An MVP wrapup

A quick thought on the Miguel Cabrera-Mike Trout MVP race.

As you might know, I had a vote this year. And I voted for Trout. I suppose that won’t be a shocker for anyone on this site. I’ve never hidden my strong opinion that while Cabrera’s the best hitter in the game, Trout is the best player in the game. Last year, Trout had what is almost certainly the best season for a 20-year-old in baseball history. This year, he had one of the best for a 21-year-old.

Best seasons for a 21-year old in no particular order:

– Mike Trout, 2013, .323/.432/.557, 39 doubles, 27 homers, 33 SBs, led league in runs and walks.

– Rogers Hornsby, 1917, .327/.385/.484, led league in slugging and with 17 triples during Deadball Era.

– Rickey Henderson, 1980, .303/.420/.399 with 100 stolen bases and 111 runs scored.

– Cesar Cedeno, 1972, .320/.385/.537 with 39 doubles, 22 homers, 59 steals and 103 runs scored while playing in the hitter-unfriendly Astrodome.

– Eddie Mathews, 1952, hit .302 and led league 47 home runs. He also had 135 RBIs and 99 walks.

And so on — Jimmie Foxx in 1929, Ken Griffey in 1991, Andruw Jones in 1998, Ted Williams in 1939, Frank Robinson in 1957, Ty Cobb in 1908 and so on. Most of the great 21-year olds became Hall of Famers. Mike Trout really is a phenomenon.

In my view when you totaled up everything — power, getting on base, defense, speed, base-running — Trout was simply the more valuable player. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and talked to a lot of people. That was my call.

But that’s not the main point here. The main point here is this: I’ve come to believe with these awards that, sure, there are often players I believe deserve to win who do not. But that’s just about opinions. I think the larger question to ask is this: Did the person who won the MVP award have an MVP season? Did the person who won the Cy Young Award have a Cy Young season?

Sometimes they don’t. The Cy Young Award has been particularly shaky. Mark Davis, Steve Bedrosian, LaMarr Hoyt, Pete Vuckovich, Mike Flanagan, just as a starting point … I just don’t think any of them had Cy Young seasons. They had seasons that were illusions because of high win totals or high save totals.

And it’s true for MVP. I don’t think Dennis Eckersley had an MVP season when he won the MVP in 1992. I don’t think it was close to an MVP season. He pitched just 80 innings, and did not have a markedly better season than Jeff Montgomery, Duane Ward, Doug Jones, Jeff Russell or a half dozen other relievers. He pitched for a great team that won a lot of games, he had helped redefine that position, and voters liked him. The problem with 1992 was not that Roger Clemens or Kirby Puckett or Robbie Alomar or numerous other more deserving candidates did not win the award. The problem with 1992 is that Eckersley did not have an MVP season but won anyway.

I don’t think Andre Dawson had an MVP season in 1987 — he led the league in home runs and RBIs which impressed everybody. And it was impressive. But that was a reflection of his home park; and he was actually quite dreadful on the road (.234/.288/.480). His WAR that year was 15th among players who got votes. Tony Gwynn, who hit .370/.447/.511 or Eric Davis with his 37 homers and 50 stolen bases or Dale Murphy, who actually had a better season than either of his MVP seasons, were MUCH better candidates for MVP. But once again, my big issue is that Dawson simply did not have an MVP quality season.*

*Conversely in 1982, when Dawson had a fantastic season that was absolutely of MVP quality, he finished 21st in the MVP voting.

We can keep going with this. I don’t think Willie Hernandez had an MVP season in 1984 — it would be awfully tough for me to believe a reliever could pitch enough innings to be the most valuable player in the league (though Hernandez did throw 140, way more than the modern closer). Don Baylor did not have an MVP season in 1979 — he was a DH/lumbering outfielder who slugged more than 100 points less than his own future teammate Fred Lynn. Jim Konstanty certainly was not the most valuable player in 1950 — a year when Stan Musial had a Musial year and Eddie Stanky had a .460 on-base percentage and scored 115 runs and so on.

And the point: Miguel Cabrera this year had an MVP quality season, no question about that. He had an MVP quality season last year too. He’s a fantastic player in his prime. It’s easy, when you get caught up in the argument, to forget the greatness of Cabrera and the greatness of Trout. They both had legitimate MVP seasons and so did Josh Donaldson and Robbie Cano and throw in Chris Davis and Evan Longoria too. I voted Trout but it’s not like the BBWAA gave the award to Jim Johnson because he had 50 saves or Prince Fielder because he had 100-plus RBIs. They gave it to a great player who had a great season.

