Sabermetrics Doesn't Have A Monopoly on Not-Stupid: Mike Trout is the AL MVP

Mike Trout is the most valuable player in the American League. Miguel Cabrera is not. This is as clear as it could possibly be, and is not a matter of opinion, but rather a objective, verifiable, mathematical fact. Another who argues otherwise either is a) defining ‘most valuable player’ in an illogical, arbitrary way b) has not seen the math or c) is stupid.

Let’s start with the pure arithmetic: Without even considering position, Mike Trout was the best hitter in the American League. His .324/.397/.561 was good for 170 OPS+, .421 wOBP and 174 wRC+, all tops in the league. His 57.2 batting runs contributed edges out Miguel Cabrera’s 56.1 batting runs contributed, despite playing 22 fewer games. Add in the production of a replacement player filling in for those 22 games and purely on hitting Trout is the clear MVP by a significant margin.

Of course, that’s not everything. Miguel Cabrera plays third base, poorly. Mike Trout plays center and left field, incredibly well. How well? We don’t really know. If UZR is your choice metric, Trout was worth +13.3 runs on defense over the average center fielder, while Miguel Cabrera was worth -9.2 runs. But the numbers don’t actually matter. What’s important is that Miggy was a negative contributor on defense while Trout was a positive contributor. This is not a fact in dispute. If you thought that there was some sort of tie on offense between the two players, this basic fact should automatically break it. You don’t need any magical fairy dust “math” to reach that conclusion – but the magical fairy dust confirms it just as well.

And there’s one more tie breaker that hasn’t even been considered yet: base running. Mike Trout stole 48 bases while somehow only managing to get caught 4 times – a 92% success rate. Fangraphs rates Trout’s baserunning value at 6.8 runs, which is a fairly conservative estimate. If you believe that the Angels won less than one full game than they otherwise would have had Trout been an average baserunner, you believe that estimate. Regardless, Miguel Cabrera is slow, well-below average baserunner, and Trout is arguably the best in the league.

The result? Miguel Cabrera winds up worth a very respectable 7.3  fWAR, just over his 2011 7.2 fWAR total, and good for third best in the league. But Mike Trout? 10.3 WAR in 138 games, good for the best fWAR season since Barry Bonds retired, not even Albert Pujols at his best was better. That’s how good Mike Trout has been. He wasn’t just better than Miguel Cabrera, he was better than Miguel Cabrera and Derek Jeter combined.

But you don’t need any fancy math to come to this conclusion. By any objective standard, Mike Trout was a better hitter than Miguel Cabrera. Mike Trout was one of the best defenders in the league at his position while Miguel Cabrera was one of the worst. Mike Trout was probably the game’s best baserunner while Miguel Cabrera was close to the bottom. Done, full stop. There’s no room for Miguel Cabrera to be a better player.

But of course, that won’t stop the stupid arguments. Let’s just go through those:

Illogically Defining Most Valuable Player

The Angels did not make the playoffs. The Tigers won wthe American League Central, and make the playoffs. Under the argument that an MVP should lead his team to winning enough games to earn a playoff birth, Miguel Cabrera may be the player who deserves the award.

Leaving aside the absurdity of the notion that a player can’t be the most valuable player in the league while the club he plays doesn’t make the playoffs in a team sport, let’s just face some basic reality here. The Anaheim Angels won more games this season than the Detroit Tigers. Just because the AL Central was such a terrible division this year that the Chicago White Sox were actually a contending team does not mean that all of the sudden you give Miguel Cabrera credit for being traded into that division. Anyone making this argument is a moron. I’m looking at you, Harold Reynolds.

But wait, maybe Miguel Cabrera was more valuable to his team. Maybe he’s a one-man (oh, wait) wrecking crew that single-handedly made his team a winning one. We have a great counter factual for Mike Trout on this one. On April 28th, when the Angels called him up, the team was in a 6-14 freefall, good for second-worst in the league. After the date, the Angels went 83-59, a pace which would have made them the best team in the American League over a full season.

