There may never have been a more contentious debate regarding an individual award than the one surrounding last year’s American League MVP battle between Los Angeles Angels rookie phenom Mike Trout and the ultimate winner, Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. The discussion highlighted two contending views regarding player analysis, with Trout winning the hearts of stat nerds everywhere by accumulating one of the best seasons ever according to most major sabermetric statistics and Cabrera rallying support from old-school fans by winning the league’s Triple Crown.

As part of the newest wave of analysts, I personally believe that it was a travesty that Trout was denied the honor. With an astounding 10.0 wins above replacement (a statistic that attempts to examine all aspects of a player’s performance, including base-running and defense), Trout led all players. Cabrera finished in just eighth with a WAR of 7.1. At the same time, of course, it was difficult to deny the MVP to a player who led the league in all three of baseball’s sexiest offensive statistics.

All we can hope is that 2013 will refrain from presenting us with such a difficult decision again. With six months of baseball ahead of us, here are my preseason predictions for baseball’s top honors.

American League MVP — Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

After that whole monologue, did you really see me going anywhere else with this selection? The sky is truly the limit for the 21-year-old: In just 139 games as a rookie in 2012, Trout still managed to lead the league in runs (129) and stolen bases (49) while still crushing 30 home runs. After he bulked up to 240 pounds over the offseason, expect Trout to potentially realize the league’s fifth-ever 40-40 (40 home runs and steals) season, the first since Alfonso Soriano’s with the Nationals in 2006.

American League Cy Young — Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Another player sabermetrics wholeheartedly supported, the Tigers’ Justin Verlander was denied a second consecutive Cy Young award in 2012 only by the Tampa Bay Rays’ David Price. The 30-year-old led the league in innings, strikeouts and complete games while edging Price in Fielding Independent Pitching, which focuses solely on pitching performance; nonetheless, Price was the popular pick given his advantage in traditional statistics like wins (20) and earned run average (2.56).

In 2013, however, not even Price will be able to hold Verlander back from his spot atop the throne. Although team success should hardly have any bearing on such an award, the Tigers are the early front-runner to win the American League pennant, which can only aid Verlander’s candidacy. Detroit’s ace remains the league’s best pitcher and, despite facing opposition by Price and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, has the advantage heading into 2013.

National League MVP — Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Forget the performance-enhancing drug questions and focus on the matter at hand — Braun remains one of the most dynamic players in the league. After winning the MVP in 2011, Braun had an even more impressive 2012, belting 41 home runs to go along with 30 steals and a .319 average. Braun, though, was denied the award after a similarly excellent season from the Giants’ Buster Posey, who was the key to San Francisco’s World Series run.

But the wear and tear on a catcher can significantly affect offensive output and put him at a greater risk of injury, meaning that it is difficult to imagine a repeat performance by Posey. Ultimately, then, Braun remains the safe pick, while Posey, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and upstarts Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Justin Upton and Jason Heyward of the Braves remain possibilities.

National League Cy Young — Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Kershaw is, for all intents and purposes, the NL version of Verlander: a 2011 Cy Young Award winner left just on the outside of a repeat in 2012 but ready to regain the crown in 2013. At just 25 years old when Opening Day rolls around, Kershaw still has his best days ahead, which is both hard to fathom and scary for his generation of hitters. In his brief five-year career, the lefty has a career 2.79 ERA, including particularly stingy marks of 2.28 and 2.52 the last two years. Like Verlander, Kershaw is also a strikeout machine — earning 248 and 229 in 2011 and 2012, respectively — and, like the Tigers’ ace, he will have the added attention of a high-profile team expected to make the postseason.

 

Preston Barclay is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. TURNING TWO IN THE 202 appears every Tuesday.

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