I’m relatively new to Twitter and thus far have been mostly lurking as opposed to getting involved in the multitude of compelling conversations that occur on a daily and nightly basis. The most debated topic amongst the colleagues I follow is Mike Trout versus Miguel Cabrera for American League Most Valuable Player.
It really is a rather interesting conundrum and really brings to light old-school versus new-age analysis. Embellishing the issue is the injury to Josh Hamilton has added the qualifier “Triple Crown winner” Cabrera to the conversation. There are many that are using that as the “out”, saying the race is too close to call hence awarding it to Miggy based on his likely historical accomplishment, potentially joining Nap Lajoie, Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams (twice), Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski as the only hitters to lead the Junior Circuit in batting average, homers and RBI in the same season. Further fueling the intrigue is Trout is doing what he’s doing at an age where he has been able to legally purchase alcohol for about a month and a half.
I, like most of the Twitter brethren I follow, agree that neither of these factors should influence the voting. Back when reporters shared a train ride to the next city with ballplayers I can understand how the Triple Crown could be considered such an outstanding accomplishment. Fortunately, we now comprehend that getting on base is more important than getting a hit and knocking in teammates is largely a team dependent stat, influenced somewhat by the randomness of the player’s batting average with runners in scoring position. With respect the youthfulness of the Angels’ phenom, who cares how young (or old) the player is, what matters is how he played.
My theoretical vote would go to Trout, but not without some feeling of contradiction. Long story short is if you judge using the newfangled stats that are designed to quantify performance and convert then to a metric that measures the impact on team wins, the Angels’ fly-chaser outpoints the Tigers’ hot cornerman, and it isn’t all that close. The contributions at the dish alone are quite even with a viable argument possible each way, though most will give Trout the edge. But when you add in what Trout does on the base paths and in center field as compared to what Cabrera does at third base sways the pendulum firmly to rookie’s side.
Cutting to the chase, Trout blows away Cabrera in WAR (wins above replacement). In fact, Trout blows away the field. Presently, Trout contributes 9.5 more wins than that of a replacement level player while Cabrera checks in at 6.9. This difference is huge and cannot be ignored. If you take Trout’s performance and correlate that to how much he contributes to a team winning, a lineup full of Mike Trout’s would destroy a lineup full of any other player.
But here is where I have some reservation. I’ll save this topic for another day, but while I understand the principle of WAR and agree with it philosophically, I am not in complete agreement with the manner the number is generated. Not to mention, there are variants of WAR meaning there are multiple algorithms used to come up with the quantification. Still, even though I may not be willing to crack my gavel and contend Trout is worth exactly 2.6 more wins than Cabrera, I am confident he is worth MORE wins, hence is deserved of the MVP.
That said, I have even more of a problem with what I consider a bit of uneven analysis. The stats used to determine WAR are the actual production of the player – it is what has happened. But yet, when the same pundits discuss a pitcher related award such as Cy Young, there is distinct mention of how much fate goes into the hurler’s performance. The luck involved with BABIP, HR/FB and LOB% are brought to the forefront and we are instructed to focus primarily on the skill and to largely ignore the outcome. Why don’t we do the same for hitters? To wit, Trout is sporting a BABIP most will contend will drop next season, yet are willing to give him credit, and include the “lucky hits” when computing WAR and the like. They don’t make an adjustment for the additional stolen base opportunities or chances to take the extra base afforded by these “extra” times on base. In addition, most will suggest his HR total will drop next season as his extremely high HR/FB is not repeatable, yet no adjustment is made for the bloated 2012 total.
Truth be told, I don’t actually think an adjustment should be made. This is not the SABR MVP, but an award meant to appeal to the mainstream audience. I’m perfectly happy with talking about what he has done and leaving the regression talk for the spring when the focus is on rankings.
Which segues into my next point and that is Trout has become the poster boy for a variety of causes trying to make their point. His performance is such an anomaly that he can be used as Exhibit A for so many agendas, some of which are contradictory, but that’s the nature of stats. Those that want to dispel the notion of the Triple Crown stats being the most relevant bang the Trout drum, saying Cabrera does not even belong in the MVP discussion. Those fantasy pundits that want to delineate player skill from player performance will surely take the stance that Trout will be overrated next spring, making their point by refusing to make him first round draft-worthy in their rankings. Hyperbole is running more rampant than Trout himself when he reaches base.
The final point I want to make is think of Jacoby Ellsbury and what was being said of him in terms of fantasy analysis this past spring (realizing the injury factor cannot be ignored). While some were putting him in their top-five, more were reticent to adamant he did not belong there. Some cited the riskiness of repeated performance while others went more game theory and allowed for some level of power but preached do not overpay for his steals, since you can get them later in the draft. Some even cited the position scarcity argument.
Now that you have all the negative Ellsbury images in your head, check this out:
I'm just sayin'...