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Insider

The AL MVP debate, from the inside

9/29/2012

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.

Notables

Trout jump-started the Angels on Friday night, and Jered Weaver took it from there, in picking up his 20th victory. From ESPN Stats & Information, how Weaver won:

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.

Dusty Baker wasn't at the park, but he will be soon. Ryan Ludwick will be back in the lineup Sunday after passing a test.

• 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."

Cheers erupted in U.S. Cellular Field after Detroit's final score was posted, as Toni Ginnetti writes. Jose Quintana will start for the White Sox on Sunday.

Ryan Doumit provided the opportunity for the White Sox to gain ground, as John Shipley writes. Brayan Villarreal just didn't have it for the Tigers, as John Lowe writes.

• 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

1. Robinson Cano got some X-rays, and Yankee Nation awaits the results.

2. This is a significant blow to the Texas bullpen: Mike Adams is sidelined indefinitely.

3. Neil Walker's season is over.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Phillies ended the third-base experiment for Chase Utley, writes Matt Gelb.

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.

6. Tsuyoshi Nishioka did something pretty honorable.

NL West

Buster Posey appears to be OK after an injury scare, and he boosted his lead in the race for the NL batting title. The Giants have stepped up in the clutch, writes Henry Schulman.

Clayton Kershaw was "the man" for the Dodgers, but they weren't able to gain any ground. They're just running out of time.

Justin Upton did some damage.

Jeff Francis had a tough day.

A Padres rookie starter had trouble against the leadoff man.

NL Central

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.

NL East

Edwin Jackson was hit hard.

On a night when Chipper Jones was honored, it was the Mets who won -- and there were questions about whether David Wright will finish his career in New York.

The Phillies were officially eliminated.

The Marlins were able to end their losing streak. For the 12th consecutive season, Mark Buerhle has compiled 200 innings, writes Craig Davis.

AL West

Ryan Dempster struggled against a quality opponent again, writes Evan Grant.

Coco Crisp was back in the lineup and helped the Athletics take a day off the calendar, as they work to hang on to their two-game lead for the second wild-card berth.

The Mariners were overpowered, as Geoff Baker writes.

AL Central

The Royals have been losing a lot lately.

AL East

The Yankees were scoreboard watching and knew they had to win, and they did, as David Waldstein writes. Russell Martin provided a powerful spark for the Yankees, writes Joel Sherman.

The Rays' eight-game winning streak ended, and in one day, Tampa Bay's playoff hopes dimmed considerably, as Marc Topkin writes. Tampa Bay doesn't want Matt Moore worrying about tipping pitches.

The Orioles blasted the Red Sox, with a lot of help from Ryan Flaherty, and now they are on the verge of clinching a playoff berth. Meanwhile, Matt Wieters is a dad.

Aaron Cook had a really bad day.

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.

Other stuff

Bryce Harper has had an excellent rookie season, writes Adam Kilgore. From the piece:

    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)

Brendan Ryan is dominating an advanced fielding metric.

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.

Justin Verlander still eyes the Cy Young Award, Tom Gage writes.

• The D-backs' grass is in great shape.

Brandon McCarthy was back on the field, as mentioned within this Steve Kroner notebook.

• We are one day from the 40th anniversary of Roberto Clemente's last hit. There are questions about the authenticity of a Clemente bat, writes Bob Cohn.

• Chipper Jones fought back tears in an emotional goodbye. He admitted that he was an emotional wreck, writes Jeff Schultz.

And today will be better than yesterday.