Could Another Triple Crown Winner Lose MVP?

Since 1901, the baseball hitting Triple Crown has only been accomplished 13 times by 11 different players.  The hitting Triple Crown consists of leading the league in home runs, runs batted in, and batting average.  It remains the pinnacle achievement for a major league batter instantly putting the recipient in the same breath with the likes of Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, and Ted Williams.  Astoundingly, many times throughout baseball history, the Triple Crown winner has gone on to lose the league MVP award.  We documented the case of Ted Williams, who twice won the Triple Crown and twice lost the MVP race.  You can see that post by clicking here.  Besides Williams' two ridiculous MVP losses, still others have fared the same in the eyes of the baseball writers, the group that selects MVP winners.  In 1933, Philadelphia's Chuck Klein lost the award to Carl Hubbell, a Giants pitcher that posted 23 wins and a 1.66 ERA.  A profile of Carl Hubbell can be seen here.  Along with T. Williams, Rogers Hornsby is the only other player to hit for the Triple Crown twice, and he only won the MVP one of those times.  His first triple crown came during a two year stretch where the NL didn't hand out an award.  In 1934, Lou Gehrig unfathomably finished 5th in the AL MVP voting despite winning the Triple Crown and leading the entire Majors in all three categories.  All the while posting a 10.1 WAR, or Wins Above Replacement.  WAR is a metric that gauges how many games a team won because of a certain player versus having a marginal replacement player instead.  This suggests in Gehrig's case that the Yankees won 10 more games with him than if they had some other big league caliber player that year.  Mickey Cochrane, the MVP that year, posted a WAR of 3.7 while having 47 fewer homers, 89 fewer RBI, and a batting average 43 points below Gehrig's.

2012 could prove to be another year in which a Triple Crown winner loses the MVP race.  Currently in the American League (12-13 games left as of this post date), there is a major race going on for the MVP crown between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.  At present, Cabrera leads two of the three Triple Crown categories by posting a .333 batting average (7 points higher than Trout), and 130 RBI (7 more than Josh Hamilton).  Cabrera trails Hamilton in home runs by 1 (42 - Hamilton, 41 - Cabrera).  However, should Cabrera overtake Hamilton in homers, there is a growing consensus throughout baseball that Trout could still win the MVP honor.  That's largely attributable to the fact the Angels started the season an embarrassing 6-14 before Trout was called up again this year.  Since their start 8 games under .500, they've gone 75-55 and for a while had climbed back into the race.  More related, statistically, to his team impact, Trout has a league high 10.1 WAR, 3.2 wins higher than the next highest player, Justin Verlander.  Cabrera has an overall WAR of 6.5.  Here are some other stats for both players during the 2012 season...

Trout - 127 G, 118 R, 167 H, 27 HR, 77 RBI, 46 SB, .324/.392/.520

Cabrera - 147 G, 102 R, 191 H, 41 HR, 130 RBI, 4 SB, .333/.398/.561   

So, by what set of factors does one determine the most valuable player in the league?  There are a few schools of thought obviously.  Some deem the MVP as the batter with the best numbers in the game.  Some look at offensive prowess as well as defense provided to save runs.  Many others consider whether or not the team was carried to the post season by the player.  Still other voters value where the team would be without that player.  At this point it seems as though neither the Tigers nor the Angels will make the playoffs, so that rationale doesn't have as much weight.  In the absence of post season berths, these scenarios lend themselves well to the argument for WAR as the gauge of MVP.  Trout and Cabrera are very close in offensive WAR, but Trout also leads the league in defensive WAR which is why the overall disparity is so high.

Both players have talent around them in the lineup.  Detroit has Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson, Delmon Young, and of course, Verlander.  Similarly, Trout has bashers like Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo, and Torii Hunter surrounding him.  Neither will have carried their team to the post season.  In my opinion, the Angels could still compete without Trout, especially given their pitching staff.  The Tigers would be a shell without Cabrera's bat in the middle of the order.  Both are certainly deserving of the award, and all else being equal, I'd be fine with a vote for either.  However, if Cabrera can win the Triple Crown, a feat that hasn't been accomplished since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, I think it would be an injustice to place him second in MVP voting.

