Miguel Cabrera is the reigning 2012 MVP. There was much debate over whether he should be or not, and in case you missed it, the Cabrera-Trout argument eventually morphed into a misguided old school vs new school battle for legitimacy. Last year, clearly old school won the fight among the among the BBWAA, as Cabrera’s Triple Crown topped Trout’s incredible all-around season.
Are we destined for yet another showdown between these differing schools of thought? Yes, chances are with the inclusion of stolen bases, defensive metrics and Trout heating up, he will once again win the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) crown and is currently second in the AL behind just Evan Longoria of the Rays. But can anyone stop Miguel Cabrera from repeating as a Triple Crown winner?
Batting Average – Cabrera is currently hitting .366, but it’s still early, considering James Loney leads the league with a .367 average. Can anyone dethrone him in this department?
1. Mike Trout: After a lackluster April, Trout has been his normal unstoppable self in May, hitting over .350, with considerable power and his trademark speed. We know after last season that months like this for Trout aren’t exactly a fluke, so we can expect a few more of them.
2. Joe Mauer: He’s hitting .349 on the season, owns three batting titles and an MVP. He finished third in batting average last season behind Cabrera and Trout and looks primed for another run as he’s hitting .462 this month.
3. Robinson Cano: Cano is hitting .298 this season, and while he owns no batting titles, he has a career .308 batting average and is consistently in the conversation. Cano however is in his contract season, and we know how those tend to lead to inflated numbers, so it wouldn’t be any surprise to see Cano establish a career high in this department.
Dark Horse – Dustin Pedroia has hit .320 before and is known for his peskiness. He could hang around this race and steal one away from the favorites.
Home Runs – Cabrera deposited 44 balls over the outfield walls last season. I’m not a particularly big fan of his stat as much of it is dependent upon what ballpark you call home, and Detroit tends to turn even routine fly outs into homers. Cabrera owns eight of them so far this season, and it really wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him approach or exceed 40 again this year. Who are his rivals in this department?
1. Edwin Encarnacion: Encarnacion also has the benefit of playing in a hitter friendly park but also has the added benefit of playing many of his road games in hitter havens like Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium which reside in the AL East. Edwin hit 42 long balls last season and has 11 so far this season.
2. Chris Davis: Following his trade away from Texas to Baltimore, something clicked for Davis and he took 33 balls deep in 2012. Though he’s cooled off as of late, Davis has 11 homers and like Encarnacion has the added benefit of playing his road games in Fenway and New York. Davis has the raw physical strength to approach 50 home runs one day. Perhaps that day will be in 2013.
3. Jose Bautista: Bautista hit 27 home runs last season…..in 92 games. If Bautista can stay on the field in 2013, 40-50 home runs isn’t just a possibility, it’s an expectation.
Dark Horse – Cabrera’s own teammate Prince Fielder has hit 50 home runs once before and if off to a good start this season as he’s on pace for 35+. Mark Trumbo put on a show in the Home Run Derby last year, yet had an unfortunate second half slump that left him at 32 homers. If Trumbo doesn’t slump as bad this season, he too should end up around 40 homers.
Runs Batted In (RBI) – This is another stat that is solely dependent upon a player’s teammates ability to reach base and score on base hits. With Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter hitting in front of him, it’s possible Cabrera tops his previous career high from last season of 144. The biggest threats here are…
1. Chris Davis: Davis not only has the ability to hit the long ball, but he’s quick enough on his feet to leg out doubles. He also has capable players like Manny Machado and Adam Jones hitting in front of him, so there should be plenty of opportunities.
2. Mike Napoli: Napoli went to Boston over the winter, where his career stats are certainly something to fear for pitchers. Barring injury, Naps should find a lot of opportunities to drive in runs with Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia hitting in front of him.
3. Billy Butler: Butler could reasonably contend in every department of the triple crown, though it seems unlikely he’ll do enough an any one category to unseat any previous winners. Still, Butler will have the speedy Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon to drive in and if Jarrod Dyson can continue to reach base, he should score lots of runs.
Dark Horse – Albert Pujols. He’s merely a shell of what he used to be, but as we saw last season, when Pujols heats up he’s still The Machine. Having Trout, Bourjos and Aybar in front of provides Pujols with a lot of speed on the base paths, so he may only need to hit singles. I would have considered Encarnacion or Bautista candidates, however since Jose Reyes got hurt, their run production has stagnated.
At this point, it seems highly likely that Miguel Cabrera will win the RBI title. In fact he may win by more than 10 in this department. However, with the plethora of power hitters in the American League, Cabrera would have to have a lot go his way and a lot to work against his opponents in order to win another homerun crown. As for batting average, Cabrera’s .366 mark is bound to go down, but he’s such a dangerous hitter than we’ll likely see his average remain above .300. Cabrera’s career average is .320 and I’d expect him to finish around that mark again.
However, if Trout keeps hitting like he is, he’ll be up over .320 before the month is over and with his speed, he has the added bonus of infield singles. Also, assuming Joe Mauer stays healthy, .320-.330 would actually be a normal season for him. I expect Cabrera to challenge in all three departments, but in all honesty, it’s unlikely he wins all three again this year. It’s more likely he’ll win one department. This will still be enough for him to be in the MVP conversation, but perhaps without a Triple Crown Winner we’ll all be spared from another old school vs. new school debate.