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Twins outfielder Josh Willingham

Tom Olmscheid, Associated Press file

Rand: Old-school vs. new-world stats for Twins MVP

  • October 8, 2012 - 12:21 AM

Much has been made -- and will continue to be made -- about who should win the MVP award in the American League. Though the award won't be announced until after the playoffs, only regular-season stats count. And it can be framed as a debate over old-school stats (Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera) vs. new-world metrics (Mike Trout). Before that is officially settled, however, we can have a similar debate when it comes to the Twins. Who was this year's offensive MVP: the guy with the old-school stats (Josh Willingham) or the better new-world numbers (Joe Mauer)? Here's a back-and-forth look at both players, with a final thought at the end:

• Mauer is the winner: He not only led the American League in on-base percentage (.416), but finished 50 points higher than any other teammate (Willingham was next at .366). That helps explain why Willingham had a career-high 110 RBI, since the guy hitting directly ahead of him was on base more than anyone else in the league. Wins above replacement (WAR), with only offense factored in? Mauer beats Willingham 4.9 to 4.4.

• No, Willingham is the winner: Those runs don't just drive themselves in. Willingham led the team in homers (35) and dwarfed everyone with those 110 RBI. When nobody else could hit in April, he batted .347 with five homers. In fact, he hit at least five homers in every full month except September. Furthermore, he had so many big hits. The walk-off against Oakland? The two-run blast to beat the Reds? Those were season highlights in a year without many.

• No, Mauer is the winner: These aren't quite advanced stats, but big hits? With two outs and runners in scoring position, Willingham hit .241 with 30 RBI in 79 at bats. Mauer only had 58 at bats in those situations but batted .397 with 26 RBI. Durability? Mauer played more games (147) and had more plate appearances (641) than any other Twins player this year.

• Wait, Willingham is the winner: If OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) is your thing, Willingham trumps Mauer at his own new-stat game (.890 to .861). That .524 slugging percentage, by the way, was eighth in the American League. Mauer wasn't even the highest-slugging catcher on his own team (Ryan Doumit edges him .461 to .446).

• Final analysis: Here's the copout answer: Much like the Cabrera/Trout race, beauty here is in the eye of the beholder. There's a lot to like from what both Willingham and Mauer did offensively in 2012. While it might be tempting to use Willingham's salary ($7 million) compared to Mauer ($23 million) as a tiebreaker, let's just leave it a tie.

MICHAEL RAND

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