What's annoying is that WAR doesn't even need to be in the conversation to advocate Trout, yet this whole debate has turned into a WAR vs. anti-WAR thing.
What's also annoying is that those who advocate WAR eat, breathe and sleep baseball and have worked for years to try to quantify parts of the game that aren't easy to put into numbers, yet these national writers who just picked up their pens a week ago want to argue that Triple Crown = MVP.
Things I won't debate:
1. The game of baseball revolves around more than hitting the ball, believe it or not.
2. The Angels would have made the playoffs if they were in the AL Central. It's that simple. Take Detroit's 18 games against Cleveland and split them between NYY, BAL and TB and I'm guaranteeing you they are the ones making the tee time.
3. The Triple Crown has been achieved 18 times now. Trout's pertinent counting stats (leadoff hitter) have never been achieved. I would say getting the Triple Crown now is a bigger achievement than it would have been before; I'd be lying not to give him that.
4. Trout is at worst the second best CF in baseball this season:
Baseball Info Solutions computes plus-minus ratings for outfielders based on their ability to get to the balls hit to all different parts of the field. There is a rating for shallow flies, for medium-range flies and for deep flies. A fielder is rewarded if he makes a play on a ball hit to a spot in which others usually don’t.
Trout rates as an average center fielder on shallow flies. But he excels in medium-range flies and deep flies.
Trout’s reward on medium-depth and deep balls is a big one; he’s a plus-33, meaning he’s 33 “bases” better than the average center fielder. That’s the best in the majors. The next-best outfielder, Denard Span, rates seven bases behind him.
5. Remember when Detroit was down 3 games a couple weeks ago? Remember that seven game stretch that gave them the 3 game lead? Cabrera was 5-26 with 1 HR/3 RBI. Isn't that when his team needed him the most? If you argue his hot September put them in that position, you're walking on ice because the counterargument for Trout can easily be made given his May/June/July production keeping LA from completely tanking. Even if you give Cab brownie points for September production, it's not a huge + in his direction, especially considering Trout still had a higher OBP in September than Cabrera did.
One of the byproducts of the heated debate that's unfolded over this year's AL MVP is the validity of Wins Above Replacement. If you want a detailed discussion of what WAR is and what its strengths and flaws are, read this or this. We will not be using WAR to explain why Mike Trout is the American League's most valuable player.
Let's start with Trout's hitting. Miguel Cabrera has been lauded for his terrific offensive season, and rightfully so. Heading into Tuesday's games, Cabrera led the league with a .331 batting average, ranked fourth with a .394 on-base percentage, and led the league by slugging .608. Thing is, Trout's raw hitting numbers aren't far off Cabrera's. His .324 batting average trails only Cabrera. His .397 OBP places him third in the league, just ahead of Cabrera. And his .561 slugging average trails only Cabrera and Josh Hamilton.
Baseball isn't basketball, though; the dimensions of every field differ, and weather conditions can also play a significant role in either helping or suppressing offense. Using ESPN's park factors, whether for 2012 alone or factoring in 2010 and 2011 results to produce a three-year comparison, we can see that Comerica Park gives hitters a moderate boost. Angel Stadium, on the other hand, has ranked as the fourth-worst park for hitters in each of the past three years. If we want to even out those differences in park effects, there are stats that do that. One such stat is called OPS+. OPS, as you probably know, is the sum of on-base percentage and slugging average. It's an imperfect metric in that it assumes equal value for OBP and slugging, when in fact getting on base (and not making outs) has been shown to be a more useful skill for creating runs. Thus using OPS, or OPS+, which takes that stat and adjusts for park and league effects, should favor Cabrera, the better slugger, over Trout, the slightly better on-base guy.
Trout leads the AL with a 169 OPS+. Cabrera ranks second at 167. If you'd prefer to use a stat that places more appropriate value on OBP vs. slugging (but does not adjust for park differences, which should favor Cabrera), we can use Weighted On Base Average (wOBA). Through Monday, Trout led the AL with a .421 wOBA; Cabrera was second at .417. (Trout also leads Cabrera in Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), a stat that more accurately weights OBP vs. slugging and adjusts for park and league effects. But it also includes stolen bases and caught-stealing totals, and we want to focus on hitting only for now.) In other words, on a per-at-bat basis, you could argue that Trout has been a better hitter this season than Cabrera.
This isn't meant to diminish Cabrera's own excellent season. The Angels waited nearly a month to call up Trout from the minors, allowing Cabrera to play 22 more games than the Angels center fielder. Which means that Cabrera's bat has been worth more to the Tigers, overall, than Trout's has to the Halos. The idea here is merely to remind you that Trout has been a terrific hitter this year in his own right, at the very least in the same ballpark as Cabrera.
And Trout absolutely annihilates Cabrera with his legs and his glove.
Trout leads the league with 49 stolen bases, to Cabrera's four. Stolen bases have fallen out of favor over the past 20 years, understandably so given the simultaneous rise in power numbers. But a player who steals a lot of bases and rarely gets caught can still be a valuable asset to his team. While swiping 49 bags, Trout has been caught only four times, for a success rate of 92 percent. To put that in perspective, the breakeven rate for a player to steal bases without hurting his team by making too many outs is a little over 70 percent. Using FanGraphs' Base Running Runs stat, we see that Trout leads all of baseball by a wide margin, having produced nearly seven runs of value for the Angels just by virtue of his taking extra bases in non-steal situations. If we combine Trout's base-stealing prowess with those extra bases in non-steal spots, he's been worth nearly 10 runs to his team. (By comparison, Cabrera has cost his team at least two runs with his legs, depending on the metric you use.) Put another way, Trout wins one game for the Angels this year on aggregate just with his legs — before we get to his bat or his glove.
