Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cabrera-Bashing Tarnishes MVP Honor

If you regularly watch MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential segment - hosted by the analytically brilliant Brian Kenny - chances are, you're gaining insight into the saber-metric side of baseball; and that's a good thing.  Unfortunately, Kenny and his legion of saber-metric fanatics may have gone too far with their relentless attack of American League Most Valuable Player, Miguel Cabrera - you know; the guy who won the AL Triple Crown (last accomplished by Carl Yastrzemski forty-five years ago) while leading his Detroit Tigers team into the postseason for the second straight year (the first time that's happened since 1934 and '35).

While Cabrera's historic season should have made him a lock to win the AL MVP Award (in fact, it did), the saber-metrics community felt otherwise; essentially drawing a line in the sand in support of LA Angels of Anaheim rookie sensation, Mike Trout.  Okay; Mike Trout is a better all-round player than Miguel Cabrera, but under the subjective nature of this award, not necessarily "more valuable".  Hence, the MVP Award went to Miggy and the debate intensified to epic proportions; saber-metric Cabrera-bashing became the latest trend, and leading the charge on MLB Network was the uncompromising Brian Kenny, who refused to believe anyone with a brain could possibly support the Detroit slugger.  Such a travesty.

What Kenny refuses to accept is the reality that voters (sportswriters) are usually impressed by big offensive numbers, especially when they help carry a team into the postseason.  That makes for good copy.  Sometimes, big offensive numbers plus a last place finish is even good enough to win (1987 - Andre Dawson - 49 HR/137 RBI).  Talk about a travesty.

In the aftermath of the Cabrera MVP Travesty of 2012, Brian Kenny has paraded various guest saber-metric analysts on his program - including the witty and smug Keith Olbermann - decrying the injustice and outright stupidity of it all.  One of Kenny's guest saber-geeks solemnly remarked how "sad" it was that the sportswriters did the unthinkable, thus depriving the 20-year old rookie of the award he so richly deserved.  Oh, the humanity.  This may be worse than the Hindenburg Disaster.

I'll tell you what's sad.  It's how the game's greatest pure hitter - Miguel Cabrera - finally wins his first MVP Award, and is being declared "undeserving" by the Brian Kennys of the world, who apparently don't like being on the losing side of their saber-metric arguments.  We're talking about an individual award to a ballplayer coming off a terrific season.  Let him bask in a little glory; not stick him under the microscope and comment about all his deficiencies.  To say there have been far less-deserving players over the years who were chosen "Most Valuable" in their league is an understatement.

In defense of the current crop of voting sportswriters, they've been doing a credible job of selecting players who are at or near the top of the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) saber-metric guidelines; at least in the current millennium.  How all this mumbo-jumbo is calculated is beyond me; however, when Albert Pujols won it on three separate occasions (2005, 2008 & 2009), he indeed had the NL's highest WAR each season.  In fact, he also had the highest WAR on a couple of occasions when he didn't win (2006 & 2010); and I don't recall anybody complaining about those two snubs.  The great Stan The Man Musial - who recently celebrated his 92nd birthday - only won three MVP Awards, but could have easily won another three or four.

Ted Williams was never very popular with a lot of the sportswriters, which partly explains why his incredible season in 1941 - featuring his iconic .406 BA - was trumped by Joe DiMaggio's equally iconic 56-game hitting streak.  Perhaps the most galling snub came when a Teddy Ballgame Triple Crown-season in 1947 was clipped by a rather mediocre Yankee Clipper-season, by a single point.

Many other all-time greats like Mays and Aaron have been consistently snubbed over the years by the likes of Maury Wills and Dick Groat, among others.  Generally speaking, if a player wins a batting championship on a pennant winner (Groat) or establishes some new MLB (stolen base) record (Wills), sportswriters eat that stuff up.  Every now and then, superior players on bad teams are selected (Ernie Banks in '58 and '59), but once their "quota" is fulfilled, they'd really have to go wild to get another one.  Banks had another great year in 1960, but winning three times in a row just wasn't happening.

A couple of my favorite MVP's - Kenny Boyer (1964) and Orlando Cepeda (1967) both led the NL in RBI's playing on pennant winning St Louis Cardinal teams.  Much to my surprise, there were several other players with higher WAR totals than the former Redbird heroes; especially surprising, since the vote for Cepeda was unanimous in 1967.  Go figure.

Meanwhile, as the outrage over the selection of Miggy over Trouty was starting to wane, our saber-metric hero on MLB Network decided it would be fun to review previous MVP selections on his Clubhouse Confidential program which he deemed "wrong".  I wonder if I was the only one surprised when he chose to nitpick the 2005 NL MVP Award which went to Albert Pujols of the 100-win NL Central champion-St Louis Cardinals, instead of Derrick Lee of the sub-.500 Chicago Cubs.  Both had very similar offensive numbers, but Lee's slugging percentage was about fifty points higher, plus he won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award.  I suppose a clean sweep of the awards would've been nice for Lee, but for some reason those crazy sportswriters took the guy from the 100-win team instead.  "What were they thinking?" suggested the irrepressible Kenny.

I'll tell you what they were thinking, Brian.  They were thinking Pujols was the best player in the National League that season, who played a key role in the success of his team.  His "value" to his team is best measured by his NL-leading 8.2 WAR.  I'm surprised Brian Kenny failed to realize that before he decided to tell his viewers something that made no saber-metric sense whatsoever.  And that's a travesty.

No, the real travesty is subjecting the likable and extremely talented Miguel Cabrera to unfair scrutiny of an honor he deserved - American League Most Valuable Player - 2012.  The last time I checked, Andre Dawson got to keep his; along with George Bell, Don Baylor and Jeff Burroughs, for that matter.  None of those guys won the Triple Crown, by the way.

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