If Ryan Braun or Yadier Molina with the National League MVP award they'll owe a huge thank-you to a rookie phenom -- from the American League.
As odd as it sounds, the race for the NL MVP runs through the American League this year. It has to for the sake of consistency among voters. While the Senior Circuit is full of possible contenders, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera have set themselves apart among American League candidates and the disparity between the two is as simple as Yin and Yang.
It's old-school versus new-age; simple measurable statistics against complex Sabermetrics for Major League Baseball's MVP races. And whatever the voters decide in the American League will surely trickle down to the NL as well -- at least it should, for the sake of consistency.
On one hand you have Mike Trout, the 21-year-old five-tool outfielder for the LA Angels. He hits for power (30 home runs) and average (.321), has blazing speed (48 steals), a phenomenal glove in center field (.992 Fld%), and holds an incredible 10.5 WAR for 2012. Typically those figures would guarantee him the game's highest on-field individual honor -- but Detroit's Miguel Cabrera hasn't been quite so accommodating.
Cabrera has been everything that the game hasn't seen since the steroid era presumably came to a halt. Currently on pace to claim the Triple Crown in the American League, prior to last night's game "Miggy" had clubbed 43 homers to go with 136 RBI and maintained a .325 batting-average throughout. There has been no one more dominant at the plate this year in the AL, but his value seems to screech to a stop once he leaves the batter's box.
Unlike Trout, Cabrera isn't the model of physical fitness or athleticism, lacking ability on the bases to go with a pedestrian glove (.955 Fld%) at third-base. On top of this, Cabrera's 6.5 WAR gives yet another nudge to Trout and his 10.5 WAR. But will voters see it this way or is the Triple Crown label too much to overcome?
If those with a tally in the MLB awards races want to present a model of consistency, delivering the MVP to Mike Trout will mean trouble for the likes of Buster Posey, who some feel is the rightful owner of the trophy.
By casting a vote for Trout, voters will be painting themselves into a corner that forces their hand towards the likes of Yadier Molina or Ryan Braun. Sure, Posey is the model of offensive excellence -- a .337 average, 23 home runs, and 100 RBI. It also doesn't hurt that Buster plays for a division champion in the San Francisco Giants.
But a vote for the "new age" in Mike Trout would also mean a look past the necessity for a player fighting on a playoff team. It would mean that defense and stolen bases are just as important, and no longer is it good enough to dominate in one phase of the game.
Meanwhile, as baseball's most analytic media minds contemplate their choices, St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and Ryan Braun are set to benefit if Trout is chosen -- or at least they should. Molina has put up similar offensive numbers to Posey with a .317 average, 22 home runs, and 75 RBI; but Yadier also boasts the best glove and arm combination in the game (the defending Platinum Glove Award winner) to go with his heady play and surprising skill on the bases (12 stolen bases).
Ryan Braun, the reigning NL MVP, has defended his crown well despite the loss of Prince Fielder to the Detroit Tigers and any subsequent protection in the lineup. Braun who has a 6.9 WAR (Molina a 6.8) has been explosive again with the bat, clubbing 41 homers with a .320 average in route to 112 RBI thus far. Oh and he can run as well, totaling an impressive 30 stolen bases.
While Posey isn't completely lost in the metrics fight (6.7 WAR) his offensive and speed numbers are significantly behind that of Braun, meanwhile Yadier Molina's similar production at the plate is teamed with an exceptional glove and arm (throwing out 47% of base stealers to Posey's 30%).
Voters who want Buster Posey -- or anyone not named Ryan Braun or Yadier Molina -- have dug themselves quite a hole. If they do pull the trigger on Miguel Cabrera and the Triple Crown it's not quite as muddy. But if rookie phenom Mike Trout is the man-of-the-year in the American League they're making a selection for the new, holistic, Sabermetric way of thinking in baseball.
A vote for Trout would be a vote for Molina or Braun. Regardless of which direction baseball's writers go, I vote they simply stay consistent. I vote they get it right.
Sound Off: Should MLB awards be based on Sabermetrics or more traditional statistics or labels such as the Triple Crown?
Justin Mikels is a staff writer for Operation Sports. Follow him on Twitter: @long_snapper