We're not even to the World Series yet, and already the 2012 playoffs have produced enough excitement, tension and dramatic subplots for several postseasons combined. It's even been enough to drown out one (or two) of the most heated MVP awards arguments in years.
But let's crank the volume back up on the MVP discussion for a moment, shall we? The undercard, as it were, is the NL MVP contest, which primarily pits Giants catcher/first baseman Buster Posey against Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun. Posey, the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year who made an impressive comeback from the grisly leg injury that prematurely ended his 2011 season, led the league this year with a .336 batting average, while also racking up 39 doubles, 24 home runs, 103 RBI, a .408 on-base percentage and a .549 slugging percentage, and providing excellent defense and leadership behind the plate. Braun, last year's NL MVP, led the league this year in runs (108), homers (41) and OPS (.987), while hitting .319 with 36 doubles, 112 RBI and 30 stolen bases.
The Posey-Braun contest could go either way, at least on paper, but there are other factors in play that will probably help Posey's cause. The Giants made it into the postseason, and the Brewers did not; the rules don't state that the MVP must go to a guy on a pennant-winning team, but there have been numerous cases in the past where that's clearly been a deciding factor. There's also the lingering taint of Braun's October 2011 drug test, which indicated elevated levels of testosterone and the presence of a prohibited substance in his system. Since the MVP voting was finished before the test results were made public, Braun's MVP win was an awkward spectacle for everyone involved; and though his suspension was later overturned (albeit on what was essentially a technicality), and he actually hit more home runs and enjoyed a nearly comparable season this year, many of the baseball writers who voted for "The Hebrew Hammer" in 2011 will likely shy away from doing so in 2012.
Which brings us to the main event: The AL MVP showdown between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, a choice which has inspired/provoked some of the most vicious sports-related Internet invective since Tim Tebow first knelt upon an NFL gridiron. There isn't exactly a "wrong" choice here: Tigers third baseman Cabrera led the league in batting average (.330), home runs (44) and RBI (139) – becoming the first player since Carl Yastrzemski to win the batting Triple Crown – while Angels outfielder Trout put up a stunner of a rookie season that included leading the league in runs (129) and stolen bases (49) while hitting .326 with 27 doubles, 8 triples, 30 home runs and a .399 OBP. Trout was also as valuable on defense as he was at the plate, patrolling center field with almost Willie Mays-like speed and sure-handedness, while Cabrera (though far less of a liability at third than many expected him to be) didn't exactly make anyone forget Brooks Robinson.
But the choice between the two has essentially devolved into a "handbags at dawn" squabble between the old-school baseball writers, players and fans who revere Triple Crown numbers above all else – and thus insist that Cabrera should be a shoo-in for the award – and the Sabermetrics brigade, who see batting average and RBI as horribly overrated statistics. The former faction is deeply suspicious of the latter's emphasis on Wins Against Replacement (WAR), a non-standardized stat that employs a complex assortment of calculations to determine a player's value. The latter faction views reliance upon Triple Crown stats as tantamount to believing the Earth is flat – and, since Trout posted a significantly higher WAR this year than Cabrera (10.7 to 6.9, according to Baseballreference.com), Trout is essentially the poster boy for all things SABR-licious.
Then, of course, there's the additional wrinkle of the Detroit Tigers making the playoffs, while the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are neither in Los Angeles nor the postseason. The Tigers certainly wouldn't have made it this far without Cabrera's bat, but it's also true that they captured a weak AL Central with a slightly worse record than the Angels, who only placed third in the suddenly tough AL West. Oh, and just in case you wondered, Triple Crown winners haven't always been guaranteed the MVP: Chuck Klein (1933), Lou Gehrig (1934) and Ted Williams (in 1942 and 1947) all came up short in the MVP voting despite winning the Triple Crown.
The official MVP ballots have already been cast by now, though we won't know the results until November. In the meantime, we're asking our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads to cast their own votes for this year's MVPs.
