Bad arguments, postseason awards, and reactionary impulses

I don’t feel like saying anything about the A.L. MVP award which will be unveiled in a couple of hours, but whatever your thoughts on that question, this article by Dave Cameron is well worth a read, especially if you subscribe to the notion that an MVP has to come from a playoff team. The premise is pretty simple: if not making the playoffs means Mike Trout can’t be the American League MVP, then how does he get on your ballot at all? If Miguel Cabrera finishes ahead of him because he got the Tigers into the playoffs, don’t you then have to rank any player that the same could be said about on all five postseason teams ahead of Trout? And yet. there’s basically no chance that even the most ardent Cabrera supporter will have Trout outside of the top five, let alone the top ten.

My new working theory on this “race” is that it’s all just an elaborate ruse concocted by the baseball gods to lay waste to the traditionalist/anti-saber position for good. It’s just too perfect not to be. I mean, look at the contest they’ve set up: Miguel Cabrera wins the triple crown, but in a year in which Mike Trout is clearly the best all around player in the game, and not only is a clearly superior defender and base runner, but even posts a better on base percentage than our triple crown winner. What’s more, his team wins more games, despite the triple crown winner’s team residing in the worst division in baseball. Seriously, if you had drawn this up as a hypothetical before the season I don’t think anyone would have imagined it was even possible.

But what I would have guessed was possible, and what has been most striking about the matter, is the amount and magnitude of the bad arguments being employed to justify a vote for Cabrera. Let’s just be clear: there’s no good argument in Cabrera’s favor, which is why the arguments that are being made ultimately come down to RBI and the postseason. The simple fact of the matter is that, while new ways of thinking are making progress even within the BBWAA, the segment of the organization that votes on awards still tends to slightly older/more experienced, and there’s at least still a traditionalist impulse in most of the voters. The people who are voting for Cabrera are doing so because he won the triple crown, full stop, because the impulse to do so based on the supposed historical significance of the accomplishment is too strong to ignore. But they’re faced with the dilemma of Trout, a phenom who wasn’t much worse offensively than Cabrera, but was clearly a vastly superior player in every other aspect of the game. Oh, and his team won more games than Cabrera’s. Anyone coming into this question with an open mind would be voting for Trout, but the Cabrera supporters have already decided that Triple Crown=MVP. And so we get a plethora of terrible arguments to rationalize it, as is always the case when someone tries to justify a decision they’re making for reasons of illogical personal preference.

In the broader sense, this rank illogic is why I’ve lost all appetite for even bothering with anti-sabermetrics arguments anymore. On the one hand, their own internal inconsistency makes it clear that there’s a deeper matter of ideology/zealotry at play in their positions. After all, he can blast sabermetrics types until he’s blu in the face, but it’s Murray Chass, not Dave Cameron, who argued that one statistic (pitcher wins) made Felix Hernandez ineligible for the Cy Young Award back in 2010, and that leading the league in three arbitrary statistics means that it will be a crime against the foundation of the game if Miguel Cabrera doesn’t win the MVP this year (never mind that no less an all-time great as Ted Williams won the triple crown without winning the MVP award. More than once). That’s because logic and reasoning are beside the point here: the point is railing against a change in the way we understand and talk about baseball, because the change makes the individual uncomfortable or challenges their own authority.

The thing is: these illogical, dogmatic standards only hold up so long as no one’s challenging them. Because once they’re challenged, people start thinking about them. And once people start thinking about them, they start rejecting them clearly because they so clearly lack any logical foundation. That’s true of younger people being exposed to the arguments for the first time, but it’s also true of older writers/voters, most of whom are genuinely intellectually curious, and are coming around to rejecting the old nonsense, if slowly. Felix Hernandez did win the Cy Young Award in 2010, after all. A triple crown winner might be too much for those voters to resist, right now, but that’s of no matter in the long run. In the long run the argument will continue to get away from the reactionaries, and they’ll become even more incoherent as they fade into deeper obscurity. And while Miguel Cabrera might win the MVP award this evening, before too long that victory will be viewed most notably for the fact that the voters somehow snubbed Trout after he had one of the best single season performances in a generation.

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.

36 thoughts on “Bad arguments, postseason awards, and reactionary impulses

  1. thecutoffman

    Great stuff Brien. I completely and totally agree. I think there is another part to this too. I think a lot of people are getting hung up on the fact that Trout is just a rookie, whereas Cabrera is an established superstar hitter with a long pedigree of success. That shouldn't factor into this race in anyway, but I have a feeling that people are letting that thought trickle into their minds. Some worse than others.

  2. Dave

    They should let the players decide who the MVP of their league is.

    • David

      All of the players apparently thought Cabrera was the MVP, according to Kirkjian via interview last night. He said all baseball execs said "Trout" and all players "Cabrera" of the people he spoke to.

