In his August 16 'Sizing up the 2012 awards races' column on ESPN Insider, Keith Law insisted Detroit Tigers' third baseman Miguel Cabrera didn't belong on his list of five American League Most Valuable Player candidates. In fact, he said Cabrera isn't even the first or the second MVP on his own team:
1. Mike Trout
2. Robinson Cano
3. Justin Verlander
4. Austin Jackson
5. Felix Hernandez ...
Cabrera is the third-most valuable player on his own team, behind Verlander and Jackson, the latter of whom has completely transformed himself at the plate this year and is a plus defender in center.
Wow, Keith Law knows how to cut to the core of us Tigers fans, doesn't he?
Law is lionizing the Tigers, though. There are two Tigers more valuable than Miguel Cabrera right now, and neither is named Prince Fielder??? That must mean the Tigers are pretty freaking awesome!
Gee, thanks, Keith! But you're sadly mistaken.
Besides Verlander, it'd be hard for Ted Wells to successfully argue there's a player more valuable to the Tigers than Miguel Cabrera. Sure, Austin Jackson is having a really nice season, he's much better than Cabrera on defense and he's valuable in that the Tigers need him to start the engine, but Cabrera is the Tigers' engine.
Cabrera has more than twice as many home runs, almost twice as many runs batted in, more runs scored, a higher batting average and the same on base percentage as Jackson. Even with Cabrera's defensive deficiencies, although his defense has exceeded expectations, he's almost a full win better than Jackson in Wins Above Replacement (fWAR). By that metric, Cabrera is a superstar (5.3), whereas Jackson is an All-Star (4.6).
Since Independence Day, Jackson is hitting a very strong-to-quite-strong .285/.376/.883, but Cabrera has turned it up to a level 11, hitting 13 home runs and knocking in 39 runs with a .356/.421/1.133 line. It's no coincidence the Tigers are 25-13 since that time (11-2 in games in which Cabrera homered).
No, Cabrera is probably not the AL MVP if the season ended today -- reluctantly, I think that honor belongs to Mike Trout -- but the season doesn't end today. If an argument for the Cy Young winner is that innings pitched matter, that starters get the edge over relievers, then one should also consider, however little, that Trout (and Jackson) missed time this season, while Cabrera has been in the lineup every single game.
Further, consider where the respective teams would be without these players. The Angels added Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson, and hit the jackpot with Trout this season, but as a team they are worse than a year ago. The Tigers lost Victor Martinez in the offseason, added Prince Fielder, and a handful of players (Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, Brennan Boesch, Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke) have regressed. Despite that, they are on the exact same pace as last season and a major reason for that is the always rock steady Miguel Cabrera.
I'd vote for Trout right now, but Cabrera's damn close. In two months, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone if Miggy surpasses both Robinson Cano and the Angels' 21-year-old phenom. Cabrera absolutely belonged on Law's list though, if only, in my mind, Law weren't motivated more by creating controversy than the truth.