Most of the discourse in the baseball media world, concerning the AL MVP, centers on Miguel Cabrera and his quest for the elusive “triple crown.” If he finishes the season leading in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in, it will be the first time in 45 years since someone did it. The last person to do so was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. It has historical value but, in and of itself, does not make Miguel Cabrera the best, or most valuable, player in the American League. There’s a good argument to be made that he isn’t the most valuable player on his own team. As Jonah Keri of Grantland pointed out yesterday, Justin Verlander is having a nearly identical season in 2012 to his MVP/Cy Young 2011 (7.0 WAR in 2011, 6.8 WAR in 2012). However, he hasn’t been mentioned as an MVP candidate this season.
Some voters opine that you have to be on a playoff team in order to win the MVP award, which is why Buster Posey is the most likely to win it over in the NL (that and the fact that most people consider Ryan Braun a past cheater, and thus want to hold that against him moving forward indefinitely, a logic that I don’t subscribe to). That’s apparently why Matt Kemp didn’t win the NL MVP race last season, and Braun did. Ho hum.
To that I say this: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim NEARLY made the playoffs, and without Mike Trout they wouldn’t have sniffed them. Maybe Trout needed 20 games in AAA to start the season in order to prepare him for MLB, but hindsight being 20/20 I’ll bet the Angels wish they’d called him up sooner. From a viewer’s perspective, Trout kept fans of his team riveted and justifiably playoff-hungry until yesterday. And it isn’t like Trout was playing in a cushy, no pressure environment. There has been a media circus around him since he got called up, and his team has been fighting for its life since his first game after its terrible start to the season. It’s not like Trout was under less pressure than Cabrera, if that matters to you.
But if you still foolishly insist that the MVP come from a playoff team, I believe Robinson Cano is as worthy a candidate as Cabrera. If you don’t care about playoff citizenship, and only care about who played the best total baseball over the course of the entire season, regardless of the team, and are willing to acknowledge that home runs, runs batted in, and batting average aren’t the only measures of a player, then it’s beyond me how Mike Trout isn’t the guy you vote for.
Check out the chart above. Trout leads 10 of the 16 categories that I’ve not-so-arbitrarily chosen as the best representation of a player’s overall value. WAR is supposed to sum everything up, and it does a good job of that, but it isn’t perfect. Fangraphs’ WAR uses UZR as its defensive component, and UZR can be inconsistent from season-to-season. Also, it doesn’t take into account situational hitting (it can’t be ignored that a home run in a tie game is more valuable than a home run in a blow out win, even though there is little evidence that that is a “skill” and success in that area one year doesn’t promise success in the clutch the following year…basically there is no proof that any player has an ability to hit better under pressure for a long enough period of time that you can say, conclusively, that he is “clutch”. One playoff series or one big at bat does not prove that a guy is “clutch”).
In measuring a player’s contribution to the team’s win probability, there are three fantastic stats: Win Probability Added (WPA) and WPA adjusted for leverage (WPA/LI), as well as RE24 (Runs Above Average by the 24 Base/Out States).WPA measures your total impact on the likelihood that your team will win a game. Hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th, and you’ve had a huge positive impact. Ground into a double play with the bases loaded and 1 out to end a game in the bottom of the 9th, and you’ve had a similarly negative impact. Also, some guys get a lot more opportunity to adjust the team's win probability by virtue of being in more tight games or just happening to come to the plate in those situations more often in any particular season, so you have to adjust for that. That’s what WPA/LI is. RE24 measures runs above expectancy given the situation (situation meaning man on 3rd, 1 out). It’s like WPA, but it doesn’t account for the inning or the score of the game. The 24 is from the total number of situation combinations a batter can face at the plate.
Anyway, Mike Trout leads the
in all three the categories, and he leads MLB in WPA and WPA/LI while being second in RE24 (behind Buster Posey)! I didn’t include these in the chart above because I think they’re too fluky (for instance, Cano’s name doesn’t show up on the WPA top 30 leader board). However, it goes to show that even if you’re the kind of person who puts a lot of stock in performance in the clutch, Trout is still your man. AL
As noted in the chart above, Trout leads in WAR, weight runs created adjusted for ball park and competition, fielding and positional difficulty, base running, on base percentage, runs scored, stolen bases (he’s only been caught 4 times, an absurd 92.3% success rate), runs above replacement, and finally he has grounded into a mere 7 double plays. I just rhymed off nearly ever relevant SABR stat imaginable, plus a few standard stats, and they all point to Trout being the best in baseball.
Cabrera has that Triple Crown basically sewn up. That’s very impressive. He’s having an amazing season. But he was better at the plate in 2010 and 2011, by virtually every measure. Why is he now an MVP candidate but not then, when the level of competition hasn’t fallen off? Because Austin Jackson is on base 38% of the time and runs like the wind, thus drastically augmenting Cabrera’s RBI total? Trout leads off. He has guys who hit more like me than Austin Jackson batting ahead of him. He still has 83 RBIs in only 137 games. That’s a 100 RBI pace in a full season, which is amazing for a leadoff hitter. Is it because Cabrera has 44 home runs? That’s awesome, really it is, but Adam Dunn has nearly as many, as does Edwin Encarnacion. And it isn’t like Trout lacks power—he has 30 home runs himself. Is it because Cabrera’s on base percentage is comprised more due to hitting than walking? That’s ridiculous, and his batting average is merely .005 higher that Trout’s.
Cabrera’s has grounded into a whopping 28 double plays. All that hacking has it’s cost, as does running like he’s in mud. I’ve read about his unselfish move to 3rd from 1st to accommodate Prince Fielder. But he plays defense at third like his glove hand is a stump, and he has the maneuverability of a 30-foot boat. The unselfish move would’ve been to accept his fate and become a DH. But he knows that DH don’t win MVP awards or get into the Hall of Fame. I’m assuming those were factors, but whatever the reason, he refused to be a DH, which would have “helped” the team by allowing a competent person to field at third.
When all components of the game are considered, as should be the case, and Mike Trout is the obvious, no-brainer choice for MVP. He fields better, runs better, gets on base better, and still hits for a lot of power and contact. The areas in which Cabrera excels are thanks almost as much to his teammates, or the margin between him and Trout is tiny, or comes at the expense of the rest of his game. Cabrera’s 44 home runs come because he’s big and powerful, but that’s also why he can’t run or field and why he hits into so many double plays.
The object of baseball, at its core, is to not get out on offense, and to get guys out on defense. Nobody playing in the
in 2012 has been better at those two things than Mike Trout. AL
***Robinson Cano leads in NONE of the 16 categories, but his overall package is pretty awesome. He hits for power and average, he has a great eye at the plate, and he plays stellar defense at second base. He can’t run very well, which is strange considering that he’s a very good second baseman, but he’s a non-threat on the base paths with a penchant for grounding into double plays.