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.