On Trout vs. Cabrera, briefly

Fun fact: If you space out in high school history class and the teacher calls on you to answer some question you did not hear, always say, “Nationalism.” It’s better than even money that’s an acceptable response. Trust me, I spent a lot of time spaced out in high school history class, paying just enough attention to learn that history textbooks will chalk up every international conflict to nationalism, among other things.

In high school, I always thought that seemed ridiculous. Really? People will go to actual war over my side vs. your side silliness? Civilized people? My know-it-all teenage self figured it first for an oversimplification, then a needless complication, something that is really true only in high school history class.

Then I tuned into some of the AL MVP debate online and it didn’t seem so hard to believe.

I’m kidding, obviously, and I know that everyone currently arguing for and against the MVP cases of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera realizes that MVP Awards are a frivolity, like sports themselves, and only merit such heated rhetoric within the narrow confines of baseball chatter. And sometime in December when it all has passed, the staunchest Troutite and the loudest Cabreratista might run into each other somewhere and say, “oh hey, that was great fun, both players are excellent, baseball is wonderful,” and share a beer and a hearty bro-hug.

I’m only saying that I don’t really care to pour my teacup of kerosene on an already raging inferno, and that most every argument — good, bad, ironic, angry, etc. — has already been made for both players, plus the backlash to those arguments and the backlash to the backlash. And the season isn’t even over yet.

Anyway, that’s all a lengthy build-up to a rather obvious point: Mike Trout is ridiculously awesome.

Mike Trout deserves to win the AL MVP this year, I believe. But if he doesn’t, he’ll probably get at least one eventually.

By baseball-reference’s standards, Trout is in his age-20 season. He has, to date, a 156 career park- and league-adjusted OPS+ over 765 plate appearances. That’s extraordinary. Here is the complete list of baseball players who put up an OPS+ above 140 over at least 500 plate appearances by their age-20 seasons:

Ted Williams
Mike Trout
Ty Cobb
Mel Ott
Mickey Mantle
Frank Robinson
Jimmie Foxx
Rogers Hornsby

Besides Trout, every single one of those guys is a Hall of Famer. Every one. All but Ott won an MVP award at least once, and Ott got totally jobbed in 1938. The average for non-Trout players on that list is 1.9 MVP Awards (or their equivalent), and both Hornsby and Cobb dominated their leagues in long stretches in which no such award existed. Also, Trout plays a premium defensive position exceptionally well and steals tons of bases without getting caught. In short, if Trout turns out anything like as good as the historical precedents suggest, he should win plenty of MVP Awards by the time he’s through. If Trout’s as good as we hope — and this is a terribly heavy thing to put on a 21-year-old — he’s going to be an inner-circle Hall of Famer.

Cabrera, meanwhile, is no slouch himself. And though the Triple Crown, like everything else, is a frivolity, it’s nonetheless a rare one. And while neither batting average nor RBI is necessarily a great stat with which to assess offensive talent, you’re never going to find a Triple Crown winner who’s not a transcendent hitter. So Cabrera is that. It seems like he has somehow sort of flown under the radar despite being the second best hitter in baseball for most of his career, and if it takes a novelty like the Triple Crown to make him a household name, then great. Guy’s awesome, let us not forget.

Which is all to say, I guess, that it’s not really worth getting so furious about.

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