A lot of other things went on after Mike Trout was called up, like Albert Pujols hitting again. But that doesn’t change the fact that after Mike Trout joined the team they went from being the second worst team in the league to being the best team in the league.

We don’t have this counter factual for Miguel Cabrera to compare, but Mike Trout’s run is pretty stunning.

Being either willfully ignorant or really, really stupid

Let me start this off: I don’t want to immediately label everyone who believes that because Miguel Cabrera should be the AL MVP because he is likely to win the first Triple Crown in a long time as a stupid person. Many people who casually consume the game have not been exposed to arguments elevated by the last ten years of baseball commentary. They might be sincerely intelligent people who passively consume the sport they love but haven’t heard about these magical things like basic rate statistics and defense. I accept that, even though these types of people probably aren’t reading this blog right now. They aren’t stupid; they’re just casual baseball fans.

But the types of genuine idiots writing and saying stuff like this aren’t in that category. They write about baseball for a living, or at least as part of a devoted hobby, and are actually arguing that because Miguel Cabrera leads the American League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in that he should be the MVP over Mike Trout. They are not by any stretch of the imagination people who have not been exposed to very basic, mathematically true, concepts about what we know makes a good baseball player.

The only explanation for believing that Miguel Cabrera was a more valuable baseball player than Mike Trout while being exposed to modern-day information about what makes a good baseball player is that you are a stupid person. I don’t know, maybe some of the people linked to above are not stupid people (I like to think that Tyler Kepner is smart), but they if they aren’t they should prove it by not writing incredibly stupid things.

If you believe that Miguel Cabrera was better than Mike Trout, you are wrong. A coherent argument does not exist to support what you believe.  You are more wrong than the people who believe that Big Foot and Nessie exist. You should stop writing about baseball, before you hurt yourself.

I am not going to make the argument that the Triple Crown categories do not prove that Cabrera is a better player. These arguments have been made, and are settled. Just like I wouldn’t start debating someone who believes that evolution is false or there are alien-made canals on Mars, I am not going down that path. At some point, you just stop trying to persuade the unpersuadable, and let them inhabit their own little fake reality.

This is not a matter of being a traditionalist or sabermetrics or whatever the hell you want to call it these days. Mike Trout was a better hitter this season than Miguel Cabrera. Mike Trout was a much better baserunner than Miguel Cabrera. Mike Trout was a much better defensive player than Miguel Cabrera. Sabermetrics does not have a monopoly on not-stupid. Mike Trout is the AL MVP.

The statistics in this post are accurate to 11:15 PM on Wednesday night.

About EJ Fagan

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

52 thoughts on “Sabermetrics Doesn't Have A Monopoly on Not-Stupid: Mike Trout is the AL MVP

  1. Not entirely sure I would disagree but I do think you have to look at the second third and fourth best players on the Angels and Tigers–perhaps even the entire 25 man roster as well. While you’re argument for how bad the Angels started the season and how well they finished is sound, one could argue that the rest of the team just had a rough month (See Yankees August 2012). I mean by that logic does Arod get 6th place MVP votes for the Yankees record when he’s in the lineup vs when he’s out? The Angels may have a better supporting cast regardless of the April record, so if you subtract Miggy and Trout from their respective teams the Angels should theoretically have a better record so the argument about the Angels having more wins may be flawed. Again, I’m not saying you’re wrong at all as I haven’t looked into any of those numbers but just presenting a possible alternative point of view.

  2. The problem with posts like this one is that you don’t really know where the author stands on the issue….

  3. I guess I’m an idiot because I don’t believe Trout is the MVP. He didn’t play the whole season. April he did nothing and his Average in August and September were sub .300 while Cabrera finished out strong when the pressure was highest in September. While the pressure was highest Trout was the worst in September. Pressure plays a huge factor in performance. Cabrera put up his numbers in a pitcher friendly ballpark as well.

