Nine years after Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" was published, we finally saw a statistical perfect storm in the debate over who should be the American League MVP in 2012: Angels rookie center fielder Mike Trout or Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera.
There was a time when this wouldn't have been a debate at all. Cabrera won the fabled Triple Crown with the most home runs (44) and RBIs (139) and the best batting average (.330) in the league. That hasn't happened in the AL since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. It hasn't happened in the National League since 1937. It's an impressive accomplishment.
But we've come a long way since "Moneyball" showed once and for all how using advanced stats can provide a different way of looking at the sport. Trout lacked the overall power Cabrera provided. He had 30 home runs and a .564 slugging percentage with 83 RBIs and played 22 fewer games after starting the season in the minors. But he was still an elite offensive player, an incredible base runner with 49 steals in 54 tries -- a 90.1 percent success rate -- and 55 times took an extra base on a hit. His speed allowed him to hit into just seven double plays. Cabrera hit into 28. That's a lot of extra outs.
But if your argument is that base running only narrowed the offensive gap between the two players, that's fine. It's the defensive argument where Trout supporters can feel most confident. Any defensive metric you want to use -- runs saved, UZR/150 -- shows Cabrera as a slightly below-average third baseman. He's a big guy, to be generous, with limited range. Trout, on the other hand, was one of the top defensive players in the sport at a much harder position. The website FanGraphs.com had him at 10 wins above replacement using its version of that stat. Cabrera was third in the league at 7.1.
It's pretty clear that Trout was the better all-around player. But Cabrera earned the votes -- 22 first-place tallies out of 28 -- to win AL MVP handily. In the end, that's the only stat that really matters.
- Brian McNally