That glove has been phenomenal by any measure. If you want to use UZR, Trout's saved more than 13 runs this season, placing him sixth among all AL players, despite Trout spending most of April in the minors. If you prefer Baseball-Reference.com metrics, Trout's 22 Defensive Runs Saved also rank among baseball's super-elite. Read this post from ESPN Stats & Info if you want a more detailed look at how Trout saves so many runs in the outfield. (If you want to turn off your analysis switch for a second, feel free to view any of Trout's four home-run robberies this season, including this all-timer off J.J. Hardy.) You can call Cabrera selfless or noble or anything else for moving to third base when Prince Fielder signed. But the bottom line is that he's cost his team more than nine runs (nearly one full win) by UZR, and four by DRS.
Add it all up and, without the benefit of WAR or any other catchall stat, Trout comes out well ahead.
Before we move on to the other awards, a few "But What About?!" questions:
But what about the first Triple Crown in 45 years?
Great accomplishment. But the award recognizes the most valuable player, not the most valuable hitter, and Trout's vastly superior baserunning and defense trumps Cabrera's moderate offensive advantage. Moreover, the Triple Crown only looks at three measures of offense, one of them highly team-dependent (runs batted in). It tells us nothing about Cabrera's walks, singles, doubles, triples, steals, times grounding into double plays, or any number of other stats. Yelling "Triple Crown!" and dropping a metaphorical mic is not a cogent argument.
But what about Cabrera going off in September, while Trout cooled down?
One win counts for one win in April, May, June, July, August, or September. But if you want to try to ascribe higher leverage to September at-bats the way you would ninth-inning at-bats in tie games, sure, go ahead.
But what about Cabrera leading his team to the playoffs, while Trout led his team to the golf course?
Leaving aside the Angels' superior record in a much tougher division, the teammates your general manager picks for you should have no bearing on a player's value. Trout did more this year to help his team win than did Cabrera (or anyone else, including Robinson Cano, who's had a hell of a year and could be argued to have produced about as much value as Cabrera, maybe even a little more) and Adrian Beltre (another candidate with value comparable to Cabrera's who's not coming up in the main Trout vs. Cabrera debate). He is therefore the league's most valuable player.
Last edited by bigh0rt on Thu Oct 04, 2012 11:21 am, edited 2 times in total.
Another article, this one from Fangraphs. Looks at Run Scoring Probabity, RE24. Although Trout also leads the league in both flavours of Win Probability; WPA and context neutral WPA/LI. All three of those only take offense into account. All three, Trout is the league leader and Miggy is not even close.
SpecialFNK wrote:maybe I should have been more clear with what I meant. I meant the categories that include the triple crown. leading in HR and RBI are not as impressive as they used to be. Jose Bautista lead the league in HR in each of the last 2 seasons (along with being close in RBI), but he didn't win the MVP. last year he lost the award to a pitcher. HR are nice, and RBI depend on other teammates to get on base to drive in. Cabrera wouldn't have as many RBI if the players in front of him didn't get on base as often.
Bautista didn't have the average to go with it. There's a reason why the TC is hard to attain, you need to be a complete hitter. The Triple Crown is not a relic of the game, it's a very difficult achievement and only a great hitter could contend for it. A little luck comes into play as well, since Cabrera had normal Cabrera stats and didn't have a 50+ home run power hitter to contend with. Anyway, it just happens that a great hitter got it this year, but another great hitter just had a better season. I just don't understand why we're trying to diminish the worth of what Cabrera did. The TC is as relevant as it was in '67 and I don't think there's an argument that Cabrera was easily the 2nd best player in the league which at least puts him in a debate of whether he deserves MVP. He'll probably win it too, seeing what sportswriters are saying over the past couple days. That's the wrong choice, but it would be a shame to lessen what he achieved because the voters got it wrong.
Miguel Cabrera: 12th player since 1900 to win the triple crown. Epic.
Trout fans: Major deflated mancrush boner. No playoffs. Most likely no MVP award.
Other baseball superstars, lacking major deflated mancrush boner, actually see what just happened:
"Come on, it's the Triple Crown," said Hamilton, who finished second to Cabrera in homers and RBIs. "It hasn't been done in how many years? If he doesn't win Most Valuable Player, I'm going to have to quit baseball. Mike Trout -- Rookie of the Year. Cabrera -- Most Valuable Player. Just how infrequently it happens tells you the value of it. I'm excited about it. It's good for the game, it's good for Miguel, it's good for the Tigers, it's good for baseball, period."
"He's the MVP, dude, and I know I'm biased, because he's my favorite player," Kemp said. "It's just amazing what he can do. Believe it or not, I think he's underrated. I mean, people see the numbers, but the players know how hard it is to do what he can do. One of the best hitters ever."
"That's what happens when you have somebody like Prince Fielder backing you up," McCutchen said of Cabrera's protection in the order. "But on top of that, he's been doing it his entire career, people just haven't noticed. [He's] been one of the most consistent hitters in his career. His power numbers, RBIs, average are always there. He's just the type of player that can spark a lineup, and he's done it every single year and is finally starting to get some credit for it."
"He's the best in the world right now," Konerko said. "There's no question about that."
"When he's at the plate, he can do anything," Trout said. "I mean, he's the best hitter in the game, I think. His approach, the way he battles with two strikes. You leave one pitch over the plate, he's going to hit it. He had an unbelievable year."
Congratulations to Miguel Cabrera on becoming the 17th player to win the triple crown in baseball history, the 12th since RBI was officially counted as a stat, and the first Latin-born player to win.