Monday, September 9, 2013
Cabrera versus Trout about RBIs, not WAR
By David Schoenfield
As Mike Trout's lead over Miguel Cabrera in Wins Above Replacement continues to grow -- 8.6 to 6.9 on Baseball-Reference, 9.8 to 7.3 on FanGraphs -- it seems the Cabrera camp is actually starting to get a little more defensive than the Trout camp, which has more or less conceded that Cabrera will win the award, no matter how vociferous the debate should be.
For example, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports and the MLB Network, attempts to defend Cabrera's case by tearing down WAR:
Check out the WAR of Carlos Gomez (6.7, fifth best in baseball) and Gerardo Parra (5.1, tied for 20th best). Now it's possible they are indeed the fifth- and 20th-best players in baseball this year. But I doubt it. According to these figures, Parra is tied with Adrian Beltre and ahead of a plethora of other stars despite his mundane .725 OPS, and Gomez (.832 OPS) is ahead of everyone but Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Cabrera and Robinson Cano -- and he's barely behind Cabrera and Cano at that.
Even within the center-field ranks, WAR looks pretty suspect. Shin-Soo Choo, who has helped make the Reds go with his second-in-the-NL .425 on-base percentage, has a 3.7 WAR. One spot ahead of Choo is Mets rookie Juan Lagares, at 3.8.
It's a reasonable argument to bring up -- Gomez, Parra and Lagares benefit from outstanding defensive metrics that help their WAR total -- but not really germane to the Trout-Cabrera discussion, since Trout has been credited with -8 Defensive Runs Saved this season. (FanGraphs' defensive measurement has him at +6 runs.)
No, I think the MVP discussion, such as it is, is really about old-school basics: It's hard to convince some that Trout has been as good, or better, than Cabrera, when Cabrera has 20 more home runs and 49 more RBIs (his lead in batting average over Trout is down to 15 points).
First off, the 20 home runs. That's a huge advantage for Cabrera. But Trout has three more singles, 12 more doubles and eight more triples -- plus eight more walks, nine fewer double plays hit into and 29 more stolen bases. Based on those numbers, Cabrera's offensive advantage just isn't as large everyone thinks it is. In fact, Cabrera leads Trout in Runs Created by a slim margin, 147 to 143 according to Baseball-Reference. Put it this way: Cabrera only has 29 more total bases than Trout. Factor in steals, baserunning, double plays hit into, walks and defense ... well, is it really that surprising that Trout would have a higher WAR?
(Ballparks also play a small role here in WAR. Trout plays in a lower run-scoring environment, so the runs he creates are a little more valuable than the runs Cabrera creates. And, no, Comerica Park is NOT a pitcher's park; it's been a good place for hitters in recent years.)
So this gets us to RBIs. Cabrera has 133, Trout has 84.
It's not cool to trumpet RBIs these days -- are you ready to defend Brandon Phillips as the second-best player in the National League? -- but this is exactly what the Cabrera camp should be pointing out, because it's the crux of his MVP case.
According to Baseball-Reference, the average player with Cabrera's plate appearance total drives in 60 runs -- 73 fewer than Cabrera's total. Cabrera has had more runners on base than the typical hitter -- 405 to 346 -- but he's knocked in 90 out of those 405 runners (22 percent), plus himself 43 times.
Trout has knocked in 84 runs compared to the average of 65 for his plate appearances. Trout has actually had fewer runners on base than the average player -- 353 to 373 -- and he's driven in 61 of those 353 (17 percent), plus himself 23 times.
Cabrera is hitting .418 with runners in scoring position and .383 with men on base. With two outs and runners in scoring position he's hitting .466. In tie games he's hitting .351/.447/.696. When the margin in the game is greater than four runs, he's hitting .246/.306/.385 in 72 plate appearances; in other words, he's not piling up the stats in blowouts. It's almost like Cabrera tunes out when the game has been decided. Trout, meanwhile, has hit .331 with runners in scoring position and .309 with men on, good but not Cabrera. He's hit .471/.554/.843 in 83 PAs when the margin is greater than four runs.
That's your Cabrera argument -- that he's risen his game when runners are on base. He has been an RBI machine.
Of course, so has Chris Davis, who is now only nine RBIs behind Cabrera. By the way, here's one last stat to consider. Late and close situations, when the games are most on the line:
Davis: .329/.394/.817, 10 HR, 30 RBIs (94 PAs, 82 at-bats)
Cabrera: .264/.404/.444, 4 HR, 10 RBIs (89 PAs, 72 at-bats)
If you want to dismiss the "better" argument and bring in value ... well, that's a lot of clutch hitting there from Mr. Davis. Maybe he's your MVP?