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Triple Crown or Trout? AL MVP debate a hot topic

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Triple Crown or Trout? AL MVP debate a hot topic

Miguel Cabrera has his Triple Crown. MVP award, maybe not.

Hold on, now. How could that be?

Mike Trout, that's how.

It's the hottest debate in baseball, seemingly pitting old-school traditionalists against new-age number crunchers in a bench-clearing shouting match over what constitutes ``valuable.''

At stake is the American League's Most Valuable Player award, perhaps the game's top individual prize.

Cabrera capped an extraordinary season Wednesday night by becoming the first Triple Crown winner in the majors since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. The Detroit Tigers' slugger led the league with a .330 batting average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs - the standard statistical categories by which excellence was commonly judged for the better part of the past century.

``If he's not the MVP then there's no such thing,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Trout, however, made some history of his own. Called up from the minors three weeks into the season, the Los Angeles Angels' rookie quickly became a never-before-seen force prior to his 21st birthday.

Possessing a unique combination of skills in the concrete body of a running back, the dynamic kid from New Jersey did it all - hitting home runs and taking them away with highlight-reel catches high above the center-field fence.

Trout batted .326, second to Cabrera, with 30 homers and 83 RBIs. He also led the majors with 49 stolen bases (in 54 attempts) and 129 runs - 20 more than Cabrera in 22 fewer games. The slumping Angels were 6-14 when they brought up Trout and went 83-59 the rest of the way.

The first big league rookie to reach 30 homers and 40 steals in one season and the youngest player with a 30-30 campaign, Trout struck out 41 more times than Cabrera but committed only four errors in the outfield. Cabrera had 13 errors after unselfishly switching back to third base when the Tigers signed first baseman Prince Fielder last winter.

``Divide it in half,'' Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ``They both had sensational years.''

That would be too easy. The hard part is making a pick.

For anyone who thought winning the Triple Crown would automatically anoint Cabrera the MVP, take note of this: There have been nine Triple Crown seasons since the MVP award was introduced for each league in 1931. Four times, the Triple Crown winner was beaten out for MVP by a player on a pennant winner.

Chuck Klein of the Philadelphia Phillies lost to New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell in 1933. Yankees slugger Lou Gehrig was topped by Detroit catcher Mickey Cochrane the following year. And then Boston's Ted Williams, unpopular with certain writers, fell short to Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon (1942) and center fielder Joe DiMaggio (1947).

At the center of the argument this year is a modern calculation called WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a figure derived from an assortment of other stats. WAR is designed to go deeper than the conventional numbers in measuring a player's all-around contribution to team success.

A worthwhile endeavor for sure, though some think the formula is flawed.

Leyland, for example, bemoaned that WAR doesn't emphasize RBIs enough. Others believe it's the most complete and accurate appraisal of a player's true value.

Trout finished with a WAR number of 10.7, best in the majors, according to baseball-reference.com. Cabrera was at 6.9, fourth in the American League.

The discrepancy is almost ironic, considering how the debate sometimes falls along generational lines. Trout's sizable advantage, of course, is a result of his vastly superior defense and baserunning - both traditional fundamentals long held in high regard by baseball's old guard.

With reporters everywhere asking for opinions as Cabrera chased the Triple Crown, it seemed most managers and players favored Cabrera for MVP. Front-office types often pointed to Trout. Tigers teammates wore T-shirts touting their guy.

In the end, the only people with the power to decide it are the 28 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who have a vote. And if recent history holds a clue, they might lean toward Cabrera more because he powered the Tigers to an AL Central title than the fact that he ended the longest Triple Crown drought in baseball history.

``The Triple Crown is obviously a historic achievement, but whether Cabrera gets it or not shouldn't impact his standing in the MVP race,'' Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, who has an AL MVP vote, said early this week.

``The fact that he's led the Tigers to the postseason with a monster September should make him a slight favorite over Trout, though Trout will certainly still have plenty of support for his incredible year. I think Detroit's late-season surge will be a bigger factor if Cabrera wins the MVP than his run at the Triple Crown.''

Trout's team made a second-half charge but missed the playoffs and finished third in the AL West. Still, the Angels' final record was one game better than Detroit's.

And while Cabrera merits credit for leading his club to the playoffs, it seems unfair to punish Trout for simply playing in a tougher division.

That may not matter to voters, though.

Setting aside the strike-shortened season of 1994 when the postseason was canceled, the only time in the last 20 years that the AL MVP didn't come from a playoff team was 2003, when Alex Rodriguez won with the last-place Texas Rangers.

The trend hasn't been as consistent in the National League, but the point remains valid.

What's most amazing is this: After fans waited 45 years to see a Triple Crown winner, there's a legitimate argument about whether that player deserves the MVP award - even though Cabrera all but carried his team into the playoffs.

Never imagined that could happen.

That's how good Trout has been. And that's how far sabermetrics have come.

``I don't know, man. It's a good race,'' Cabrera said.

Expect him to win when balloting is announced in November. But the pick here is Trout, by a tiny sliver. He does everything well, no flaws in his game.

What's more valuable than that?

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A look at the other big awards:

NL MVP: Worthy contenders include Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen and Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun, last year's winner. The nod goes to Giants catcher and NL batting champion Buster Posey, who turned it on in the second half with All-Star teammate Melky Cabrera suspended for a positive drug test.

AL Cy Young: Another close call. This one goes to Tampa Bay lefty David Price, who barely beats out reigning MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander in part because of the stiffer competition Price faces in the AL East. Rays closer Fernando Rodney is third.

