DETROIT - Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera is threatening to become baseball's first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, but a spirited debate still rages: Is Cabrera the American League MVP, or is it Angels center fielder Mike Trout?
Even though Cabrera is batting .333 with 41 home runs and 130 RBI, statistical analysts point to advanced metrics that incorporate baserunning and defense. According to baseball-reference.com, Trout was leading Cabrera in the all-encompassing statistic WAR (wins above replacement) by a wide margin -- 10.1 to 6.5.
"I'm not downplaying what Trout's done," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm just telling you this guy [Cabrera] has gone above and beyond. If he wins the Triple Crown, are Sabermetrics going to say that Trout's the MVP? That would be embarrassing to every writer in baseball if a guy won the Triple Crown and didn't win the MVP."
The voters -- two members of the Baseball Writers Association of America from each AL market -- must submit their ballots when the regular season ends. Cabrera leads the AL in batting average and RBI, while trailing Texas' Josh Hamilton by one in the home run race.
Cabrera, 29, never has won an MVP award. He finished second to Hamilton in the voting in 2010 and fifth last year, four spots behind Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander. Lately, fans at Comerica Park have been serenading Cabrera with "M-V-P! M-V-P!" chants.
"I think if we make the playoffs, everything's going to take care of itself," Cabrera said. "Your focus will be on winning games. If we win, it means we're playing good."
Detroit trails the first-place White Sox by 1 1/2 games in the AL Central after Chicago lost 6-2 to Trout's Angels in Anaheim, Calif.
Cabrera has strengthened his MVP candidacy with a strong September, batting .364 with eight home runs, 21 RBI and a 1.224 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage).
For comparison, Trout is batting .274 with three homers, four RBI, four stolen bases and an .807 OPS this month. Those numbers got a boost after he went 2-for-3 with a solo homer, a double and a walk Friday night.
"I haven't seen Trout since the first [part] of the season," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I know he's had a heck of a year, and I know people are saying this and that about him. I'm just tipping my hat to Cabrera. He's the best player in the American League. He should be the MVP.
"If you're going for a Triple Crown, that's an MVP season. ... If you've got his numbers, you can SABR all you want to --[Cabrera's] numbers blow your mind. It doesn't make much sense to me to be arguing about this, to tell you the truth."
Trout, 20, is batting .324 with 28 homers and 78 RBI (as a leadoff hitter). He leads the league in runs scored (120), was a league-best 46-for-50 in stolen bases and has drawn comparisons to a young Mickey Mantle in center field.
Trout's numbers might be even better if the Angels hadn't waited until April 28 to promote him to the majors, and his arrival helped turn around the entire team. Cabrera's defense is subpar, but he gets extra credit for shifting to third base, making room for Prince Fielder at first.
Tigers designated hitter and former Twin Delmon Young drew a comparison to Joe Mauer's 2009 MVP season.
"Every time [Cabrera] walks up to the plate, you have a feeling he's going to do some damage," Young said. "It's almost like when we used to joke around with Mauer in '09, saying he used to start out the game 2-for-0. "That's what it basically seems like with Miggy. He's already got two hits before he even starts the day."