In 1990, Cecil Fielder became the first player in 13 years to hit 50 home runs. Fielder also drove in 132 runs and walked 90 times for a .377 on-base percentage.
He was a close second to Rickey Henderson for the American League’s Most Valuable Player.
This year, Chris Davis hit 53 home runs and drove in 138 RBIs, a year similar to Fielder’s 1990. Miguel Cabrera followed up his Triple Crown with a season just as good, 44 home runs, 137 RBIs plus a .348 batting average and a .442 on-base percentage.
Jose Bautista hit 54 home runs in 2010, but he finished fourth in the MVP voting.
When Mark McGwire broke the single-season home run record in 1998, he finished second in the MVP voting to Sammy Sosa, who hit four fewer.
Do MVP voters dig the long ball?
Cabrera won the 2012 MVP in a year when Mike Trout received lots of support. A year later, Cabrera is considered the favorite, and Trout is thought to be just along for the ride.
The Detroit slugger had some benefits Davis didn’t. His team was better because they had better pitching. A starting rotation that included Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, who won the MVP two years ago, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister was better than the Orioles’ Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Scott Feldman.
The Tigers had Prince Fielder, Cecil’s son, in back of Cabrera in the batting order, but it can be argued that with their potent lineup and excellent starting pitching, Detroit still could have won the division without Cabrera.
Detroit ended up winning the Central by a game, but they had the division wrapped up early and coasted while Cleveland, which was finished playing the Tigers, had a hot final few weeks.
Without Davis, it’s likely that the Orioles would have finished below .500 instead of being a fringe contender. Davis’ WAR of 6.3 was strong, but still trailed both Cabrera’s 7.3 and Trout’s 10.9.
Davis wasn’t simply a home run hitter. He had 42 doubles and walked 72 times. He played a solid first base in his first full year there, and he didn’t get hurt. Davis played 160 games, Cabrera 146.
Because Cabrera had two consecutive outstanding years, and Davis just one, it obviously helps the Detroit slugger in the voting.
The definition of the Most Valuable Player has been long debated. Lots of voters look for the best player on a team that won or nearly did. Others try to imagine a team without the candidate and vote that way.
Fans often forget that the voting concludes with the regular season and ballots are in long before the postseason begins. In the last two postseasons, Cabrera has been ordinary. In 52 postseason games over his career, he’s a .273 hitter with 12 home runs, far below his regular season numbers.
Cabrera is the most feared hitter of his generation. At 30, he has 1,995 hits and 365 home runs. Davis, who is three years younger is just getting started.
Davis will have to prove that 2013 was not an aberration. Cabrera has proven that his Triple Crown wasn’t.
Adam Jones was paired with Davis, and while at times it looked as if Jones was competing with Davis in a home run hitting contest, he had his best numbers batting immediately before or after him.
If there was no Davis in the lineup, Jones would have been pitched around, and his numbers would have fallen. Jones also had the benefit of many of those 42 doubles and 71 singles that Davis hit.
As for Trout, he followed his superb rookie year with another excellent one. He batted .323 with 110 walks, most in the league. His 109 runs led the league, too. His .432 on-base percentage was just behind Cabrera’s.
But, his conventional stats, 27 homers and 97 RBIs, were far behind Cabrera’s and Davis’. Trout also suffered by Albert Pujols’ missing for much of the season, and the Angels were never in contention.
In many other years, Davis’ numbers would have been sufficient to win the MVP. He’s handicapped by being compared with Cabrera.
The betting here is that Cabrera wins the award handily with Davis second and Trout third. Davis can look back on his year with satisfaction knowing that it took the greatest hitter of this generation to beat him.
NOTES: The Orioles signed third baseman Cam Kneeland from the Canadian-American independent league. The 23-year-old Kneeland, who attended the University of Massachusetts, hit .306 with nine home runs and 62 RBIs for Trois-Rivieres in 2013. They also re-signed pitcher Tim Alderson, a onetime first round draft pick of San Francisco. He was 1-2 with a 6.27 ERA in 15 games.