Score one for traditionalists.
Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera, the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, won the American League Most Valuable Player Award Thursday night, capturing the honor in a lopsided vote that followed weeks of contentious debate.
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He took 22 of 28 first-place votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, easily beating Angels rookie Mike Trout, regarded by some as the most worthy of the award. Cabrera had 362 points to Trout's 281.
Both found themselves at the center of a proxy war waged by familiar foes.
Traditionalists pointed to the rarity of Cabrera's Triple Crown, an achievement that came as he nudged the Tigers into the postseason. Reformists cited advanced statistics that showed Trout superior to Cabrera on the bases and on defense while ranking close behind him on offense, though the Angels missed the playoffs.
"That means a lot," said Cabrera, a first-time winner and the first MVP from baseball-mad Venezuela. "I'm very thankful . . . I thought it was going to be like really close."
Cabrera led the AL in average (.330), homers (44) and RBIs (139), giving baseball its first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
But critics have long argued that two of the jewels in the Triple Crown are fakes.
Although batting average gauges a player's ability to collect hits, it ignores two critical factors: how often those hits go for extra bases and how often a batter actually reaches base. RBI totals depend heavily on where a player hits in the batting order.
Those shortcomings, detractors believe, make both statistics ill-equipped to paint a complete picture. The solution, they believe, rests in advanced statistics.
Trout, 21, hit .326 with 30 homers and 83 RBIs. But he also stole 49 bases and played superb defense in centerfield -- one of the most demanding positions. Advanced statistics captured that value.
Trout enjoyed a clear edge in wins above replacement (WAR), a relatively new metric that weighs offense, defense and baserunning in an attempt to measure a player's total contribution. Trout had a WAR of 10.0 to Cabrera's 7.1, a figure deflated by his shortcomings on the bases and in the field.
But the writers went to bat for Cabrera, who insisted that the game has room for both old-school stats and new-school analysis.
"They can use both, you know?" he said. "Because we, I think in 2012, we've got to take advantage of all that."