- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
CHICAGO -- I haven't kept notes each time I've talked with players, managers and front-office types in the past month about the American League Most Valuable Player vote, and I can't tell you exactly how many have addressed the question of whom they would pick, Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout. Probably about 50.
But the conversations have been so strikingly similar that I can say, for sure, that all but a very small handful of uniformed personnel -- by small handful, I mean two -- have told me they would pick Cabrera. And all but a very small handful of front-office types -- as in, one -- have told me they would pick Trout.
More than what it says about Cabrera and Trout, this phenomenon tells us that a massive gap of perspective between the on-field and off-field baseball folks remains, at a time when the use of advanced statistical metrics has become more pervasive than ever. "Ten years ago, you'd never see a general manager in the clubhouse," one longtime coach said this week. "Now you see all these stat guys running around, and they're always bringing you theories."
No endorsement of Cabrera or Trout for MVP should be confused for criticism of the player not picked; both players have engendered extraordinary respect within the game. When I've asked, I've done so with the promise of anonymity to encourage complete honesty of opinion.
The on-field personnel see Cabrera as an incredibly reliable, consistent and irreplaceable source of run production, someone who wrecks bad pitching but also hits good pitching. "I've seen him fight off bastard pitches with two strikes, a slider on the black -- he'll foul it off," one player said. "Then, when you're thinking he's leaning over the plate, you try to bust him inside, and he crushes it. He's the best, and he's out there every day. He's really tough, and I don't think you can put into numbers what he means to that team."
A prominent veteran player: "I would be really, really disappointed if Cabrera didn't win."
Players and coaches also mentioned the impact of Cabrera on his teammates, on how they see him provide confidence for the others merely with his presence. "He's a leader, in a way that Trout hasn't had a chance to be yet," one coach said. "You take Trout away from the Angels and it hurts, but they've got other guys. You take Cabrera away from the Tigers and they are a completely different team."
A response from an executive, which is typical of many responses I've heard: "Why is there even a conversation?" In other words, this executive views Trout as so much the superior player overall -- with his peerless baserunning, extraordinary defense and exceptional offensive skills -- that he doesn't view them as close.
"We're seeing a combination of talents we've never seen before," said one highly ranked NL official. "He does everything. He's among the best hitters in the game right now; he is the best baserunner; and he might be the best defender [in the outfield]. It's actually hard to put into words how good he is."
The advanced metrics do it for them. Some executives don't use WAR, viewing it as something of a junk stat, but virtually every team uses some form of metrics to provide a summary of a player's overall value, and Trout has dominated those, in that way that Tiger Woods once dominated in golf.
Those advanced metrics are used now more than ever to pick players, to build teams, to structure decisions made in games every day. The Cabrera-Trout debate is falling along the lines of red states and blue states, and it is just the latest clue about how much players, coaches and managers remain skeptical about the numbers that are crunched all around them.
A) Weaver threw fastballs 37 percent of the time, his lowest percentage in more than two years and the first start this season in which he has thrown more nonfastballs than fastballs.
B) Rangers hitters were 0-for-12 with two strikes against Weaver, striking out five times. Weaver's five strikeouts came on four pitch types -- two with his slider and one each with his fastball, curveball and changeup.
• Homer Bailey was still a couple of outs from finishing his no-hitter, with Michael McKenry at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning, and Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan set in the target the way Bailey and the other pitchers love -- demonstratively, precisely where he wants the ball. In this case, Hanigan wanted Bailey to elevate his fastball, to coax McKenry to chase the ball out of the strike zone.
McKenry fouled off a couple of pitches, but he wasn't really close to putting the ball in play, and then, after Hanigan called for a couple of sliders low and away, he beckoned Bailey to go back to a high fastball. This time, McKenry popped the ball into the air, for the 26th out; a few moments later, Bailey got the 27th out, on another popout.
As this season has gone on, Bailey has just gotten better and better, more precise, so he can hit the fringe of the strike zone, or just outside of it, especially with his high fastball. Small sample sizes mean more at this time of year than any other, and, as the Reds prepare to begin the playoffs with Bailey lined up at the back of their rotation, he's throwing the ball very well, with a 2.01 ERA for the past month. That's 11th-best in the majors for September.
The pitchers among the top 10 who are likely to be playoff-bound? The Braves' Mike Minor (a 1.09 ERA in September), Kris Medlen (1.46), Chris Tillman (1.57), Gio Gonzalez (1.74), Yu Darvish (1.80) and Lance Lynn (1.88).
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Bailey threw a no-hitter:
A) Bailey threw his fastball 71 percent of the time, his fourth-highest percentage of the season. He got 19 outs with the pitch.
B) He threw his fastball more as the game went on, including 81 percent of the time from the seventh inning on. He also threw it harder. In the first three innings, his fastball averaged 90.0 mph; in innings seven through nine, it was up to 92.1.