  4. The AL MVP is Raul Ibanez. It’s a fact: without him, the Yankees don’t win the division.

  5. This is, no doubt, an old school vs modern-day statistical debate. You use a lot of modern-day statistics to argue your point and that’s fine.

    When you compare their baserunning, however, you use the old school SB vs CS. What about the sabermetrics here? One look would tell you that Cabrera is not a poor baserunner at all.

    Trout stuck out a lot more than Cabrera, too and, please, don’t compare fielding stats between a 3rd baseman and an outfielder.

    OK, call me stupid if it makes you feel better but I think it’s a toss up.

  6. Cabrera should win the MVP award this year. Since Trout is just starting he has his whole career ahead of him to win the award.

    Isn’t that the same logic the Nationals are using for not pitching Strasburg the rest of the playoffs? He’s got the rest of his career to win a world series….

  7. So, on a whim, I just looked at WPA and clutch (at least according to fangraphs) to see if you could argue that on a non-rate based, non-predictive stats perspective that cabrera contributed more to his team winning by actually coming up in the clutch and adding big hits.

    Nope, Trout beats him on both categories.

  8. ‘Just went to Mike Trout’s 2012 Game Log on his page.

    He played only TWENTY GAMES outside of California, the West Coast, Pacific-Mountain Time, and games with Texas, Cleveland, and Detroit. A dozen of these games were vs. the dregs of the American League (4 Toronto + 3 Boston + 3 Kansas City + 2 Minnesota.) Only one of these teams is guaranteed to go to the ALDS: the Yanks as neither Texas nor Baltimore is guaranteed to make the ALDS as they have to play each other to get there.

    He played only a DOZEN games vs. the AL East but no games vs. Tampa Bay which means he was spared having his batting average be hurt by facing Price/Shields/Hellickon/Cobb/Moore 9 or 10 games like Cabrera had to face. Trout faced the Blue Jays, Yanks, Red Sox, and Orioles 4, 3, 3, and 2 games, respectively. He played only NINE games on the East Coast.

  9. I agree that Trout should be MVP but I think it’s a little closer than you do. I don’t think the defensive component of WAR is reliable enough to really just call this a simple math exercise. Trout is clearly a superior defender though at a more important defensive position. I disagree that performance down the stretch is no more important than performance in May. There was a point in September where the Angels were struggling and Trout had hit around .250 over a long stretch and Cabrera was on fire that I thought Cabrera was narrowing the gap. Ultimately though, Trout rebounded enough that he still had an overall good August/September/October even if it was below his full season numbers. I give Cabrera some credit too for moving to 3B and enabling the Tigers to sign Fielder. On balance though, that and his superior offensive performance down the stretch just isn’t enough to overcome that Trout had the better year taking all facets of the game into consideration.

  10. Actually, you’re the one who’s stupid.

    Mike Trout played the majority of his games in California and two timezones: Pacific and Mountain. How nice he barely had to travel far to play games, especially since he missed almost all of the first month of 2012 because he wasn’t good enough to make the Angel’s 2012 Opening Day roster. He had no full book on him unlike Cabrera who everyone knows AND STILL GOT KILLED BY – let’s see how Trout does next year with a full book on him. He didn’t lead his team to the division title like Miguel Cabrera did (spare me “the AL Central was the easiest division to win” when the Angels and Rangers have been dominating the AL West for years.) Cabrera produced more runs than Trout playing half the time in a pitcher’s park (Comerica Park) plus more time (27-28 more games assuming Detroit played Seattle 9-10X) in pitcher’s parks like Target and Safeco Fields. Cabrera played all but one game. The Tigers don’t make the postseason without Cabrera, the Angels still don’t make the postseason without Trout. Also Cabrera hit .298 or better in EVERY MONTH including October unlike Trout who slipped in August and .257 wilted in September.

