Printed on: October 05, 2012

Triple Crown or Trout?

By Mike Fitzpatrick
AP Sports Writer

Miguel Cabrera has his Triple Crown. MVP award, maybe not.

Hold on, now. How could that be?

Mike Trout, that's how.

It's the hottest debate in baseball, seemingly pitting old-school traditionalists against new-age number crunchers in a bench-clearing shouting match over what constitutes "valuable."

At stake is the American League's Most Valuable Player award, perhaps the game's top individual prize.

Cabrera capped an extraordinary season Wednesday night by becoming the first Triple Crown winner in the majors since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. The Detroit Tigers' slugger led the league with a .330 batting average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs -- the standard statistical categories by which excellence was commonly judged for the better part of the past century.

"If he's not the MVP then there's no such thing," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Trout, however, made some history of his own. Called up from the minors three weeks into the season, the Los Angeles Angels' rookie quickly became a never-before-seen force prior to his 21st birthday.

Possessing a unique combination of skills in the concrete body of a running back, the dynamic kid from New Jersey did it all -- hitting home runs and taking them away with highlight-reel catches high above the center-field fence.

Trout batted .326, second to Cabrera, with 30 homers and 83 RBIs. He also led the majors with 49 stolen bases (in 54 attempts) and 129 runs -- 20 more than Cabrera in 22 fewer games. The slumping Angels were 6-14 when they brought up Trout and went 83-59 the rest of the way.

For anyone who thought winning the Triple Crown would automatically anoint Cabrera the MVP, take note of this: There have been nine Triple Crown seasons since the MVP award was introduced for each league in 1931. Four times, the Triple Crown winner was beaten out for MVP by a player on a pennant winner.

At the center of the argument this year is a modern calculation called WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a figure derived from an assortment of other stats. WAR is designed to go deeper than the conventional numbers in measuring a player's all-around contribution to team success.

A worthwhile endeavor for sure, though some think the formula is flawed.

Leyland, for example, be-moaned that WAR doesn't emphasize RBIs enough. Others believe it's the most complete and accurate appraisal of a player's true value.

Trout finished with a WAR number of 10.7, best in the majors, according to baseball-reference.com. Cabrera was at 6.9, fourth in the American League.