Name: Vinnie Paul
Band: Hellyeah, Pantera
I hate to say it, but Mike Trout from the Angels should win the AL MVP award because he's been the best – and most valuable – baseball player on this continent. Period. I don't watch enough of the National League to pick a guy, but I don't believe a team has to make the playoffs to produce an MVP. MVP is most valuable player, not most valuable team!
Name: Scott McCaughey
Band: The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Position: Guitar, Vocals
Sometimes, in rare situations, the MVP is an obvious choice even from an inferior team. Mike Trout shouldn't necessarily be docked because the Angels failed to make the playoffs. But Miguel Cabrera's sizzling September that catapulted his Tigers to a division title, and him to the Triple Crown, definitely sealed the deal. In the NL, Ryan Braun has the numbers, but Buster Posey has the intangibles: leader of a division winner, more difficult position, comeback from horrendous injury, etc. And Braun might be slightly tainted by his steroid "mishap." I believe the voters will go with Posey.
Name: George Thorogood
Band: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Position: Vocals, Guitar
For the American League MVP, I pick Miguel Cabrera. The guy wins the Triple Crown and his team is in firs; if that's not an MVP, there is no MVP. The Giants came in first, and the guy that runs that team is Buster Posey. Anytime a catcher makes a run for a batting title, and at the same time handles one of the league's best pitching staffs, I gotta give him some votes. I like to see an MVP who keeps his team in the hunt, but there are exceptions to that, like if somebody has some incredibly phenomenal year. But in general I like to see somebody who's with a contender, who either got to the playoffs or got close, win the MVP.
Name: Handsome Dick Manitoba
For the AL, it's Trout. Fuck the Triple Crown/automatic MVP bullshit. Cabrera is 100 percent of 50 percent of a baseball player – all offense. Baseball is hitting and fielding, and running and throwing don't hurt either! Trout is a young five-tool phenom. His everyday centerfield playing, and arm, and base running, and speed, and great hitting are much more valuable than a bunch of extra RBI and HR's. NL: Who cares? I'm in Spain and an AL fan, and I don't have time to think about the stoopid NL! Kidding! First choice is Posey, catcher, first baseman, leader, cleanup hitter. Second choice? Braun. Why? He's a Jew!
Name: Steve Wynn
Band: The Baseball Project
Position: Vocals, Guitar
I think that Ryan Braun should win the NL MVP. He singlehandedly kept the Brewers in contention against all odds until the last week, while having a better year than his MVP season last year. But he won't win. There's no way he'll win. The voters will give a post-steroids-accusation wrist-slap and choose the feel-good story of Buster Posey. Over in the AL, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that Miguel Cabrera will win, although I'd hate to imagine where the Yankees would have been this year without Derek Jeter.
Name: Ken Casey
Band: Dropkick Murphys
Position: Bass guitar, Vocals
AL: Miguel Cabrera. Since no one else has achieved the Triple Crown since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski, Cabrera will probably get it, though Adam Jones of the Orioles deserves mention. In my opinion, the MVP should go to a player who performs well, with or without a berth in the postseason, which is why I'd vote for Ryan Braun in the NL.
Name: Scott Ian
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, because he won the Triple Crown. NL MVP: Ryan Braun will probably win it based on stats. I say probably, because the Brewers didn't make the playoffs. I think any player should be able to win the MVP. Ryan Braun came close to a Triple Crown performance this year; without him, they're 30 games under .500.
Name: Pete Yorn
Position: Vocals, Guitar
In the AL, I think Trout and Cabrera should share the MVP. For a rookie like Trout to do what he has done is just incredible. Most incredible ever, actually. Cabrera is just a beast and won the Triple Crown. I'm not against giving the MVP to a non-playoff guy (Trout), because it should be how valuable he is to his team. NL MVP should be Braun again. He won it last year and he was wrongly accused, so give it to him again . . . seems like a cool thing. 41 home runs, .319 average, 112 RBI – wow!
Dan Epstein's book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging '70s, is now available in paperback.