Monday, October 1, 2012
Another post about the AL MVP race
By David Schoenfield
Is there really anything new to say about the most controversial debate in baseball since the Oakland Athletics first soiled the national pastime by allowing their players to grow whiskers?
Probably not. So let's do a few links. Jeff Passan, national baseball writer for Yahoo, has an analysis of the debate here. Among the highlights:
What Miguel Cabrera has done this year is marvelous. There is no questioning that. He is the AL's best hitter. But simply because he leads the league in three categories, no matter their historical significance, does not crown him MVP. Not only is ignoring every other part of his game vis-à-vis (Mike) Trout's irresponsible, but also it makes the mistake of tying this award to another person's achievements in the final three games of the season.
You know why they're making this about WAR? Because they're scared. They're scared of what they don't know and they need a villain. And so the computers and their alphabet-soup metrics have become the target, even though this MVP vote has absolutely nothing to do with WAR and everything to do with the fact that Mike Trout simply has been a better player in 2012 than Miguel Cabrera.
I'll say this: I do know a fair number of the voters. And from our discussions in the past, and the way they view baseball, I think Miguel Cabrera is going to win the AL MVP this year. I think that's sad.
Passan refers to Tyler Kepner's column in The New York Times. Kepner writes:
Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers’ third baseman, has a chance at the first triple crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. If he does it, history will remember Cabrera as the standout performer of 2012. We know that he does not run or field as well as others. But to give the M.V.P. to another player seems to be overthinking the issue.
As Passan points out, Kepner than proceeds to suggest that in the "absence of a truly historic season," then Trout is the more worthy MVP candidate. It does seem weird to base an MVP ballot on whether Cabrera ends up with one fewer home run than Josh Hamilton. So, if Evan Scribner serves up a home run to Hamilton this week, that may decide the MVP race?
In this piece, Joe Posnanski writes:
There are two ways to look at the Cabrera versus Trout debate, when it comes to Cabrera's candidacy. One is that it's all about the Triple Crown achievement, as Kepner wrote. But two, it's about a storyline that has developed, the sense that Cabrera has somehow carried the Tigers while Trout hasn't done the same for the Angels. Why that storyline has developed, when Cabrera has had Verlander and Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer helping out, I'm not exactly sure. I mean, Fielder has had a better year at the plate than Albert Pujols; heck, Jackson has an .859 OPS, nearly the same as Pujols' .869. I suspect it has to do with the Triple Crown, but also about the RBIs. Fans, players and managers obsess over RBIs.
We’re going to use WAR again, even though I know how controversial the various versions of WAR can be. But I think the point remains. According to Baseball Reference WAR, Miguel Cabrera is not the MVP of his own team. That version of WAR says that Justin Verlander, at 7.5 WAR, has had a season that is worth a full win more than the season Cabrera has had. Crazy? Maybe. FanGraphs' version of WAR has Verlander and Cabrera almost exactly even, with Cabrera (6.9 WAR) well within the margin of error better than Verlander (6.8).
OK, this is rubbing it in. We get it. WAR does not like Cabrera. WAR obviously downgrades him significantly for his defense and base running and isn’t as in love with his offense as many fans. I tend to see it differently -- WAR is just reiterating how good a season Verlander is having, with relatively little hype.
As for Verlander and Cabrera, check out these comparisons:
Justin Verlander, 2011: 251 IP, 174 H, 24 HR, 57 BB, 250 SO, 2.40 ERA
Justin Verlander, 2012: 238.1 IP, 192 H, 19 HR, 60 BB, 239 SO, 2.64 ERA
Miguel Cabrera, 2011: 161 G, .344/.448/.586, 30 HR, 149 runs created, 405 outs
Miguel Cabrera, 2012: 158 G, .325/.390/.601, 43 HR, 135 runs created, 448 outs
Of course, I left out two statistics: Verlander's W-L record and Cabrera's RBI count. Cabrera was arguably more valuable at the plate in 2011, due to a higher on-base percentage. He created more runs while using fewer outs. This season, Tigers' leadoff hitters have a .366 on-base percentage; a year ago it was .311. Like Verlander's W-L record, Cabrera's RBI total is a team dependent statistic.
Finally, from Buster Olney's Insider blog over the weekend:
But the conversations have been so strikingly similar that I can say, for sure, that all but a very small handful of uniformed personnel -- by small handful, I mean two -- have told me they would pick Cabrera. And all but a very small handful of front-office types -- as in, one -- have told me they would pick Trout.
Quote from one player about Cabrera in Olney's piece: "He's the best, and he's out there every day. He's really tough, and I don't think you can put into numbers what he means to that team."
Quote from an executive about Trout: "Why is there even a conversation?"
Anyway, at this point, I don't think either side will be convinced and I wrote more on this than I intended. The lines in the sand have been drawn. Which side you got?