NL Cy Young: One more milestone in the feel-good story that is R.A. Dickey's winding road to stardom with the New York Mets. Dickey becomes the first knuckleballer to win a Cy Young Award, a thrill he would share with all his ol' mentors: Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield, Charlie Hough and the rest. Nationals ace Gio Gonzalez comes in second and Braves closer Craig Kimbrel third.

AL Rookie of the Year: If not for Trout, this would be an interesting race featuring Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland Athletics and Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish from the Texas Rangers. Trout is a runaway, though.

NL Rookie of the Year: It's not just hype. A big September carries teenage phenom Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals past Arizona pitcher Wade Miley and Cincinnati slugger Todd Frazier.

AL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin in Oakland edges Baltimore's Buck Showalter. Both did an incredible job.

NL Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals.

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AP Sports Writers Ronald Blum and Dave Skretta contributed to this report.

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American League All-Star Game Roster Projection: AL will be loaded once again

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American League All-Star Game Roster Projection: AL will be loaded once again

The 2018 Major League All-Star Game is less than a month away. Fan votes are well underway and early frontrunners are close to locking their position in the Midsummer Classic.

Yesterday, we projected how the National League roster will play out. Today it is time to look at the American League roster projection.

For five straight seasons, the AL has had the upper hand in the MLB All-Star Game. In 2018, it does not appear that will change as the American League roster will be loaded from top to bottom.

As a reminder, here is how the process shakes out, first with the fan vote, players’ ballots, and the MLB Commissioner’s Office:

  • Fan vote: nine position players in AL (DH)/ eight in NL; plus final vote for each league
  • Player’s ballots: next 17 players in AL/ 16 players in NL; (five starting pitchers, three relievers must be chosen)
  • MLB Commissioner’s Office: five AL players (four pitchers, one position player) and seven NL players (four pitchers, three position players)

One player from each team must make the initial roster (before injury withdraws, etc.). Below is how it looks the American League roster will play out, considering the latest fan vote returns:

American League All-Star Roster Projection:

C – Wilson Ramos, Rays (Fan Vote), Gary Sánchez, Yankees (Player Ballot)
1B – José Abreu, White Sox (Fan Vote), Joey Gallo, Rangers (Player Ballot)
2B – Jose Altuve, Astros (Fan Vote), Jed Lowrie, Athletics (Player Ballot)
3B – José Ramírez, Indians (Fan Vote), Yangervis Solarte, Blue Jays (Player Ballot), Mike Moustakas, Royals (Commissioner’s Office)
SS – Manny Machado, Orioles (Fan Vote), Jean Segura, Mariners (Player Ballot),
OF – Mookie Betts, Red Sox (Fan Vote), Mike Trout, Angels (Fan Vote), Aaron Judge, Yankees (Fan Vote), Michael Brantley, Indians (Player Ballot), Eddie Rosario, Twins (Player Ballot), Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees (Player Ballot),
DH – J.D. Martinez, Red Sox (Fan Vote), Shohei Ohtani, Angels (Player Ballot)

SP – Justin Verlander, Astros (Player Ballot), Luis Severino, Yankees (Player Ballot), Corey Kluber, Indians (Player Ballot), Chris Sale, Red Sox (Player Ballot), Gerrit Cole, Astros (Player Ballot), Blake Snell, Tampa Bay (Commissioner’s Office)

RP – Edwin Díaz, Mariners (Player Ballot), Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox (Player Ballot), Aroldis Chapman, Yankees (Player Ballot), Joe Jiménez, Tigers (Commissioner’s Office), Delin Betances, Yankees (Commissioner’s Office), Chris Devenski, Astros (Commissioner’s Office)

Manager: Jeff Luhnow, Astros

Based on this projection, the New York Yankees will have the most representatives with six. The Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox will both have four.

Ensuring no snubs, there will be five players selected for the final fan vote to get one more All-Star into the game for a total of 32 for the American League. As you can see, no matter how the AL roster plays out, it will be a dominant team once again as they look for six straight All-Star wins.

Four of those five wins were inside a National League stadium and that will not change as the Washington Nationals will host this season.

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2018 MLB All-Star Game voting update: Manny Machado maintains big lead among A.L. shortstops

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USA Today Sports

2018 MLB All-Star Game voting update: Manny Machado maintains big lead among A.L. shortstops

Baltimore Orioles’ Manny Machado took an even larger lead in the latest update for 2018 MLB All-Star Game voting.

The superstar shortstop maintained his position at the top of American League shortstops in the second round of All-Star voting updates, released Tuesday morning. 

After the first ballot was released, Machado led the shortstops category by over 100,00 votes.

This week, he now holds north of a 200,000-vote lead over last year’s American League starter, Carlos Correa.

The Astros’ Correa jumped from fourth to second this past week while the Indians’ Francisco Lindor dropped to third.  

Machado now has 671,133 votes, seventh among all American League players. For the second straight week, Machado remained the only Orioles player on the list.

Through 69 games in 2018, Machado is batting .310 with 18 home runs, 15 doubles and 53 RBIs. He is posting his best OPS (.945) and on-base percentage (.377) in his career, a bright spot for the O’s, who sit dead last in MLB with a 20-50 record.

The All-Star voting will be open until July 5 at 11:59 p.m. ET and fans can vote five times every 24 hours.

The next AL voting update will be announced June 26.

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