I will say that I wish there hadn’t been voters who put Adrian Beltre and Dustin Pedroia and (my head hurts) David Ortiz ahead of Trout. But that’s a different story and didn’t matter anyway.

38 thoughts on “An MVP wrapup

  1. Tim

    First, Baylor and Lynn were not teammates in 1979. Next, Konstanty won in 1950 not 1959. I think you make strong points, though.

    Reply
  2. Kooter

    – Mike Trout, 2013, .323/.432/.557, 39 homers, 27 homers, 33 SBs, led league in runs and walks. (seems like 66 homers would be something to get him over the hump)

    Reply
  3. DB

    Joe, not sure you have done this before but has anyone ever had a better first 2 full years in the majors other than Trout? ARod is about 5 WAR short. BRs? Utterly amazing.

    Reply
    1. Brett Alan

      No, Joe just said that there was at least one writer who put Pedroia ahead of Trout. Trout finished second overall, but 6 writers did not place him first or second, including one who placed him seventh. Seventh? Really? Wow. That’s Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegraph. & Gazette, who saw it this way:
      Davis
      Cabrera
      Donaldson
      Cano
      Beltre
      Pedroia
      Trout
      Ortiz
      Encarnacion
      Longoria

      Full results are at http://bbwaa.com/13-al-mvp/

      Reply
  4. Ryan

    My issue is still that Player = Hitter. Cabrera is certainly a fantastic HITTER. But swap his offensive value for his defensive value and I doubt anyone would say he had an MVP season.

    Hitting is simply sexier than playing defense, and that’s what wins out.

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    1. Richie

      of course hitting is sexier… its the hardest thing to do in sports…. Trout and Cabrera both had monster yrs, Trout’s team went nowhere, Det had a 1s place team = the right guy won. If a player on a nowhere team has a monster yr and no1 on a top yr had a comparable year, then trout wins… the right guy won this year

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      1. Breadbaker

        We can be fairly comfortable that the batting achievements of both men are properly weighed by statistics, but the difference in value that comes from their fielding differences is still in flux. Ten years from now we may laugh at how much difference various statistics place between them today, but what we don’t know if the changes in how we evaluate fielding will tell us Trout’s advantage was too large or too small.

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        1. Ryan

          We don’t have to quantify it to much granularity in this case. Cabrera and Trout are both fantastic hitters; Cabrera is a little better. Cabrera is a slow, plodding running who is a butcher at 3B. Trout is a sublime centerfielder. The gap in offense is small enough that we don’t need flawless defensive metrics to determine if it makes up the difference; it clearly does.

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        1. Mark Daniel

          It doesn’t. But I think players on pennant contenders get the benefit of the doubt over similar players on non-contenders because there is a risk/reward thing going on. Being on a pennant contender provides a player the potential for great glory, maybe more than he deserves based on actual performance. But it also puts him at risk for becoming a huge goat that fans will remember for a long, long time. I think that risk bumps players on winning teams up a notch above those on losing teams, all else being equal.

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          1. Philip Christy

            The risk of “becoming a huge goat” makes a player more valuable? That’s one of the most ridiculous arguments I’ve ever heard.

  5. Richard Aronson

    I heard a guy on ESPN radio tonight who said it was Cabrera, no second choice, defense doesn’t matter. The guy clearly had never heard of park adjustments, GIDP, and didn’t care at all about speed or defense. Cabrera is the best hitter, he was on a better team, he played hurt even though when hurt he didn’t play particularly well, so he’s the MVP, and anybody who thought otherwise was an idiot. So there are clearly plenty of people so full of themselves that sabremetrics won’t ever persuade them. And that’s how Andre Dawson won his MVP.

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    1. tony

      Do you think the guy had never heard of GIDP? That’s not a particularly new, or advanced, stat. And it’s like RBIs: all things equal, a player on a team that scores more runs GIDP more than someone who plays on a team that scores less runs. Speed? How fast is Clayton Kershaw and furthermore, who cares? And park adjustment. The biggest value of the adjustment is if you are a GM and are tasked with giving out forward looking contracts. But for a single season that has already occurred it is not unreasonable to judge based on what actually happened, not what theoretically might happen in a parallel baseball universe. You sound just as full of yourself as this “ESPN guy.”

