Many believe that Mike Trout is a dead lock for the AL MVP. I don’t think so.
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Sep 19, 2012 – Last month, I took Keith Law to task for leaving Miguel Cabrera off his Top 5 MVP list. I conceded then that if the voting occurred at that time, and I had a vote, I’d probably punch a chad for Mike Trout. Notwithstanding, Cabrera absolutely deserved a Top 5 mention and I actually hadn’t put a whole lot of thought into this.
Now, I think Cabrera deserves serious consideration to be No. 1 on that list.
Look, I know it’s easy to be biased when it’s one of my favorite players and I get the luxury of watching that player do remarkable things every night, year after year, for my favorite team, but I do want the most valuable player to win the MVP, and if my player is undeserving, then I’ll happily admit as much.
I’m just not ready to do that because I don’t think it’s as open-and-shut of a case as many. are. making it. out. to be. And I HATE HATE HATE when people say things like, “there’s no AL MVP discussion this year.” Look, people are writing about it, so we’re having it. There’s going to be a vote. I’m not convinced that Trout should be MVP and I’m not convinced Miguel Cabrera should be MVP, so I’d appreciate having this discussion. To state otherwise is boring and condescending.
Bill at The Platoon Advantage makes a great stats-centric argument for Trout, but therein undermines it by also asking readers to consider their intuition and to cross check some of the numbers with “what [these players] look like.” Are we going strictly (advanced) stats here or can we consider eye balls, too? Because Cabrera doesn’t “look” like a below average 3B and certainly doesn’t look as bad as everyone said he’d be because he was really bad 4-5 years ago. Cabrera also doesn’t “look” like a bad base runner — coaches and scouts will actually tell you that he’s an exceptionally smart base runner and, although being a speedster in his own mind has got him in trouble at times, he’s made more quality decisions on the base paths than not. I know this from having watched just about every inning of every Tigers game this season.
And because I’m an unrelenting fan, and I like a healthy mix of the stats and what I see, I think I can reasonably question the defensive metrics that are swinging a lot of the votes in Trout’s favor. I mean, just look at how different the numbers are across the board:
The metrics disagree on how bad [Cabrera is] — BP says -3.4 runs, Baseball Reference -4, FanGraphs -9.4. They similarly agree that Trout has been phenomenal in the outfield, and disagree wildly on how much: BP +4.6, B-Ref +25(!), FG +13. Cabrera then gets a run and a half back, somewhat surprisingly, because CF and 3B are viewed as of equal importance, and Trout has spent more time at the less important LF than Cabrera has at the much less important DH and 1B. Taking the averages of the fielding metrics, because why not, Cabrera has cost his team 5.6 runs, Trout has given his 14.2. Even with the positional adjustment, that’s an 18.3-run advantage for Trout.
Is Trout +4.6 or +25? That’s a vast discrepancy and averaging them doesn’t make me feel any better about its validity. FanGraphs tells me Jhonny Peralta is a Top 10 SS! Hah! That can’t be true. That stats don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense at times, either. For instance, Miguel Cabrera made a diving play the other night that saved two runs. Cabrera’s DRS somehow got worse as did his UZR. It’s been something I’ve been following pretty closely this year due to the preseason doom reports and I can’t say that Cabrera has cost his defense anymore runs than he has saved.
In calculating each player’s defensive value, Bill italicized “back” like giving Cabrera an extra run and a half on defense is “surprisingly” wrong. I know it’s hard to argue against these smart people Bill lauded earlier in his article, but it should be pretty common sense that 3B is a harder position than OF. I don’t like the whole “you’ve never played the game, so your argument is invalid” shtick, but this is an area where playing the game could help one better understand. Fielding a routine ground ball in the infield is not as easy as catching a routine fly ball or base hit in the outfield (and that’s not even considering that the 3B also has to make an accurate throw across the diamond to register a put out). It’s not particularly close, so any positional adjustment seems arbitrary.
Bill tries to drive his point home by stating, “Mike Trout has been one whole Prince Fielder better than Miguel Cabrera.” I’m glad he brought up Prince Fielder, because without Cabrera volunteering to move back to third base this year, the Tigers never sign Prince Fielder. Despite what Dave Cameron thinks he knows about the inner circle of the Tigers, Dave Dombrowski said it had to be okay with Cabrera. So not only is Cabrera extremely valuable on his own, his willingness to move to 3B allowed the Tigers to go get Prince Fielder and thus, add his value to the team.
Lastly, instead of breaking down WAR three times, let’s break down the criteria writers are asked to consider when voting for MVP:
The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931: (1) actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense; (2) number of games played; (3) general character, disposition, loyalty and effort; (4) former winners are eligible; and (5) members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
We’ve been arguing No. 1 and many vehemently believe that clearly goes to Trout. I’m not as convinced, but let’s go to the other guidelines.
No. 2 goes to Cabrera. It’s not his fault, but Trout didn’t start playing until April 28. I’ve read people argue that Trout’s numbers would be even more insane if he played all of April. Well, that’s dubious. Despite being a month fresher, Trout has slowed down over the last two months (.281/.369/.835 with 9 HR, 22 RBI, 38 R and 15 SB) compared to Miguel Cabrera, who is actually heating up (.363/.428/1.141 with 15 HR, 44 RBI, and 33 R). It’s entirely plausible that Trout’s numbers not only wouldn’t have been more insane, but that he actually would’ve slowed down a month sooner.
No. 3 is open to interpretation. Some might foolishly say that Miguel Cabrera and general character, disposition, loyalty and effort don’t go well together due his DUI arrests in the past, but like stats from recent years don’t count, neither do his past (off-field) transgressions. As far as we know, Cabrera is sober now and extremely dedicated to his team. After all, he volunteered to make a drastic change this offseason, to focus more on his fielding than his hitting, to allow the Tigers to sign Prince Fielder and make up the value lost when V-Mart went down with an injury. Cabrera’s hard work paid off in that he’s playing a much better 3B than expected AND he has still managed to put up a historical — yes, historical — season at the plate. That’s pretty freaking remarkable.
Further, Cabrera is a teacher of the game. He’s a 10-year veteran who loves to talk hitting with his teammates. After Fielder signed, Fielder talked about how excited he was to learn from Cabrera, one of the best hitters in the game. Although his power has dipped, Fielder’s approach at the plate has improved to the point where he is making better contact — more line drives and fewer strikeouts — something he might attribute to Cabrera’s tutelage.
Trout seems like a great guy, would probably do the same thing if given the opportunity to accomodate a star free agent, and it’s amazing how great he is at 20-21 years old, but for purposes of this analysis, he’s not quite on the same level here. I’d give No. 3 to Cabrera.
Since No. 4 and No. 5 are not applicable, Cabrera takes two out of the three relevant voting criteria and is better in half of the other.
I may have just convinced myself Cabrera is the MVP, but that’s just my opinion. It happens to be Justin Verlander’s opinion, too, and if he’s going to give up the belt maybe he should be the one to decide, or maybe they should box for it.
Either way, it’s not over yet, as the BBWAA will ultimately play judge.
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