    BTW the MVP is not always about stats – see 1988 NLMVP Kirk Gibson with his 25 HR and 76 RBI on a team whose ERA was below 3. The Dodgers pitching staff should’ve been voted the ’88 NLMVP LOL.

  11. Wow. You are one biased person, Fagan. To say that it isn’t even close shows how ridiculous this article is. To say a triple crown is “nothing special” shows how stupid you are as a writer. It hasnt happened in 45 years, so ya that seems pretty special.. I’m not saying it is clear-cut that Cabrera is better, but to say it is not close is utterly foolish.

  12. None of you on the Cabrera side answered his questions, would you say that Cabrera had one of the 20 greatest years ever? If the triple crown is such a great indicator of how great his year was then it would be prudent to answer that.

    Guy talking about the time zone of the games Trout played in…you’re trolling right? There is no way you are really serious.

    Trout played a balls to the walls style of CF and got tired at the end. Is that really a demerit considering how amazing he was in CF.

    Comerica park has played to offense as a whole. Regardless of the HRs it was 9th in total offense. Angels Stadium is frequently at the end of that list. The guy talking about how Cabrera played in tougher parks just…wow. Only one ball park in the AL West enhances offense. Historically as a division the parks play to pitchers. The inverse is true of the Central only the Twins have played in a pitchers park.

    For the record Cabrera is the first triple crown winner to not lead his league in fWAR. He either has the lowest or second lowest of all the guys to win it.

  13. trout had a better year.
    the triple crown is RIDICULOULY special.
    cabrera is a fantastic player.

    this kind of shouting dogmatic “you are stupid because you dont agree with my preference for who should win an award that is given based on an intentionally vague criteria” is honestly indicative of some of the worst most vile aspects of modern human society.

    kinda dissapointing because i very kuch like your work and very much loathe harold reynolds.

    i believe saberketrics give us a better understanding of the game.

    i also firmly believe that the MVP award isnt a statistical category. wecarent talking about who should be paid more or who you wajt on your team.

    we are talking about a subjective award given out that is part of the mythos and lore of the games history. gut feeling is a perfectly reasonable criteria to use for this

    an analogy here. the mvp is more akin to sexual desire than medical diagnoses. we dont run hip to chest ratio meta analyses when deciding who we want to sleep with.

    thats the nature of the award. its more art than science and its why fellow saber types have gone so bannanas over this. they have trouble with what cant be quantified. sometimes we have to go with our hearts.

    id be perfectly cool with either.

    and by the way big foot does in fact exist very possibly as a metaphysical entity. sometimes you just gotta believe that people arent all lying idiots. sometimes you go with your gut.

  14. I agree entirely. I was shocked when watching one of the other non Yankees games down the stretch (I think it was Texas Oakland) and all announcers picked Cabrera as MVP, and they talked about it like it was an obvious forgone conclusion…

  15. Sabermatricians want nothing more than to have Trout win the MVP. There’s an agenda working here.

    These are the same people who want to have robots umpiring the games. Take the human factor completely out of the game that way no one can be held responsible for these decisions.

    I agree that Sabermetrics gives us a new perspective on the game but it should not be used to absolutely determine anything.

  16. EJ, if I had an MVP vote, I would vote for Trout. But your arrogant tone in this column makes your argument less compelling and makes me less inclined to take you seriously as a writer. You don’t need to call everyone who disagrees with you stupid; just make your case and invite dissent. That’s how you’ll get people to read your stuff consistently and care about your opinion.

  17. When Trout has his amazing July, the Angels went 14-11. When he batted 257 in September, they went 18-9. Clearly his performance was *not* what was propelling them to victory. Just because you make up formulas doesn’t mean they have the value you intended. Cabrera’s worst month at the plate correlated with the Tigers’ worst month and the same for the best – as he goes, so go the Tigers. Cabrera is unequivocally the MVP.

  18. I love both Cabrera and Trout and have my own opinion on who should win. What is shameful about this debate and with all due respect this column is the Sabermetrics using Cabrera to push their agenda.