An MVP-Caliber World Series Matchup


Last year’s AL MVP, Justin Verlander, will be taking the mound for game 1 of the World Series tonight in San Francisco. It’s also possible that not one but both of this year’s MVPs will be taking the field in that game as well. It’s not quite an All-Star game, but it’s not that far off either. This is not the Yankees vs. the Dodgers (currently the highest payrolls in the AL and NL) but the stars on display are burning even brighter.

May 12, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey at bat against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

The AL MVP candidate I’m referring to is obviously Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, who not only led the AL in batting average, home runs and RBI but also OPS and total bases. Cabrera has led the league in batting average before (2011) and home runs before (2008) and RBI before (2010) but never OPS. He may or may not actually win the thing – but he’ll be one of only two guys seriously considered for the top spot.

We Tiger fans haven’t played the Giants a single time this season, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that MLB the Show pitch-man Tim Lincecum is their ace and star. Really, he has had a pretty terrible season and the Giants have been good in spite of him. The Giants own MVP candidate is catcher Buster Posey, who leads the National League in WAR with 8.0 as well as batting average (.336) and OPS+ (172). If you doubt Posey’s value, he won Rookie of the Year in 2010 – and the Giants won the World Series. Last season he got hurt, and the Giants missed the playoffs. This year he’s healthy again, and here they are back in the World Series.

Will Posey win? Will Cabrera win? We won’t know until after the World Series, but they could very well both win – at the very least they will both be top contenders. In a sense, these two guys are at opposite ends of that whole “old-fashioned” vs. “advanced” statistics debate. Miguel Cabrera gets penalized relative to Mike Trout because he plays an easier defensive position and does a statistically bad job at it. Posey, on the other hand, plays a tougher position than does Ryan Braun but plays it very well. He’ll be hoping to win by attracting voters that value the simple fact that he catches. Cabrera will be hoping to win over voters with those eye-popping counting stats (139 RBI) and hoping they ignore his mediocre play at the hot corner. Both may get some extra votes by the simple fact that their teams are in the World Series while their chief competitors (Ryan Braun and Mike Trout) failed to make the playoffs. This argument may be silly, but in the back of their mind there are always going to be people thinking “if Ryan Braun is so good – why did his team stink?”.

For my two cents – Posey deserves that award and Miguel Cabrera does not. The reason boils down to clutch hitting. Miguel Cabrera led the AL in WPA/LI but not WPA. Posey led the NL in WPA but not WPA/LI. When it counted, Posey was at his best. When it counted, Cabrera (and his league-leading 28 GiDP) did not. In case anybody was interested, it wasn’t even Cabrera that finished second behind Trout in AL WPA – it was Prince Fielder.