  3. brian

    not rocket science…

    it's all about the word "valuable"

    Without Cabrera.. no way do the Tigers make the playoffs… a great performance lifted his TEAM into contention for a world series title, thats true value

    Trout had a more "outstanding" season, but was it truly more "valuable"??? idk

    There is a solid case either way, you can vote for Trout or Cabrera without having to apologize or being "wrong"

    • BrienJackson

      You should read the Cameron article for the reasons this makes no logical sense (namely. the same can be said of a half dozen other players on the Tigers' team, plus at least two or three players on every other playoff team), but I'd also note that even in the most favorable terms this is wrong. The single biggest factor in the Tigers winning the division was the White Sox finishing the season 4-11 to turn a 3 game division lead into a 3 game deficit at the end of the season. None of those 15 games were played against Detroit (and 5 of the losses were to the Indians and Royals, fwiw), so Cabrera had absolutely nothing to do with that. Quite literally, all the White Sox had to do was finish 8-7 in that stretch and the Tigers would be going down as one of the most disappointing teams in recent memory and we sat around listening to Cabrera's supporters tell us how inning a triple crown transcends the need to make the playoffs when it comes to winning the MVP.

      • brian

        everyone's entitled to their own opinion

        i disagree with this sentiment, I think that this is one of those years where trout had the "best" season but Cabrera had the "most valuable" season

        Most years, yes, the best players IS the most valuable player… i don't believe this is one of those years, and apparently, so do a lot of other smart people

        • BrienJackson

          What sentiment? That if the White Sox had gone 8-7 instead of 4-11 in the last 15 games that the Tigers wouldn't have made the playoffs?

    • The Fallen Phoenix

      Without Verlander, no way do the Tigers make the playoffs. Why isn't he their MVP? How about Prince Fielder? Why isn't he the Tigers' MVP?

      • BrienJackson

        Plus, shouldn't this actually work in Trout's favor, since there's a pretty strong argument to be made that starting him out in Triple-A did, in fact, cost the Angels a playoff spot?

  4. aaron

    to make an argument that miguel cabrera is better in a quantified way, you need to throw out quantified defense. i dont find that difficult to do, because i am not a fan at all of defensive stats. they vary wildly from year to year, and they often directly conflict the eye test. no one will argue that trout was a better fielder, but i dont trust the metrics to say how much. also, if we are throwing out RBI (which we should) doesnt runs scored get taken down a peg as well? doesnt trout benefit from having pujols behind him just like cabrera benefits from austin jackson in front of him? that being said, miguel cabrera has either a push in the numbers, or a total advantage in every offensive stat outside of SB. thats enough to give him the title for me.

    • BrienJackson

      1. Who thinks runs scored is a useful metric?

      2. You don't need advanced defensive numbers to see that Trout is a vastly superior defender to Cabrera. You don't need to throw out "quantified defense" to make an argument for Cabrera, you have to throw defense *entirely* out of the picture.

      3. Your last sentence doesn't make sense: Cabrera isn't a vastly superior hitter to Trout, but Trout is a far better baserunner (and defender!)…so we'll give the award to Cabrera.

      • aaron

        without defensive statistics we cant quantify defense. i do think that mike trout is a better defender, but i cant say how much that defense outweighs cabrera's better numbers in the offensive side of the ball.

        cabera has one less walk, high BA, higher OBP, higher OPS, higher slugging, less strikeouts, one fewer walk, almost 50% more HRs, much more doubles, more hits, more total bases, mire ISO, according to BR, more adjusted more WPA+, batted runs and thus wins. one less walk. the only category that trout wins is runs ans SB.

        some of those stats i dont even like that much, but they all show cabera as the better offensive player.

        • BrienJackson

          'without defensive statistics we cant quantify defense. i do think that mike trout is a better defender, but i cant say how much that defense outweighs cabrera's better numbers in the offensive side of the ball. '

          1. Oh for crying out loud, you have to be kidding right? The difference was astronomical, let's not be dense here.

          2. And, unfortunately, the second part of that is factually incorrect. Trout and Miggy were basically equal offensive players this year, with matching 166's in wRC+.

          • aaron

            does that not show a flaw in wRC+? if miguel cabrera has either a huge advantage or close to identical stats, why is are they equal in wRC+? i gave 17 stats that show miguel cabrera is the better offensive player. you have one. my stats are more empirical as well.

          • BrienJackson

            Because wRC+ factors in SB and GIDP (Cabrera hit into, what, 21 of those?), making it a more complete measure of offense.

          • aaron

            if those two alone are enough to negate all his other advantages i maintain that something is flawed. i dont agree with how each stat is weighed. i will however concede GIDP, i hadnt thought of that.

