If I had an MVP Vote…
Allow me to start by providing my definition of the most ambiguous award in baseball. For a long time, I was convinced that in order to provide value to a team, the team had to have been in a race for the postseason, playing “meaningful” baseball down the stretch. I am now sure more than ever that this is absolutely wrong. On the other hand, if two players produced similarly in a given year and one player was in a pennant race while the other was not, I would certainly vote for the player who played for the better team. I believe that there definitely is an added element of pressure while chasing a postseason berth that deserves to be lauded.
My 2012 American League MVP is the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout. Here’s why…
From a traditional standpoint: Miguel Cabrera is going to win the Triple Crown in the American League. That means that he will lead his league in batting average (.331), home runs (44), and runs batted in (139). That is incredible. Where does Mike Trout rank in the AL RBI leaderboard? 22nd. Home runs? 13th. Up until about 10 years ago, Miguel Cabrera would have won the MVP unanimously.
From a sabermetric standpoint: Traditional numbers just don’t tell the whole story, though. In fact, if we judge solely on batting average, home runs, and runs batted in, we would be missing a whole lot of the story.
First of all, let’s start with the very basics.
Cabrera: .331 AVG, .394 OBP, .608 SLG
Trout: .324 AVG, .397 OBP, .561 SLG
Cabrera’s slugging percentage is significantly higher than Trout’s. The other two statistics are pretty much the same. However, Cabrera plays 81 games a year at Comerica Park, which has a much higher run scoring environment than Angels Stadium of Anaheim. And while Comerica Park is ranked right in the middle in terms of home runs, Trout’s home park is ranked 25th. In other words, it is harder to hit home runs at Angel Stadium than it is at Comerica.
Let’s take a look at some home/away splits for both candidates:
Home: .332 AVG, .403 OBP, .692 SLG
Away: .329 AVG, .386 OBP, .532 SLG
Home: .318 AVG, .390 OBP, .586 SLG
Away: .329 AVG, .403 OBP, .539 SLG
Both players saw a drop in their power away from their home parks. Clearly, though, playing at Comerica Park aided Cabrera’s home run total.
Now let’s explore the large discrepancy in RBI totals. Cabrera usually bats third in the Tigers’ lineup. Trout bats leadoff. This would have a much larger impact in the National League, where the pitcher literally turns the lineup over. Still, Trout only stepped up to the plate with men on base in 212 of his 635 plate appearances. Cabrera hit with men on base 333 times in 695 total appearances. Nearly half of Cabrera’s plate appearances occurred with men on base. 139 RBIs is a very impressive amount, but I would argue that Trout’s 83 RBIs as a leadoff hitter is just as impressive.
Now, for the pièce de résistance. The one acronym that has had the mainstream media up in arms, talking about how confusing it is, invalidating it because there is not one simple formula: WAR. Wins Above Replacement. The summary statistic that attempts to measure how many “wins” a player contributed to his team over the theoretical replacement level player.
Here’s what I know: if any statistic was able to measure performance with 100 percent predictive accuracy, there would be no point in playing the game of baseball. The games would be played on paper. What I also know is that WAR does a better job of predicting results than other measures, such as batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Therefore, it must have some validity.
2012 American League WAR Leaders (for position players):
- Mike Trout, 10.3
- Miguel Cabrera, 7.3
- Robinson Cano, 7.3
Theoretical or not, that’s a big difference in wins. In case you’re worried about there being multiple formulas for WAR, fear not: Baseball-Reference has Trout at 10.7. That mark would tie him for 20th all-time for single season production. Every single player ahead of Trout on that list is a Hall of Famer, except Barry Bonds, who will be. You have to go down to 35th to find a non-Hall of Famer, in this case, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa, both of whom will be. In other words, the season Trout is having is not just impressive. It’s historically one of the best seasons ever. How many other 20-year olds posted at least 10 WAR in a single season? Zero. How about rookies? Again, zero.
The large difference between Trout and Cabrera in WAR comes from two things: defense and baserunning. Cabrera moved from first base to third base last offseason to make room for Prince Fielder and has played rather poorly there. Trout, on the other hand, excels in center field. The total difference between the two is 13.3 UZR + 6.8 baserunning for Trout – -9.2 UZR + -2.3 baserunning for Cabrera, or a total of 31.6 runs, or approximately 3 wins.
In summary, Miguel Cabrera was not superior offensively to Mike Trout, plus Trout played far better defense and produced more on the base paths. Is there really any question who the 2012 AL MVP is?
NL MVP vote to come soon.