Babe Ruth was by far the best hitter in baseball history. Yet there is already an award for postseason excellence named after him. So instead, I will name the award for best offensive player in baseball the Ty Cobb Award. ***I had in fact originally called this the Babe Ruth Award, until I received several complaints.
When I first looked at the array of choices, it seemed as though it would be a tough decision. Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Jacoby Ellsbury all had excellent years. But soon after investigating the stats, the race quickly came down to two players: Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera.
Let’s look at a few stats. Bautista lead the majors in some key metrics: wRC+ (181), straight up wOBA (.441) and tied with Cabrera for first in OPS+ (181). To look at it in terms of classic stats, he lead the majors in home runs (43), slugging percentage (.608) and was second in on-base percentage (.447), a mere .001 behind Cabrera.
Cabrera, on the other hand, lead the majors in batting average (.344) and on-base percentage (.448). He had more hits (197), extra base hits (78) and total bases (335) than Bautista. He was third behind Bautista and Braun in wRC+ (177).
Bautista struck out quite a bit more often than Cabrera, but Cabrera grounded into many more double plays. Their hitting styles explain these stats; Bautista hits a ton of homers and fly balls, which lead to big swings, more K’s, and of course fewer grounders for double plays. Cabrera hits more line drives and grounders, meaning fewer homers but more double play opportunities. So we’ll call the strikeout/double play issue a tie.
Here is where it becomes subjective. In the final month of the season, Cabrera and his Detroit Tigers were closing out their division title. Cabrera hit .429 with 18 extra base hits in 91 at bats during that stretch. Bautista batted .259 with just six extra base hits in 84 at bats in the last month. The previous month he had hit just .261. So Cabrera finished very strong, while Bautista’s season petered out.
And while walks are valuable, hits are even more so. Though they had practically the same on-base percentage this year, Cabrera’s .344 batting average destroyed Bautista’s .302. Bautista walked 24 more times than Cabrera this year, and hit 13 more home runs. But Cabrera had 42 more hits, and had 24 more doubles (Bautista had 2 triples to Cabrera’s 0).
Some may argue that Bautista was more impressive because of his accomplishments despite a weaker team. While the Blue Jays were certainly a worse ballclub than the Tigers this year, the Jays had more home runs and stolen bases than the Tigers, and they averaged 4.59 runs per game (6th highest in the majors) to Detroit’s 4.86. Hardly a terrible offense.
So, by a slim margin, I am going to give the Ty Cobb Award to Miguel Cabrera, for displaying skill and power at the plate, and coming up big to close out a division win.