          • BrienJackson

            So let me get this straight: the difference in hitting between the two is such that Trout had a higher OBP than Cabrera, but Trout couldn't possibly be equal to Cabrera once you factor in 48 steals at a 90% success rate and almost two dozen double plays Cabrera hit into? I'm pretty sure you haven't really thought this through.

      • XIAYA

        Your condescending attitude is what needs an adjustment…opinions are just that.

  5. forged

    Isn't this why IIATMS has it's own season-awards to look at the season accomplishments in a more statistics-oriented light than whatever BBWAA decides upon?

    • BrienJackson

      Well, no, we have out own postseason awards to fill space in the off days before the playoffs start. :)

  6. srosegots

    I can't believe writers voted for Ibanez higher than Cano. What is wrong with people?

    • He’s in Michigan. That explains at least 99% of it.

    • thecutoffman

      I don't know if that's better or worse than the guy from Colorado who gave a 2nd place vote to Craig Kimbrel over Yadi Molina, Andrew McCutchen, and Ryan Braun. Either way both writers should immediately be stripped of their voting privileges. If you aren't going to take them seriously then you shouldn't get a vote.

  7. D Miller

    Overstatement much?

    "There's no good argument in Cabrera's favor." What a ridiculous statement.

    He had a compelling, MVP-worthy season. Trout would also have been a worthy reciipient, but to act as if logic and argument belongs to you alone on this issue is stupidly arrogant.

    Unfortunately, the baseball world doesn't run on your self-described unassailable and devastating logic. Other people have thoughts which (shamefully, I guess) disagree with yours. They vote and the winner gets the prize.

    I suppose that we should choose the MVP one of two ways. Either we could just let the sabermetricians decide – they could devise a formula and whoever gets the highest WAR or whatever they will call it wins.

    Or, perhaps we ought to simply cede to your superior intelligence and do the smart thing – we could just let you anoint the MVP from now on.

    • BrienJackson

      "There's no good argument in Cabrera's favor." What a ridiculous statement."

      Then why did you spend all of those words not making one?

      • XIAYA

        …there is that condescending attitude again…get the point, it's not about you it's the issue!!!

        • Condescension seemed like the right approach given the combination of indignation, evasion, and insults in the responded to comment. Though I guess I should not that *you* didn’t point to any actual good arguments that were made either, so I guess I should just assume you’re conceding the point on the merits and are just upset I’m not part of the “aw shucks Miggy is a deserving candidate too” brigade?

          • XIAYA

            …whether I am for or against any of your points or those responder's points is not the issue. The fact that you can't see it or must argue a point without condescension and belittling your "fans" shows how shallow you are as a writer. Criticism must really hurt you; bad trait for someone writing in public unless to are trying to get readership and responses up for the wrong reasons. You are only showing your naivety and immaturity. Some day when/if you grow up you will hopefully learn to debate like a real person, not like the political clowns you watched recently on TV. Continued…

          • XIAYA

            …continued…
            But then again, what do I know? As a mere teenager and relatively new to baseball blogs perhaps you should respond to this issue, your disdain for civility, and issue your witty responses…you will show people how really, really smart you are like say…a certain short writer on the Post with glasses. Me, I would love you to prove me right and write a response cuting me up, slicing up my grammar or typos as you like to do to people ( oh yeah, you have one in your article) or just deploring my understanding of the baseball business and how people who are not in it and never could play well enough to play in it feel they are the only ones smart enough, enlightened enough or "in" to stats enough to decipher it and spoon feed it to the rest of us!

            Your turn big man, Mr. Big Time Writer, cut me up, make my argument, go ahead…

            PS Did you go back and find your typo…

          • BrienJackson

            There's nothing I enjoy more in a "critic" than projection. Truly a delightful thing. Also, typos? Really? I'm pretty sure I've never used typos to denigrate a point/counterpoint because a) everyone usually gets the idea so there's no real time making yourself look petty and b) I do realize that I, as a rather terrible self-editor, am prone to making them.

          • XIAYA

            …typos? Really? I've seen you fall that low on several occasions…really?…unfortunately THEY do get the idea when they read you, I stopped but read this by accident, I was looking for Mr. Tasker or Mr. Rosenberg…it was great when you were out for a while. real content, real thought, real discussion from Mr. Tasker! Try to take a leason from him and try civility and inteligence with a sign of professional, emotional understanding…nah, don't bother, continue being a DICK, you probably enjoy it!

          • XIAYA

            …one last thing PRO, your check mark thing doesn't work!

    • Hugh

      I think one could reasonably suggest to Brien that his tone here has a stridency that does not help his case. I don't think the snarky reply you offered does the trick terribly effectively.

      • XIAYA

        …how about that Hugh?

        • Hugh

          Not much of an improvement on D Miller, I fear.

  8. Keep up the argument, guys. It's only 3 months until pitchers and catchers report.

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