Josh Hamilton will win the American League Most Valuable Player award today.* That's not insider information. That's just common sense. He has the highest OPS in the American League. He has a back story about overcoming personal evils that the writers will enjoy writing about. He played for a playoff team. He is both good enough and interesting enough to be an easy choice for the award. I can't fault the Baseball Writers association when they hand him the hardware. I don't like it, but I just can't put together an argument that our own Miguel Cabrera is being wronged by the decision.
* If neither he nor Cabrera win and it ends up in Robinson Cano's hands, then we have a real problem.
You could make many of the same arguments for Cabrera as you could make for Hamilton, save for the whole playoff team thing. His OPS was a little bit lower, but otherwise you could rightfully say he hit the ball just as well and probably better. Comparing OPS+ figures from Baseball-Reference, Cabrera has a slight 179-175 edge. His personal story is one of facing down his own problems found in the bottom of the alcohol glass at the end of last season and responding with the best season of his career. He carried his club despite the fact after the All-Star Break the lineup was a mess after injuries, and before the All-Star Break it wasn't all that much prettier.
Basically, the big differences between the players comes down to two things. One of them most definitely should play role in how someone votes. The other probably shouldn't.
We can pretend the award is about which player is most valuable to his team, but it's really not. It's about being the best player on a playoff team. Why reward Hamilton for being on a playoff team? He didn't even play for the final weeks of the season because he was injured. They had a rookie of the year closer, two starting pitchers with ERAs under 4.00 for the whole year plus half a year of Cliff Lee, and a much more potent lineup than the Tigers. They gave up fewer runs and scored more. That wasn't Hamilton alone making the playoffs. Would Cabrera be MVP if he played for the Rangers? Probably. Would Hamilton finish second in the voting if he had been on the Tigers? Almost certainly. So the reward tells us more about team than individual when you think about it that way. And it shouldn't.
What makes Hamilton likely winning the trophy a little more easy to accept is that he also played a more important position. Now we're not talking a first baseman versus a catcher or anything. So this point should not be overemphasized. However to leave defense out of the equation would be a mistake. Hamilton plays above average (by Ultimate Zone Rating) in the outfield. Cabrera plays below average at first base. The end result is a more well rounded ballplayer, and you don't need to look at advanced statistics to see that. If all things are equal -- and they're pretty close when you remove the silly playoff team "requirement" -- that would give Hamilton a slight edge.
So we may as well get the congratulations to Josh Hamilton out of the way right now. Whether or not we like it, he can deservingly be called most valuable player.
But so could Cabrera.