C) Bailey struck out seven hitters with his fastball, five on pitches in the upper half of the zone or higher.
D) Ten of 17 balls in play against Bailey (59 percent) were grounders, his third-highest percentage this season. Eight of the 12 fastballs the Pirates put in play (67 percent) were grounders.
Most no-hitters in a single season, MLB history
1884 -- 8
2012 -- 7
1991 -- 7
1990 -- 7
1969 -- 6
1908 -- 6
1917 -- 6
Bailey looked calm on the outside but had some nerves working on the inside, as John Fay writes.
• Robin Ventura's postgame news conference was broadcast in the White Sox clubhouse after their heartening victory Friday, just as it was after their terrible defeat Thursday, and Jake Peavy watched both and was struck deeply by how Ventura sounded and looked exactly the same. "Do you know how awesome that is?" Peavy said. "Do you know how important that is for young players?"
"Robin remembers what it's like to be a player, and that's incredibly important. This guy is going to grow into a great manager. That demeanor is a quality that is hard to [find]."
Chicago's win Friday was just its second in 10 games, yet Ventura has remained consistent throughout. "We've been dragging this man through a wringer with the way we've been playing, all these close games," Peavy said. "He's going to be like Keith Hernandez in that Just For Men commercial by the time he's done with this job. All that hair is going to be gray."
• Just a guess: I don't think Terry Francona will manage the Cleveland Indians. He has put himself in an elite salary class, with his work and time in Boston, and some executives expect his salary will be in the range of $3 million for his next job. Being a part of the AL Central provides the Indians with an additional level of opportunity, but Cleveland doesn't appear ready to contend immediately because of rotation issues -- and Francona probably will get a better competitive situation elsewhere.
Sandy Alomar is the interim manager -- and probably the favorite to be the permanent choice -- and the Indians won in his first game. Francona will probably interview for the position in the near future.
Alomar talked about how Mike Hargrove has been a managerial influence for him.
Dings and dents
3. Neil Walker's season is over.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. The Madoff money is being distributed, and the Mets aren't getting any, as Richard Sandomir writes.
3. Ozzie Guillen says he deserves another shot.
4. Tim Kawakami guesses that Barry Zito will be part of the Giants' postseason rotation. That would be a heck of an accomplishment, considering that he was left off the postseason rosters completely in 2010.
5. The Angels' rotation could undergo major changes in the offseason, as Bill Plunkett writes.
A Padres rookie starter had trouble against the leadoff man.
Here's the good news for the Cardinals: Their hitters came out of hiding, taking them one step closer to clinching a wild-card berth. The bad news: Matt Holliday was hit by a pitch and had to come out of the lineup, at a time when David Freese is already hobbling.
For the 21st straight year, the Pirates will not finish with a winning record -- and that milestone was reached in an excruciating manner, at the hands of Homer Bailey. If there was a way to quantify misery, I can't imagine another fan base has had a more difficult finish to the 2012 season than the Pittsburgh fan base.
Milwaukee lost to the Astros, and the Brewers' playoff dreams are almost over.
Darwin Barney's errorless streak ended at 141 games.
The Phillies were officially eliminated.
The Mariners were overpowered, as Geoff Baker writes.
The Royals have been losing a lot lately.
By the Numbers
from ESPN Stats & Info
7: No-hitters this season, tied for the most in one season since 1901.
19: Number of outs Bailey recorded with his fastball in his no-hitter against the Pirates.
6,541: Number of games played between being no-hit for the Pirates entering Friday; a streak dating back to 1971 when Bob Gibson no-hit Pittsburgh.
- Solely at the plate, Harper still has a chance to wind up on top of a few all-time, single-season teenage leaderboards. This is a rundown of where he stands in what categories, and whom he is chasing with six games left.
Home runs: 21, second (Tony Conigliaro 1964, 24)
Runs: 94, second (Buddy Lewis 1936, 100)
Steals: 17, second (Ty Cobb 1906, 23)
Doubles: 23, tied for fourth (Phil Cavaretta 1935, and Robin Yount 1975, 28)
Triples: 9, fifth (Buddy Lewis 1936, 13)
Walks: 54, second (Rusty Staub, 59)
OPS: .799, third (Mel Ott 1928, .921)
• Omar Vizquel stood by some comments he made about the communication of the Toronto coaching staff, another clue of possible change for the Blue Jays. Toronto's final month is filled with a lot of questions for Alex Anthopoulos, writes Richard Griffin.
• The D-backs' grass is in great shape.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney writes that there is a definitive split within baseball over who should win the AL MVP award: Players and managers believe Miguel Cabrera should win, but front-office types overwhelmingly favor Mike Trout.