Rays||1||3||1||26|
|Fernando Rodney, Rays||1||5||2||1||24|
|Jim Johnson, Orioles||1||1||1||1||22|
|Alex Rios, White Sox||1||5||1||17|
|Josh Reddick, Athletics||2||1||2||14|
|Albert Pujols, Angels||1||1||1||8|
|Ben Zobrist, Rays||1||1||1||7|
|Joe Mauer, Twins||1||3||6|
|Rafael Soriano, Yankees||1||1||5|
|Matt Wieters, Orioles||1||4|
|Felix Hernandez, Mariners||1||2|
|Jered Weaver, Angels||1||2|
|Raul Ibanez, Yankees||1||1|