Interestingly enough, there was a major debate over AL MVP last year when considering if Justin Verlander, as a pitcher, should be able to win Cy Young and MVP.  For more on that, check out the link by my colleague, OCP.


  1. I think Cabrera might win the triple crown, but not sure he will win MVP. He will be the first winner since Williams not to make the playoffs, but he is the first winner since the playoffs began. Hope he can do it. Trout is his biggest competitor for the batting title and Hamilton for the HR title.

  2. Great piece, Mc. As of today, Miguel Cabrera is on pace to win the Triple Crown.

    I think that I would vote for Cabrera but my reason won't sit well with anyone (I'm sort of ashamed because it goes against a lot of things that I typically argue for)... I love Trout and I think that if you took the names off of the jerseys and evaluated the body of work this season and only this season he is the winner. He is a tremendous defensive player (perhaps the best center fielder in baseball, defensively), he had arguably the greatest impact of any single player to his team in major league baseball and he does everything (including stealing bases). Cabrera, by contrast is not a great defender or a base stealer.


    I would vote for Cabrera because for everything he is NOT, there is no denying what he IS... the best offensive player in baseball right now, a sure-thing Hall of Famer and one of the greatest of All-Time with the bat in his hands. It is actually scary how good he is... pitchers pitch around him and he still hits them out. You can't throw a fastball by him - if you put it anywhere near the plate he's going to hit it out. He's only 29 years old... his numbers are unbelievable... he has had at least three seasons where you can look at the numbers and say, "He could have won the MVP award that season..." But the award has eluded Miguel - one year it was a teammate having a super season, one year it was voter stupidity and a guy named Pujols had something to do with it... regardless of the reasons, I think that this is the year where the voters look at the situation and say, "This guy deserves an MVP award."

  3. While Derek Jeter doesn't have the slugging numbers this article should have at LEAST mentioned him as a candidate. At 38 he's not only putting up fabulous numbers in a lineup surrounded by .230 hitters but he's also played gutty and gritty from April 1st until season's end. That's what an MVP is all about: LEADERSHIP !!!

  4. Certainly, Jeter is to be commended for what he's doing at age 38. He's been the lynch pin of the Yankees dynasty since 1996. I certainly didn't mean to minimize the season he's having, but most baseball analysts have the AL MVP as a two man race betweeen Cabrera and Trout. The spirit of this piece was more about the chance a triple crown winner could lose than about who should actually win. That said, even with injuries, I still believe Jeter has more around him than either of the other two. Certainly he has more than Cabrera. That may be unfair, and Jeter may be the MVP of the Yankees, but I can't translate that to MVP of the entire league. But that's just me. Thanks for commenting, and please keep letting us know your opinions.

  5. I love Jeter... I've done several pieces on him as I feel there are few players in the history of the game that transcend the game like Jeter. His leadership qualities are unquestionable. If he retired without an MVP trophy it would be a shame.


    You're going to have to bring a little more than that to convince me that he belongs in the MVP discussion. I mean, there are a lot of gutsy players with veteran leadership qualities but there are none that can boast the numbers that Miguel Cabrera has put up this year. If you think Jeter is worthy because of what he's done over the course of his career, ok but I think you're doing that with total disregard for this year because he doesn't belong in the discussion based on what has happened in 2012. I'm not going to get into the argument about who has more around them but saying that Jeter is surrounded by nothing is off base - Granderson has 40 HR (95 RBI and R), Robinson Cano has 30 HR while hitting .295 (while boasting a 6.5 WAR... good for 3rd best in the AL and much higher than Jeter's 2.5 WAR) and the Yankees as a team are the second highest run scoring team in baseball. Jeter's defense is clearly diminished and hitting 15 HR while playing in that stadium is an indication that his power is diminishing, too. He's a singles hitter at this point and that's not enough to warrant being in the MVP discussion with Cabrera, who is vying for a triple crown. That's my opinion...


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