There is an American League MVP debate currently raging out there. And it’s exhausting. There are two major favorites for the award and two popular stances to take. Everyone is digging in their heels and trying to scream longer and louder than the other side. I used to sort of enjoy this kind of clusterF baseball argument, but like most men, I have grown older and my blood has cooled, my patience has lessened and my soul has become tired. And really, I can hardly fathom how this is even a debate.
Mike Trout. Miguel Cabrera. These are the two candidates. Both are very deserving and both are very good at baseball. Like, so good at baseball. Imagine how much better at baseball these two players are than the average person. So much better. It’s hilarious. However, one of them has been better than the other. Sometimes, at the end of the season, two or three or even four players will be so close in value and statistics that’s it’s super hard to determine who is the deserving winner of the MVP. Case in point: the National League this year. This year, in the American League, this isn’t the case. No, really, I promise. I’m going to try and prove it to you now.
There’s bWAR and fWAR and WARP and who the hell knows what else out there. All of them, and I mean all of them, side with Mike Trout as the unquestionably superior player. I have half a mind to just end the article here, because no matter your stance on these WAR statistics, no matter how much you believe in guts and heart and leadership and warm, fuzzy feelings, I don’t understand how you can look at these measures as a whole, measures who have been honed and crafted for years and years by some of the very smartest baseball minds of our era, see that these measures unanimously believe Mike Trout to be the vastly superior player, and still completely dismiss it because of Miguel Cabrera’s RBIs. I suppose you could, if you want (it’s a free country!), but that strikes me as silly.
However, just for fun, let’s say that WAR is garbage. Let’s just say that Miguel Cabrera is going to win the Triple Crown and he’s the best hitter in the league and who cares about silly defense (I don’t know why any one would think this makes sense but we’re pretending here) Miguel Cabrera is a tater masher of epic proportions and let’s give him the MVP already that Trout kid is young and hasn’t paid his dues he’ll have his time, by God. Let’s just say all of that—in one long breath with our voices straining near the end of the sentence. Then, let’s look at some numbers (all numbers as of Wednesday, before any baseball games were played) :
Mike Trout OPS: .954
Miguel Cabrera OPS: 1.008
Mike Trout wOBA: .420
Miguel Cabrera wOBA: .420
Mike Trout: OPS+: 168
Miguel Cabrera OPS+: 169
Mike Trout: wRC+: 174
Miguel Cabrera wRC+: 169
What the hell happened there? Cabrera started out so strong, just dominating in OPS, and then those other numbers showed up and all of a sudden the two were even. And even one time Trout beat Cabrera. How can this possibly be? Well, put simply, we started to take home parks and stolen bases into account. The stats with the (+) do the park adjusting, and the stats with the (w) do the stolen bases math. wRC+ does both. It turns out that Comerica Park is an easier place to hit than the Angel Stadium of Anaheim (that’s what they call where the Angels play?!), and it’s been an easier place to hit in 2012 by a considerable margin. There’s also the fact that Trout has stolen 42 more bases than Cabrera and he’s been very efficient while doing so. That’s how the gap in offensive value closes really fast. OPS doesn’t tell the whole story. It gets pretty close, but there are more throughout methods that can illuminate a bit more.
And yeah, sure, I’m being a bit disingenuous by using rate stats over counting stats. This sort of mischief is contagious, it seems. Cabrera has played 21 more games than Trout, and those games have value and should not be ignored. But remember, we’ve only been talking about offense here, and we’ve only just started to give credit for stolen bases. We haven’t even begun to scratch into Trout’s superiority in general base running— going first-to-third and second-to-home and whatnot— and we’ve completely ignored defense, an aspect that makes up half the game and one in which Trout is inarguably superior to Cabrera. By like a whole lot.
So I think we’ve managed to support our admittedly inflammatory blog post title. It feels good, sort of. I look forward to never writing about the MVP award again (fingers crossed!). And after taking all of the above into consideration, I have concluded that in order for someone to conclude that anyone other than Mike Trout is the American League MVP would take some concluding gymnastics far and beyond the scope of anything I could ever dream of concluding. So there’s that.