The mayor of Millville, N.J., was sure his town would have something to celebrate when the American League rookie of the year announcement was made Monday night.
“I’d bet my house, my wife, and my kids on it," Tim Shannon said a few hours before Mike Trout, his town’s favorite son, unanimously won the rookie award.
Nobody can be quite that sure what will happen when the American League MVP is announced tonight, because the race between the Los Angeles Angels’ Trout and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera is too close to call.
Votes for the AL MVP had to be cast by the end of the regular season, but the debates have continued for more than a month.
A lot of years, the numbers posted by the 21-year-old Trout during his rookie season would have made him a runaway winner of the MVP. But Cabrera had a magical season with his bat for a team that rallied to win its division.
With 44 home runs, 139 RBIs and a .330 batting average, Cabrera became the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win his league’s triple crown. The Tigers’ 29-year-old superstar also led the league in slugging percentage (.606) and OPS (.999). Throw in the fact he selflessly moved from first base to third base after the Tigers signed free-agent superstar Prince Fielder, and it’s impossible to denigrate any BBWAA member who cast a first-place vote for Cabrera.
Even Trout admits that Cabrera is an artist at work when he has a bat in his hand.
“When he’s up at the plate, he’s fouling off pitcher’s pitches," Trout said. “You leave that one over the plate, and he doesn’t miss it. It’s pretty cool to be in center field and watch him hit."
Cabrera is baseball’s 12th triple-crown winner since the establishment of league MVPs in 1911. Nine of the 11 others have been voted league MVPs with the only exceptions being the Yankees’ Lou Gehrig in 1934 and the Phillies’ Chuck Klein in 1933.
Trout admits he’d love to be the third player to deny a triple-crown winner the MVP award.
“For me, I’m not going to vote for anybody else," he said. “I would definitely vote for myself."
He said those words without a trace of arrogance. He is quiet but confident, and his rookie resumé was good enough to support anybody who believed he was the league MVP. Even though he didn’t win the batting title, hit the most home runs, or drive in the most runs, he was the game’s most complete player in 2012.
Trout hit .326 and led the American League in runs scored and stolen bases despite spending most of April in the minor leagues. His MVP supporters will point to a more abstract number, his 10.7 WAR, which is a sabermetric calculation that weighs a player’s offensive and defensive ability. Trout’s WAR — wins above replacement — was the highest since Barry Bonds posted consecutive 11.6 numbers in 2001 and 2002, when he hit 119 home runs and had consecutive seasons with on-base percentages above .500.
“This was the first time I ever heard about (WAR) this year," Trout said. “I didn’t really pay attention to those statistics, but about midway through the year they started bringing it up to me that I was ranked pretty high. But I still haven’t figured out what it meant. Wins above replacement, I think."
It means that Trout was one of the best rookies in baseball history. You could also make an argument that he deserves the MVP because of how much better he made the Angels even though his team fell short of a postseason berth. The Angels were 6-14 when he joined the team on April 28. They were 80-58 in his 138 starts.
The feeling here is that Cabrera will win the MVP and deservedly so. He was terrific all season and at his absolute best in September, when the Tigers overcame a three-game deficit to win the American League Central.
As for Trout, I’d venture to guess there are going to be a few MVPs in his future. In fact, I’d bet my house on it.