Voting for Trout as MVP was no philosophical choice


Voting for Trout as MVP was no philosophical choice

What if they held an awards vote and, instead, a philosophical debate broke out?

That's how the American League Most Valuable Player balloting -- the results of which will be revealed Thursday night -- is being viewed in some circles.

It's not about the central question: Which A.L. Player was the most valuable to his team in the 2012 regular season? No, it's somehow devolved into something much more complicated. More than any award in recent baseball history, it's become generational and political.

To some, it's not about value at all, but rather, methodology. It's not about Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout, the two favorites. It's about evaluation, analytics, historical precedent and other variables.

But not to me.

As a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America's Boston chapter, I get to vote, on a rotating bases, on one of the four BBWAA-sponsored awards each season -- Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award, Manager of the Year and MVP.

Sometimes, the voting is clear-cut and obvious, like this year's Rookie of the Year balloting which, predictably, Trout won unanimously. Sometimes, it's an incredibly close vote with two great candidates, as was the case in both the manager (where Bob Melvin edged the equally-deserving Buck Showalter) and Cy Young (where David Price narrowly defeated a worthy Justin Verlander) balloting.

The MVP race, on the other hand, has become something else. This isn't about two qualified candidates. It's become a watershed moment, a What-Side-Are-You-On? debate.

Generally speaking, those who support Cabrera cite the more traditional statistics -- batting average, home runs and RBI, all categories in which Cabrera led the league, resulting in the A.L.'s first Triple Crown winner since 1967 -- and the more advanced metrics, such as WAR, or wins over replacement.

It's boiled down to this: Are you old-school or new-school? Are you traditional (or a dinosour)? Are you cutting edge (or a stat-driven geek?).

All of which, frankly, seems pretty silly to me.

After great deliberation, I voted for Trout first and Cabrera second. But I didn't do it to make a statement. I didn't do it to further the cause of advanced metrics. I didn't do it to change people's minds about how we evaluate players.

I did it -- get this -- because I thought Trout was . . . the most valuable player to his team.

I neither ignored Cabrera's Triple Crown achievment, nor overdosed on Trout's advanced metrics. They were both part of the evaluation process.

I believe there's some nuance to all of this, and that seems to have gotten lost in the increasingly contentious debate. While Cabrera's Triple Crown is a significant achievement, it doesn't, by itself, guarantee an MVP. Four times in history, a Triple Crown winner has failed to win the MVP, so if Cabrera loses -- and for the record, I don't think he will -- it won't be some historical rejection of traditional statistics. It's been done before.

At the same time, we now view more traditional baseball statistics differently, and to suggest otherwise is foolhardy. Let's face it: Batting average is no longer regarded as the primary indicator of a hitter's skills, thanks to our understanding of the importance of on-base percentage and other meaningful measures of a player's offensive performance.

Don't think so? Quick, name the batting champions in both leagues in 2011. In the past, identifying the batting champ of a season ago would been an easy task for most serious baseball fans. Today, I doubt many could quickly come up with the answers. (For the record, they were Cabrera in the A.L. and Jose Reyes in the N.L.)

Now that we have begun to appreciate offensive performance using different measurements, is it not backward to reward what we know now is less important?

Which isn't to suggest that Cabrera's season wasn't a great one. Of course it was; he had a terrific year. But it was also largely one-dimensional.

And that's where Trout comes in.

As good as Cabrera's offensive numbers were -- by any measurement, new-school or old -- the other components of his game were far less impressive. He's a fringe defensive third baseman, and a decidedly below-average baserunner.

Contrast that with Trout, who was probably the game's best outfielder as well as a terrific baserunner (an astounding 49-for-54 in stolen bases, with a league-leading 129 runs scored).

If we've learned anything about measuring performance on the field in the last two decades or so, it's this: Baseball is far more than hits and homers and runs knocked in. It's also about preventing runs (in the field) and scoring them, or the very least, getting closer to scoring them (on the bases).

Trout did far, far more of both of these things than did Cabrera. That makes him, in my mind, a far more complete player, and thus, more valuable.

You may have noticed that I haven't yet mentioned WAR (wins above replacement), so often cited by many of Trout's backers and so derided by those who support Cabrera. For the uninitiated, WAR seeks to quantify how many more games a player helps his team win over the equivalent of a minor-league player.

In 2012, Trout's WAR was 10.7, compared to Cabrera's 6.9.

I incorporated that into my decision-making -- it would be foolish to ignore it -- but it was far from the determining factor. Instead, it was a useful measurement that, along with other factors, I utilized. For instance: It was impossible to ignore the fact that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim took off when Trout was promoted from Triple A. Trout was the 'X' factor in their season. Without him, they struggles; with him, they became contenders.

I'm not taking a stand here. Nor am I representing some faction, or spearheading a movement.

Instead, I took as many variables -- statistical and otherwise -- into account to determine who was, truly, the most valuable player to his team and came down on the side of Trout.

Now, was that so hard?

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.