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GROCHOWSKI: Battles for MLB MVP look to be two-man races

Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen watches his second two-run home run game leave park during seventh inning baseball game against San

Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen watches his second two-run home run of the game leave the park during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants in Pittsburgh Sunday, July 8, 2012. The Pirates won 13-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:20AM

At Most Valuable Player time, just what does
‘‘valuable’’ mean? Should a player get extra credit because his team makes the playoffs, or should the award go to the best player, regardless of the caliber of his
teammates? Does missing the playoffs rule out Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who was voted the American League Rookie of the Year on Monday, or Pirates
outfielder Andrew McCutchen?

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which will announce the 2012 MVPs on Thursday, leaves that call up to voters. Of the 17 National League MVPs since wild-card teams were added to the playoffs in 1995, five have come from non-playoff teams. But in the AL, only one of the last 17 MVPs — Alex Rodriguez with the Rangers in 2003 — has been from a non-playoff team.

With no clear guideline, let’s set that ‘‘valuable’’ issue aside and focus on who has been best in terms of creating runs and preventing opponents’ runs.

NL finalists: Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Giants catcher Buster Posey, McCutchen and Padres third baseman Chase Headley.

Braun, the reigning MVP, led the NL in OPS at .987. He was followed by Posey (.957) and McCutchen (.953), with Headley (.875) and Molina (.874) further back. By adjusting for ballparks and normalizing to league average, Posey moves to the top in OPS-plus at 172, followed by McCutchen (164), Braun (159), Headley (144) and Molina (137).

In the big-picture stats that put offense, defense and park adjustments together, Posey tops the NL finalists at 7.2 Wins Above Replacement, followed by McCutchen (7.0), Braun (6.8), Molina (6.7) and Headley (6.0). Turn to Bill James’ Win Shares, and McCutchen (40) is the leader, followed by Posey (38), Headley (32), Molina (29) and Braun (28).

Either way, it’s a Posey-McCutchen race, with a slight nod toward Posey.

AL finalists: Trout, Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton and Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre.

With all due respect to Cano (8.2 WAR, 34 Win Shares), Hamilton (3.4, 26) and Beltre (6.7, 25), the matchup everyone
is talking about is Cabrera
against Trout.

Cabrera (.330 average, 44 home runs, 139 RBI) was the major leagues’ first Triple Crown winner in 45 years and played on a playoff team, though Trout’s Angels won more games. Cabrera led the AL in OPS at .999; Trout was second at .963. Trout played in a tougher park for hitters, and OPS-plus gives Trout a 171-165 edge. And Trout, with 21 runs saved, probably should have won a Gold Glove, while Cabrera was a minus-4 in the field.

Roll it all up into WAR, and it’s Trout 10.7, Cabrera 6.9. By Win Shares, it’s Trout 38, Cabrera 32. Trout’s WAR is the highest in the majors since Barry Bonds’ 11.6 in 2002, the highest by an AL player since Pedro Martinez’s 11.4 in 2000 and the highest by an AL position player since Cal Ripken’s 11.3 in 1991.

If the vote comes in for Cabrera, no one can blame the BBWAA. His was a historic season. So was Trout’s. By the numbers, Trout did more than anyone else to put runs on the board and keep opponents’ runs off.

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