The World Series wrapped up last night, which leaves baseball fans with one thing to look forward to in November- awards. The National League MVP Award has all but been handed over to Giants’ catcher Buster Posey, but there is still much debate around who deserves to win in the American League: Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout.
There are cases to be made for both Cabrera and Trout. The most glaringly obvious case for Cabrera is his Triple Crown (the first since 1967). For Trout, it is his WAR (Wins Above Replacement). As evidenced by Felix Hernandez’ 2010 Cy Young Award (a season in which he “only” won 13 games), the voters are making a decided move away from counting stats (such as wins) and towards more advanced metrics.
Over the past month, talking heads and fans alike have seemingly submitted to the “Cabrera won the triple crown, therefore he will win the MVP” argument. This argument, however, is historically inaccurate.
The Batting Triple Crown has been won 17 times in Major League Baseball history. Since 1931, the year the MVP award as it is known today (ie voted on by the Writer’s Association) came about, the Triple Crown has been won ten times.
Jimmie Foxx and Chuck Klein both brought home Triple Crowns in their respective leagues in 1933. While both men were MVPs in 1932, only Foxx repeated in 1933. Klein lost the award to Carl Hubbell who posted an impressive 23 wins. While WAR as we know it wasn’t a calculated statistic in 1933, it is interesting to note that Hubbell did have a higher WAR than Klein, and in fact, had the highest WAR of any of the 1933 National League MVP vote getters. While Foxx won the MVP award, he also had an impressive WAR of 9 that season.
Lou Gehrig earned the Triple Crown in 1934. Despite this, and an impressive WAR of 10.1 (the highest of any vote getters), he did not go on to win the MVP. In fact, he only came in fifth place in voting that season. The Triple Crown was won again shortly thereafter, by Joe Medwick in 1937. Medwick also boasted a vote receiver’s best 8.1 WAR, and went on to win the MVP Award.
The next two Triple Crowns were won by Ted Williams in 1942 and 1947. Ted Williams was a two time MVP. However, neither of Williams’ MVP seasons were in years he won the Triple Crown. Instead, in ’42 and ’47 Williams finished second in MVP voting. The 1942 award went to Joe Gordon, and the 1947 award went to DiMaggio, despite Williams besting them both in WAR.
In 1956 switch hitter Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown, posted an impressive 11 WAR, and was voted MVP of the American League. Similarly, in 1966 Frank Robinson won the Triple Crown, had a 7.3 WAR (the best of all NL vote recipients that year), and won the National League MVP award.
Prior to this season, Carl Yastrzemski’s 1967 performance was the most recent. And Yastrzemski did go on to win the MVP award that year (along with a Gold Glove). Yastrzemski,much like Mantle and Robinson before him boasted a 12 WAR that season, 5.6 games higher than any other American League vote recipient that year.
In the nine times prior to 2012 that the Triple Crown was won since 1931, only five players have gone on to win the MVP award. Perhaps more importantly for this argument, all five of those players also posted the highest WAR of the vote getters in their league. Although winning the Triple Crown and besting your competition in WAR does not guarantee one an MVP award as evidenced by Williams’ campaigns. As mentioned previously, WAR is a new stat, however, there may be more to winning the MVP in a Triple Crown year than meets the eye- especially in an era where the voters are acutely aware of this statistic.
While Cabrera’s season was impressive, it does not make him a sure fire MVP. Especially because his 6.9 WAR is pale in comparison to Trout’s 10.7.
Of the 9 previous Triple Crown winners being examined, only Mantle and Yaz’ teams went on to the postseason (although, it must be noted that Cabrera is the first Triple Crown winner since the introduction of the Championship Series, Division Series, or Wild Card). While Cabrera’s team did go to the playoffs, and made it to the World Series, his story is not analogous to Mantle’s or Yaz’ as he didn’t beat his competition’s WAR.
Cabrera is a fine MVP candidate, however is significantly lower WAR will likely hurt him when it comes to the Writers’ votes. At the end of the day, winning the Triple Crown, however novel an accomplishment it may be, does not guarantee an MVP award. And there is historical precedent to prove it.
All statistics can be found at baseball-reference, as of October 29, 2012.