On the A.L. MVP question

At the outset, let’s just establish that I really don’t care about the triple crown. Like, at all. It’s a neat curiosity, I suppose, and Cabrera certainly had a great season as a hitter, but declaring that leading your league in three particular statistical categories automatically qualifies you for the MVP is silly, and that’s before we consider that one of those statistics is batting average, a metric so goofy that no one would take it seriously but for the fact that the guy who invented the box score thought that taking a walk was unmanly. I’m not trying to take away from what Cabrera did at the plate, but Trout is simply the best player in baseball right now, without question, and had far and away the best season in 2012 That he’s an elite base runner and defender while Miggy is…not…is more or less without contention, but the much overlooked fact of the matter is that Trout is also the better offensive player of the two. For as good as Cabrera’s season was, for example, Trout had a higher wOBA and wRC+ than he did, and if those stats are too “advanced” for you, he also had a higher on base percentage, and his OPS was a mere 0.036 points lower than Miggy’s. With a gap so small, the vast difference in base running (which is absolutely a part of run creation) more than makes up the gap in Trout’s favor.

What I find most amusing about the “debate,” however, is how incredibly shrill the reactionaries are getting, and how much they dispute their own ostensible arguments. Note, for example, that for as much as the “traditionalists” rant about “stat geeks” who ruin the game with their “spreadsheets” and need to “watch an actual baseball game” sometime, they’re now the ones arguing that the MVP should be handed out on the basis of a slavish desire to statistics, while the supposed basement dwellers are imploring them to use their eyes and see that no baseball player on the planet has held a candle to Trout in 2012. I would say that’s a fun recent development, but truth be told it’s always been the case. The old-guard isn’t actually “anti-stats,” they’re merely dogmatically devoted to the handful of stats that were relevant to the public ~50 years ago, and their real complaint is that the vernacular of the game is changing, a fairly big problem for an aging professional writer. And don’t even get me started on the idea that Cabrera deserves extra points because, after 160 games and with fewer wins than six other A.L. teams, the Tigers managed to put away the worst division in all of baseball.

That said, I mostly expect Miggy to win the award, because I’m sort of pessimistic about these things and because I think the novelty of the accomplishment will win out, sort of like Verlander winning it last year. Unfortunately the only reaction I’ll be abe to muster to that is a flippant “whatever” because, again, I really can’t bring myself to care about it that much. It’s not that I’m taking the conciliatory pose I’ve seen elsewhere that it wouldn’t be a travesty if Cabrera won it or anything, because it very much will be, but because I’m quite confident that history will ultimately pass judgment in Trout’s favor no matter the outcome. The traditionalists are simply dying off these days, so no matter whether or not they manage to make a last stand here or on some other award vote, some time in the not so distant future baseball fans will look back on a Cabrera victory and laugh at the decision in much the same way we already laugh at Juan Gonzalez winning the MVP.

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

34 thoughts on “On the A.L. MVP question

  1. thehawkishowling

    Wrong. Cabrera did something no one has done since 1967. His team is going to the playoffs. Without him they wouldn't be. Trout is not going to the postseason and if you take him off the Angels, obviously they still don't make the playoffs. There is no way what Trout did this year erases the first triple crown in 45 years. Think about that, 45 years. And Cabrera has arguably been the best hitter in baseball for the past several seasons.

    • Meh

      Didn't bother reading the article, did you.

    • Steve

      I gotta go with Brien on this one. As far as the whole first triple crown in 45 years thing goes, I'm sure there are probably similar stats out there for what Mike Trout did as a 20 year old. He just turned 21 two months ago and the fact that he's already being mentioned in the same breath as guys like Miggy (not to mention the comparisons he has been drawing to hall of famers and legends like Mantle, Henderson, etc.) is enough to make you realize how unbelievable a season Trout has had. Plus in principle I can never agree with anything you say since I believe you are the one that claimed A.J. out-pitched C.C. in the '09 playoffs. C'MON SON!

    • Trout almost joined the 30HR-50SB club this year. There is only one member of that club. Barry Bonds (1990 vintage). He had the highest WAR of a position player since Ripken in 1991. He also led the league in steals and runs scored. He was third in Batting Average, OBP, and OPS. But yeah, Miguel Cabrera's randomly selected three stats are totally more impressive.

  2. thehawkishowling

    And if a Yankee won the triple crown this would not even be a debate.

    • John

      This is a bullcrap comment. I am 100% sure Brien would not change his argument if Cano had won the TC instead of Cabrera. This may be a Yankee blog, but the writers here are very fair. I've been running around this site since 2009 and I can tell you right now that although the posts are geared to the Yankees, there writers here are nothing but professional and would never write something they didn't believe just because it involved a Yankee player.

