November 15th, 2012
Third base was supposed to be Miguel Cabrera’s downfall in the AL MVP debate. It never got that close.
Then, when Cabrera talked about the award, he turned his position change into a strength.
“I think the most important thing I did this year was defensive,” he said.
He went beyond that. After hearing him talk about it, you wonder if he has this kind of season if he doesn’t make the move.
“I think Leyland made a good decision to move me to third base,” Cabrera said, “because it really pushed me to work hard.”
It takes a little explanation, and it goes back to the stretch run last season, before third base was even a serious consideration. But Jim Leyland agreed.
It was Leyland who challenged Cabrera going into September 2011 to bear down consistently and hit his way to a batting crown. He was in a close race, but Leyland still saw him giving away at-bats, something Leyland has discussed with him since he came over from the Marlins.
“I told him, ‘I want to see you win this batting title,’” Leyland recalled Thursday night after the MVP announcement. “And he went on a concentration mission that’s unbelievable.”
When Cabrera’s comments about moving to third came up, Leyland thought of that run.
“I definitely think that’s true,” Leyland said, “and I’ll tell you why: I think going to third base helped his total concentration in all phases. I think it helped him at the plate. He was always [involved] in the game. I think he really concentrated on third base and he did a great job. He did a great job.
“They’re all making fun of us last winter. Oh, he can’t play third base.”
That concentration, Leyland said, was at its highest down the stretch this season. For some voters who have made their reasoning public, that September stretch was the time when Cabrera won the award. I can’t argue, because when I wrote about Cabrera’s MVP case in early August, I didn’t suggest he was the front-runner. I said he still had time to become that.
“He’s been giving away fewer at-bats away each year,” Leyland said. “And when he doesn’t give at-bats away, you see how good he can be.”
More than once, Miguel Cabrera suggested it would be cool if he and Mike Trout could split AL MVP honors, and he suggested Thursday the debate over who deserved the award was actually good for the game. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Cabrera would have nothing of the debate between traditional stats, specialized stats and sabermetrics.
“I think in the end, the game is going to be the same baseball,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen, but I think that’s good for baseball that we have new stuff. But I always learn how to play old school. They always teach me to get RBIs, try to hit home runs, try to hit over .300. I was fine with that. …
“In the end, the game, it’s going to be the same. You have to play baseball. You have to do things to win games. You have to worry about getting better and working out and trying to play better baseball. I don’t worry about the new stuff and the old stuff, because all I try to do is help my team to win.”
Then he stated the obvious.
“You can use both, you know?”
That won’t quiet the debate, just as this year’s MVP voting won’t end it. I think there’s a very good chance you’ll hear some of the same arguments going on at some point in the next few seasons. Hopefully it won’t include the same tone that this year’s debate took on, because I believe that turned off some people (I know I got sick of it). Saying that any rational thinking person will pick A over B doesn’t win people over. Using an analogy to compare contrary thinkers to a group that’s classified as a terrorist organization kind of tarnishes the argument of supposedly rational thinkers.
It might be more a symptom of society at large, or the internet in general, than of sabermetrics and statistics. But it doesn’t move the debate forward much.
“Give a lot of credit to Trout,” Cabrera continued. “That’s great of baseball to come out and do the kind of season he do. It was exciting. I was like thank God to give me the opportunity to be here.”
After all the debate, all the rhetoric, all the statistical and historical analysis, the result is the same: The American League Most Valuable Player award is staying in Detroit.
Along the way, however, it’s probably taking a side trip through Venezuela.
In the long-anticipated battle of historic seasons, Miguel Cabrera put an exclamation point on his 2012 campaign with the AL MVP award, beating out Angels rookie sensation Mike Trout.
In the end, it wasn’t particularly. Cabrera took 22 of the 28 first-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
It marked the second straight MVP award for a Tiger, Cabrera following in the footsteps of vocally supportive teammate Justin Verlander, and the first MVP award for a Venezuelan-born player. It’s the first MVP award for a Tigers position player since Hank Greenberg in 1940.