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  6. Dave

    I’d have voted for Trout last year and Cabrera this year. My thinking (such as it is) is that in 2012 the Angels had more wins than the Tigers in a harder division and but for the vagaries of the MLB playoff system would have made the playoffs over Detroit. This year, the Angels were terrible. In answer to Sam’s question above – having better players makes you more valuable because you have guys who can drive you in, and who you can drive in, you have an chance to make an impact and help your team win, which I believe is the whole point.

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      1. Dave

        I like to ask “what would their team have done if you take that player off it?” I believe in the Angels case, they’d have continued to stink where the Tigers probably would have missed the playoffs. Therefore, I believe Cabrera was more valuable than Trout this year. Of course there are external factors beyond the players’ control that determine whether they’ll be “valuable” under this criteria. I’m not suggesting Cabrera is a better all-around player than Trout. Just more valuable to his team in 2013.

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        1. nscadu9

          I think the better question to ask is if you traded Trout for Cabrera how would things change? Probably not at all. Angels still miss the playoffs and Tigers still go to the playoffs. Detroit had better pitching and supporting cast. I take MVP to mean simply that, the Most Valuable Player regardless of who surrounds him on the team. This is why we continue to be hung up on a situational number like 100 RBI or concern ourselves with whether or not a team makes the playoffs. These are factors usually out of one players control. Cabrera had the Cy Young guy on his team. Without Scherzer Detroit likely does not win the Central, that’s valuable to the team. I don’t know how MVP gets so skewed it was never called MVPTHT (to his team), not most valuable hitter as proven by Justin Verlander, simply MVP.

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        2. tomemos

          By that logic no one from a super-team like, say, the 2001 Mariners should ever win an MVP, since obviously the team would still have gotten to the playoffs without them.

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    1. Tonus

      Many of the voters see the MVP that way, they put at least some emphasis on whether the player’s efforts had an impact on his team’s playoff chances. It is why I thought Chris Davis might finish second ahead of Trout; the Orioles were in the playoff picture longer than the Angels and finished with a winning record and I thought that would sway the voters. I was glad to see Trout get most of the remaining second-place votes, as he really did have a phenomenal year (for the second year in a row!). Looking at his comparables at Baseball Ref makes me anxious to see how his career develops.

      Reply
  7. oira61

    Thank you for being a grownup.

    A whole column about Trout not getting the MVP without whining or resorting to advanced stats. What a relief.

    Reply
  8. Alejo

    Good post.

    Guys, don’t be sad. you have to understand not everyone understands baseball like you do. I mean, I wish, BBWAA voters remotely had your knowledge, but they don’t. I feel the same about politicians, you know?

    Just try to draw consolation in the fact that Miggy is an inner core HoFer and has man-boobs (NYTimes dixit)

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  9. Jake Bucsko

    Here’s something I never see mentioned. Yes, a player deserves some extra credit for continuing to put up numbers when in the heat of a playoff race. That hurt McCutchen’s candidacy last year and helped him this year, hitting .353/.462/.538 in Aug/Sep to propel the Pirates into the playoffs.

    But what about the guys (like Trout, or Goldschmidt, or whoever) whose teams are out of it down the stretch and still play hard? Guys who still fight off pitches, take the extra base, and sprint to 1st to beat out the throw even though they know their team is out of the playoff race. Doesn’t it also take a special dedication to play AS IF their team was in a pennant race, even though they are not? Food for thought.

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  10. wordyduke

    Here are two more ideas about why some voters get it wrong (if only slightly, as in this case):

    Workhorse relievers like Konstanty and Willie Hernandez are in the spotlight of a pennant race day after surprising day (what, again?). Their contribution to the pennant is front and center, though of course the team wouldn’t have won without Richie Ashburn or Alan Trammell, either.

    Cabrera this season was in the pennant spotlight for dragging himself onto the field down the stretch while in pain. For all I know, Trout played as many games with nagging injuries, or worked harder to keep himself in top shape and avoid groin pulls. But the fact is I don’t know about Trout, and Cabrera’s playing through pain was highly publicized.

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  11. mrpinkfloyd71

    Joe, thanks for providing some level-headed arguments on this issue. As a 40+ years old Venezuelan, I’ve been waiting all my life for a Venezuelan player like Miggy with best-player-in-baseball credentials. We just haven’t had one and we’ve seen players from the rest of the Caribe become that (Clemente, Ramirez, Sierra for a couple of seasons, Juan Gonzalez, Albert, the two Guerreros, George Bell, and on and on). Miggy’s been that for a while and to be fair nobody (not even the Trout guys) deny that. My point is that I am a little resented (admittedly, purely emotional) that instead of talking of his 3 batting titles, his two consecutive MVP awards, and the multiple categories he’s led in the last three years, we are talking about whether or not he’s the #1 player in the league.

