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Miguel Cabrera might win Triple Crown, but Mike Trout is better

Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrerbats during ninth inning second baseball game doubleheader against MinnesotTwins ComericPark Detroit Sunday Sept. 23 2012. (AP

Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera bats during the ninth inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

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Updated: October 26, 2012 2:09PM

Entering the last 11/2 weeks of the season, the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera leads the American League in batting average and RBI and is tied with the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton for the league lead in home runs. He’s in position to
become the major leagues’ first Triple Crown winner since the Red Sox’ Carl Yastrzemski 1967.

Is he the AL’s best player by the numbers? That’s another matter.

Angels outfielder Mike Trout is having a remarkable season, the best we’ve seen by advanced metrics since Barry Bonds’ late-career heyday. Any debate about Trout and Cabrera involves far more than just weighing the AL leader in runs scored — Trout has scored 122 — against its RBI leader.

If we look at OPS, the simplest of sabermetric numbers, Cabrera leads Trout 1.010-.949. But as we get into more sophisticated analysis, the picture changes.

Trout plays in a tougher park for hitters than Cabrera does. Park-factor listings at show the Tigers and their opponents have combined to score 1.058 times as many runs at Comerica Park as in Tigers road games. The park factor of Angel Stadium is .882, which means the Angels and opponents score only 88 percent as many runs there as in other parks.

OPS-plus weighs park factors and normalizes OPS to league average, so an average hitter would stand at 100. Cabrera’s OPS-plus is 169, just a shade better than Trout’s 167.

But there are factors OPS and OPS-plus don’t take into account. Singles aren’t twice as valuable as walks, but OPS counts singles once in on-base percentage and again in slugging percentage. Walks count only in OBP. OPS doesn’t take into account double plays, where Cabrera has grounded into an AL-leading 28 and Trout into only seven. It doesn’t measure stolen bases and caught stealing, where Trout is at 46 and four, while Cabrera is at four and one.

By the time we add it all up and look at the version of offensive wins above replacement, Trout’s 7.9 oWAR outranks Cabrera’s 7.3.

On defense, Trout makes it a runaway. Splitting time between center and right fields, he has a 2.6 defensive WAR based on 26 runs saved. Third baseman Cabrera is at minus-3 runs saved, a minus-0.3 dWAR where zero marks an average defender.

All that brings Trout to a 10.4 WAR, one of the 25 best seasons in history and the highest since Bonds’ 10.4 in 2004. Other advanced metrics also put Trout on top, with a 9.5 in the WAR and 35 Win Shares, a Bill James stat. Cabrera comes in at 6.8 in WAR, 6.9 in fangraphs WAR and 30 Win Shares.

Since the Baseball Writers’ Association of America started electing most valuable players in 1931, there have been nine Triple Crown winners. Four didn’t win the MVP.

Will Cabrera be the BBWAA’s sixth Triple Crown MVP? Maybe, but the metrics say the top guy is Trout.

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