Whether the vote reinforced the historic importance of the Triple Crown, or the emphasis of offensive explosiveness over speed and defense, or the relevance of traditional stats over more recent metrics, will be debated for quite a while. Regardless, the vote breakdown will likely be remembered for a long time as the agonizing balance of two amazing seasons and the catalyst for a statistical debate that’s unlikely to end.
Cabrera and Trout seemed reluctant to be drawn into that argument, complementing one another often since season’s end. Cabrera had hinted more than once that splitting the vote wouldn’t be bad.
These were the words from Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski a few weeks ago when asked whether they’d make a push to keep free agent Gerald Laird:
“We basically told Gerald this situation: I know he’s looking for a little more playing time, he’s looking for a little more finances. That’s not going to come from us.”
As it turned out, it came from the Braves, who just lost their backup catcher and badly needed one with Brian McCann having just undergone shoulder surgery. Atlanta has agreed to terms with Laird on a two-year contract, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports.
Financial terms haven’t been disclosed, but Atlanta paid David Ross north of $1.6 million in each of the last three seasons before he left for Boston earlier this month. Laird made $1 million with the Tigers this past season.
On a team that just spent big for right fielder Torii Hunter and will have to spend much bigger to try to keep Anibal Sanchez, backup catcher was never going to be a big-ticket item. The only backup catcher in recent years to get a multi-year deal from the Tigers was Vance Wilson, and it was for far less. Subsequent Tommy John surgeries never allowed Wilson to play another game in the big leagues after signing that contract.
As for playing time, McCann’s rehab leaves Laird looking at a potentially heavy workload early in the season, and possibly more if the rehab hits a setback. For what it’s worth, Ross received more playing time than Laird last year through McCann’s injuries, and had a pretty steady workload of 50-60 games and 145-170 plate appearances in the three seasons before that.
Laird played in 63 games with 191 plate appearances this past season, eventually settling in for a good share of starts against left-handed pitchers as the Tigers tried to watch the wear and tear on Alex Avila’s knees. Those are starts and at-bats the Tigers are going to have to fill. Most likely, they’ll make every effort to fill it from within.
“We do feel comfortable with Bryan Holaday as a guy that can step in and be a backup catcher,” Dombrowski said a few weeks ago.
[UPDATE: Dombrowski reiterated that stance in an email to MLB.com on Thursday as MLB's owners meetings were wrapping up in Chicago. However, he also left open the possibility of signing another backup.
"At this time, he would be our backup," Dombrowski wrote of Holaday, "and we would be happy with him performing that role for us. However, we will also continue to keep our options open."]
The Tigers drafted Holaday out of TCU three years ago with the idea he could grow into a useful catcher in the big leagues, certainly defensively. He got his first big league call in June with Avila and Laird both ailing, then returned to Detroit later as a September call-up. In between, he got regular work at Triple-A Toledo, batting .240 on the year as a Mud Hen with two home runs and 25 RBIs.
Holaday threw out 25 of 73 would-be baserunners in Toledo, maintaining the 34-percent rate he posted throwing out runners last year at Double-A Erie. He has earned glowing reviews for his defense and his work with pitchers.
By now, the process is pretty familiar around these parts. When the Tigers add a piece that fits their needs this well and a player who is so well-known and well-respected by his peers, it’s going to get a reaction. Not surprisingly, the reaction among the Tigers to Torii Hunter’s signing has been extremely positive.
“It’s great news,” Alex Avila told MLB.com in a text message Wednesday evening. “I’m really excited to hear about it. He’s a great player, someone that I’ve really enjoyed watching and competing against. I’ve heard he not only is a great competitor but a great person as well and I’m happy someone of his caliber is joining our team.”
Then there’s the reaction on Twitter:
— Drew Smyly (@SmylyD) November 14, 2012
Smyly is a Little Rock native. Hunter grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Both now spend their offseasons in the Dallas area.
— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) November 14, 2012