      • BrienJackson

        It's also kind of a non-sequitur. If you take Cano (the only Yankee who could realistically do it), give him numbers good enough for the triple crown, and substitute his quality of defense and baserunning for Cabrera's you're talking about a player whose MUCH closer to what Trout did than Cabrera.

        • BrienJackson

          Or, put another way; if Robinson Cano ever hit ~45 home runs, there's a pretty good chance he actually would be the best player on the planet.

          • John

            Great point Brien. Never thought of that.

      • Jay

        bull !

  3. b0b_l0blaw

    My favorite part about the Verlander comment is that he had just about as incredible a season this year as last year. Courtesy of Jonah Keri on Grantland:

    2011: 251 IP, 9.0 K/2.0 BB/0.9 HR per 9 innings, 2.40 ERA, 2.99 FIP
    2012: 238⅓ IP, 9.0 K/2.3 BB/0.7 HR per 9 innings, 2.64 ERA, 2.95 FIP

    Yet he's nowhere near this debate because he didn't "win" 24 games. Not that I think he really deserves to be in the conversation with these guys anyway, but if he was 25-4 this year you better believe he'd be getting votes. It's really just embarassing.

    On the other hand, Cabrera is incredible so it wouldn't exactly be the worst MVP decision. See Cochrane, Mickey over Gehrig, Lou; 1934 (okay maybe there are worst ones but I'm just a homer I guess).

  4. forged

    There is two bits of perspective of a batting triple crown that I do respect. One, it has happened less times than a perfect game has and is something that has to be done across a whole season as opposed to just one game.

    Two, we didn't have a triple crown winner in the steriods era despite having someone as talented and putting up monster numbers like Bonds did.

    With that said, Trout has a fairly compelling argument for MVP given the fact of how much better the Angels were with him than without him. And they were playing in 4 team division that has two teams that made the playoffs.

  5. David

    Mmmmmm, I take a slightly more nuanced view than thehawkishowling above; we already have examples (two? three?) of players who won the Triple Crown and not the MVP, so that's not a valid argument, per se. On the other hand, I do put (personally) weight on the "valuable" portion of the MVP argument — which is a notoriously wiggle-able term in this case — than simply "the best player." If it were that simple, all of the time that Alex Rodriguez was clearly the best player in the league by a wide, wide margin he'd just be winning every year.

    So I don't take the view necessarily that the PTI guys, for example, take but I also don't accept WAR (even a 4 point variation) necessarily determines the overall MVP by iteself, simply because while Mike Trout is obviously the best all-around player in the AL (and MLB) — how does that measure his overall value to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? And how does that measure Miggy's contributions to the Detroit Tigers? Even if you take the simplistic view of the Angels – 10 wins is still where they are and Detroit – 6 wins is out of the playoffs (which I don't, by the by), that's still an argument, isn't it?

    Personally, I think that overall Mike Trout was probably the MVP — but I don't view it as cut and dried as Brien does.

    • BrienJackson

      " while Mike Trout is obviously the best all-around player in the AL (and MLB) — how does that measure his overall value to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? "

      Well they were 6-14 before calling him up, and 80-53 with him. So…yeah.

      Anyway, the problem with the triple crown is that a) picking three statistical categories is inherently arbitrary, b) the categories themselves are just dumb. If, for example, you do the exceedingly rational thing and substitute OBP for batting average, no triple crown for Miggy!

    • ProfRobert

      I think it's a close question, too, and I understand and respect the arguments on both sides of the question. I've gone back and forth on it in my own mind several times, and I'm still not sure what I'd do if I had to vote today. I think a lot of it turns on how a person defines "valuable." I think Trout is the "best player in the league," and he added enormous value to the Angels, though not enough for them to overcome their horrendous start. Cabrera, well, without him, the Tigers are watching TV with Angels the rest of the year. One of the broadcasters last night had an interesting point — Cabrera agreed to change position for the Tigers so they could get Prince Fielder. That's a very pro-team, anti-selfish thing to do, which undoubtedly added value to the Tigers and again, I doubt they get into the playoffs without Fielder. Should Cabrera get any credit for helping the team overall even at the expense of his fielding WAR? I don't get to vote, but I think I'm going to root for a tie so they can share the award.

  6. pat

    This is tough for me. I am a Tigers fan therefore I want Miguel Cabrera to win. Deep down I know Trout should win. Of course I have to hope for the guy on my team, but part I can't say I would be outraged as a Tigers fan if Trout wins, since I know he does deserve it. Also I don't feel like getting murdered by my fellow Tigers fans if I were to even mention the word WAR or something.