    Joe, yours is a fantastic point. Was the winner deserving? Even if my guy had lost I think that as a fan I could live with it.

    BTW, I remember when Puckett won the AL BT in 1989, they made a big deal that he was only the third righty to win it in 30 years (Kuenn ’59, & Lansford ’89). Since then the AL batting title has gone to 9 lefties, 2 switch hitters and 13 righties. It’s been similar in the NL, but I’m too lazy to make the count.

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    1. invitro

      “Miggy’s been that for a while and to be fair nobody (not even the Trout guys) deny that.”

      I don’t think I’m a “Trout guy”, but Cabrera was not the best player in baseball in 2012 or 2013; Trout was. Cabrera is lucky to have better teammates than Trout, and lucky to have a much better stadium to hit in than Trout, and that is why he won the MVPs. Cabrera’s probably in the top 5, though, not too shabby.

      Reply
  12. Chip S.

    I think that Trout’s youth works against him in MVP voting. The total number of MVPs in history who were below the age of 22 is exactly…1 (Vida Blue). Joe’s list of outstanding 21-year olds in baseball history suggests that the scarcity of very young MVP winners isn’t due to a lack of worthy candidates. Furthermore, only five others were named MVP before reaching age 23, and with one exception they were all first-ballot HoFers (Bench, Mays, Musial, and Ripken; Hal Newhouser won it during WWII).

    My guess is that voters’ thinking about players who have really great seasons when very young is something like this: “Either (a) it’s a fluke; wait to see if the league figures him out or (b) if it’s not a fluke there’ll be lots of other opportunities for him to be the MVP. So I’m voting for the considerably older guy.”

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  13. bellweather22

    I think, at this point, there is little value in the Cabrera vs. Trout argument. The arguments have been fully given and people are in one camp or the other…. with a lot of people who read Joe being in the Trout camp. I get that Joe wants to clarify that Cabrera is very worthy of the award, which all except the biggest advanced stat geeks understand…. while saying that Trout is overall, the better player. And… in Joe’s view best player = MPV. So, I say, onward to the 2014 HOF votes!!!

    Reply
  14. KHAZAD

    The problem is that most writers look at this as an offensive award. They couch it in other phrases, but most of them don’t really take fielding prowess into account. Sometimes they take position into account, but to them, an outfielder, even a great one, doesn’t have the same cache as a shortstop or a catcher. They don’t trust fielding numbers. (Hell, I take them into account when assessing value and even I don’t trust them completely) Many of them don’t even look at them.

    The debate is getting much less hype than last year, though, and there are reasons for that. In 2012, Trout was actually a better offensive force than Cabrera. He created about 3 less runs in 58 less PA, with 50 less outs. In my version of RC/27, Trout was .72 above Cabrera in 2012. Cabrera still managed to win because of the triple crown and perhaps some people’s unwillingness to vote for a rookie as #1.

    This year Cabrera created about 4 less runs than Trout in 64 less PA’s, with 43 less outs. Cabrera had .74 more RC/27 than Trout. When you add in the fact that he played for a contending team, (alot of writers take this into account) and led the league in OBP and Slugging, there was not really a question who was going to win.

    To me, the most amazing thing is that both players, despite having historic offensive years in 2012, were actually much better offensively in 2013, despite the fact that overall, there was a dip in offense this year. Between the two of them, they created about 255 runs in 1336 PA’s in 2012, and 284 in 1368 PA’s in 2013. They actually had 59 less outs between the two of them this year despite having 32 more PA’s.

    Sometimes you have to step back from the debate and appreciate the greatness of both players. It is fun to watch.

    Reply
  15. jaredhollick

    Hey Joe,

    I’d be curious to hear your reasoning for your Jason Kipnis vote. Kipnis obviously saw some love from some other voters, which I mostly accredit to the fact that he was the best player on a contending team, so some felt obligated to put him on the ballot.

    I could see the argument that you felt he was the 10th best player in the league, though I would disagree. But I guess my real question is, do you think he had an MVP type season? Or was this just merely a biproduct of the fact that they make you vote for 10 people?

    Reply

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