  7. DustyYF

    I actually don't have a problem with the MVP not being purely about WAR or the stats. Either one of these fellas could win the award and I'd be OK with it. The parameters for the MVP are so hazy and subjective that it leaves a ton of room for a wide variety of seasons to be deserving, and I like that.

    That said: Go Team Trout! I just love the way he plays the game. It's going to be fun to watch him play over the next (hopefully) 15-20 years.

    • b0b_l0blaw

      Absolutely agree with Team Trout. My annual Yankee game at Angels stadium this year happened to be the Andy Pettitte game. My girlfriend and I were out in left field and Trout was incredible enough to distract from her massive love affair for Pettitte. He robbed Swisher (her other favorite player) 3 times on great plays. He easily legged out a triple that Cano would have had to slide into second for. We couldn't have noticed Pujols less.

      She noticed him before the game even started. While they were warming up she asked, "Who's that guy…he looks really good." I responded, "Oh that's Trout. He's this 20 year old they just called up; probably the best prospect in the game."

      Silly me…he was the best player in the game. We just didn't know it yet.

      • That whole first paragraph (except for the Pettitte love affair), same with me. Trumbo and Pujols homered and Bourjos made a couple amazing plays too. The Yanks won a whole bunch of games before and after that one, but not that night. Swisher robbed Trout back later that series.

        Tell the Bluths I said hello.

  8. Garrett

    Don't ever wrestle with a pig, Brien. You both get dirty, only the pig's enjoying it. Plus a bystander might mistake you for the pig.

    The guy's trolling for a fight. Why are you obliging?

  9. beelza

    Sabr was not compelling enough to keep the al mvp from Verlander. Sabr will not be enough to keep the al mvp from Cabrera. Truth is cruel and unrelenting. And the truth is the LAA's champion could not do what Detroit's champion did – deliver his team into the playoffs. Nothing will ever change this simple fact. The game is played with one single goal, to win a championship. Writers have no claim to offer why the game is played, b/c if they did they wouldn't be writers.

    • This comment is 63 kinds of awesome.

      • beelza

        Absolutely, it is about the money. I think it is probable that Mike Trout will be MLB's first 300MM dollar man. Sabr metrics is what agents and owners will use to justify, explain that cool 300MM. It's all about the sabr metrics, before it's all about the money. Fantastic blog. Cheers.

    • lazlosother

      "The game is played with one single goal, to win a championship."

      Obviously you haven't been watching the Royals.

      • jay_robertson

        or Boston.

  10. LarryAtIIATMS

    I'll throw another component in, which is that Cabrera is playing out of position at third base, to open up first base for Prince. Cabrera's terrible fielding would not look quite so bad if he were playing at first.

    Yes, I still think Trout is the most valuable, as I translate "most valuable" to be the same as "most runs produced on offense + most runs saved on defense".

    BTW, I don't care if the guy plays on a team that wins 120 games or 40. I get the argument that Cabrera's team is in the post-season and Trout's is not. But that same argument disqualifies a guy like Buster Posey, because his team won the NL West by 8 games, more than the margin of wins that Posey was (probably) worth to the Giants. (This is the same argument that usually precludes any Yankee from being "most valuable".) So you end up in the box that the NL MVP must be the Cardinals' team MVP, because the Cards are the only team that made the NL playoffs by a small enough margin so that any of their players could be said to have "delivered his team into the playoffs". To avoid this, I think that Braun, McCutchen, even David Wright, deserve NL MVP consideration

    • That might be an interesting analysis, rather than Trout v Cabrera: What exactly is "Valuable?" Is it the best stats in the league? If so, which ones? Does the team's record/playoff status contribute anything? How about "clutch" stuff like 2 out RBI or GWH? What about overall stats vs a replacement-level player?

      Unless we come up with a more objective definition, this debate (a far more interesting one than that other one last night) will go on every year.

      • LarryAtIIATMS

        Good comment. The "valuable" part of MVP is an invitation to quirky subjective judgments. Which is why I don't care who wins this award.

        Of course, I also ignore the Emmys, Grammys, Academy Awards, etc.

  11. Mike

    I really dislike this site and the patronizing tone taken by the writing staff. So I think I'm deleting you from my bookmarks and sticking with RAB, a site that's run by far less dickheads. Bye!

    • I had to laugh at that one. Patronizing? Ha.

    • And yes, we have more dickheads writing here.

    • LarryAtIIATMS

      You should have read us last year. We were true dickheads then. We're only mildly irritating this year.

    • Hippeaux

      Clearly, you guys have been missing my sweetness and light.

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