By In Stuff


So, how about a little thought experiment? The Miguel Cabrera-Mike Trout MVP balloting exposed a pretty deep divide in how people want to look at awards. We can probably all agree on at least that. There will be plenty more over the next few years to say about that divide, what valuable means, and so on. But for now I have a different question:

Which kind of award do you prefer?

That is to say: For you, as a fan, do you prefer an award that goes to the player who has the best narrative — which is what the MVP award usually represents? Or would you rather have an award that goes to the best player statistically, period, regardless of position or style of play or team performance or your favorite intangible?

I went back to 1995 — each year I picked the league MVP (Most Valuable Player, of course) and I picked the HOW (the league’s Hero of WAR — that is, the player with the highest Wins Over Replacement based on Baseball Reference WAR, Fangraphs WAR,  Baseball Prospectus WARP and Win Shares).

The question for you then is: Which choice do you as a baseball fan like better?


American League — MVP: Miguel Cabrera; HOW: Mike Trout (2nd in MVP voting)

National League — MVP: Buster Posey; HOW: Buster Posey

We’re not going to go back and argue Trout and Cabrera — everyone has staked their position — but here have been two things people have talked about that are worth mentioning.

1. If Cabrera had not won the Triple Crown would he still have won the MVP?

Personally, I think yes. I think Cabrera won the MVP the last two weeks of the season because several trends came together all at once. One, Trout, while playing well, wasn’t as dazzling as he had been in June and July (and his Angels could not quite get back into the playoff picture). Two, the White Sox went into collapse mode allowing the Tigers — who only played 28-24 baseball the last two or so months of the season — to take the American League Central rather comfortably. Three, Cabrera challenged for the Triple Crown.

When Cabrera actually won that Triple Crown, I think he clinched a blowout in the voting. But if he had lost by a home run or a batting point, I still think he would have won the MVP. I just think the voting would have been a handful of first-place votes closer.

2. A question from the brilliant Tom Tango: If Cabrera’s season had not existed, would Trout have STILL lost the award, only this time to Robbie Cano? That is to say: Would the voters have felt it necessary to vote for a player whose team made the playoffs?

My answer to him: I don’t think so. I think with no Cabrera, Trout would have won. I think Cabrera challenging for the Triple Crown — and eventually winning it — was the key element in the MVP vote. There are those who would argue ( and WAR suggests this) that Cano actually had a better season than Cabrera when you take defensive stats and base running and other WAR calculations into account. I’ll let other people argue about that. But I think the voters would have gone with Trout over Cano — Trout’s season was too good. I will say, though, that I think in a world without Cabrera, the Trout-Cano vote would have been closer than the Cabrera-Trout vote turned out to be.

* * *


American League — MVP: Justin Verlander; HOW: Jacoby Ellsbury (2nd in voting)

National League — MVP: Ryan Braun; HOW: Matt Kemp (2nd in voting)

I did not have a particularly elaborate method for picking the HOW. You might add the numbers together and come up with a different HOW than I did. I basically just added together Fangraphs WAR and Baseball Reference WAR, and then used the other methods as tiebreakers, if necessary. In this case — and this will repeat several times — the players involved are separated by only a few tenths of a point of WAR. And I don’t think even the most strident believer thinks that WAR, as calculated, is so precise that a few tenths of a point mean very much. Ellsbury’s edge over Verlander was almost nonexistent (though Verlander’s MVP victory over Ellsbury was fairly crushing, 13 first-place votes to 4), and it was the same with Kemp over Braun.

I think this is how it works most years — WAR is detailed enough to offer a set of good MVP candidates, but not so meticulous that it can really tell you that someone a 7.4 WAR actually had a better year than someone with a 7.2 WAR.

* * *


American League — MVP: Josh Hamilton; HOW: Josh Hamilton

National League — MVP: Joey Votto; HOW: Albert Pujols (2nd in voting)

Again, just a few tenths of a point of WAR separate Pujols and Votto. The MVP voting (Votto 31 first-place votes; Pujols 1) was not quite so close.

* * *


American League — MVP: Joe Mauer; HOW: Zack Greinke (17th in voting)

National League — MVP: Albert Pujols; HOW: Albert Pujols

Well, here is a good year to ask the question: Which kind of award do you like better? The choice is fairly clear. Mauer had an amazing year for a division winner. He played catcher — the thinking man’s position — and he won the batting title and he hit with previously unseen power. He was a dynamo.

Greinke, by WAR, was clearly the most valuable player in the American League. He led the league with a 2.16 ERA in 229 innings, struck out 242, threw six complete games and three shutouts. And, of course, his Royals were terrible anyway: They lost 97 games.

So, who do you like? How would you have felt if Greinke had actually won the MVP? Happy? Let down? Infuriated? What does your MVP look like? Is it narrative-based? Stat-based? A combination of the two?

This question goes deeper than Greinke, though. Maybe you believe that WAR, by its nature, overvalues pitchers. That’s certainly a viable point of view. You will see, through the years, that the HOW of the league is often a starting pitcher, while the MVP is almost never a starting pitcher.

Thing is, even if you exclude pitchers, Mauer STILL would not have been the HOW of the American League in 2009. It would have been Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist. This has been a point of derision among some anti-WAR types, who mock any award that would put Ben Zobrist ahead of a catcher who hit .365 and slugged .587.

But, again, let’s look a bit more closely. Zobrist played seven different positions in 2009 — and by general agreement, he appeared to play them all well. He posted a .400 on-base percentage and a .543 slugging percentage, hit 27 homers, walked 91 times, stole 17 bases, scored 91 runs and drove in 91. It was, added together, an extraordinary season. Was it actually better than Mauer’s? Was it more worthy of the big award? That’s for you to answer — that’s what this whole exercise is about.

Anyway, Zobrist’s season was unquestionably better than Kendrys Morales’ or Jason Bay’s. But those two finished ahead of Zobrist in the MVP voting.

* * *


American League — MVP: Dustin Pedroia; HOW: Cliff Lee (12th in voting)

National League — MVP: Albert Pujols; HOW: Albert Pujols

WAR, as mentioned, often goes with great starting pitchers as the MVP. In this case, however, I almost regret even bringing it up because Lee and Pedroia were in a virtual tie. Pedroia led every-day players in WAR.

* * *


American League — MVP: Alex Rodriguez; HOW: Alex Rodriguez

National League — MVP: Jimmy Rollins; HOW: Tie between David Wright and Albert Pujols

Rollins didn’t finish Top 5 in WAR — this was a big divide between MVP and HOW (Wright and Pujols finished about two and a half wins better than Rollins).

Rollins, you might remember, had an unusual year. He became the first National Leaguer to get 200 hits with at least 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 homers. He led the league in runs scored and won a Gold Glove. And the Phillies came back from oblivion to reach the postseason for the first time in 14 years. As far as narratives go, that’s awfully good. The other narratives couldn’t come close to matching up: Wright’s Mets collapsed, and Pujols had already won an MVP.

* * *


American League — MVP: Justin Morneau; HOW: Grady Sizemore (11th)

National League — MVP: Ryan Howard; HOW: Albert Pujols (2nd)

Every now and again, something funny happens in the MVP voting: There just isn’t an especially interesting candidate. That happened in 2006 in the American League. Yes, Derek Jeter did hit .343, he had a great year and that was a golden opportunity to finally give him the MVP. But, the thing is, it kind of was like EVERY Derek Jeter year. I think his amazing consistency hurt him. Eddie Murray was another guy who never won an MVP, in large part because while every year was great, every year looked the same.

In 2006, in addition to Jeter, a bunch of guys — Sizemore, Joe Mauer, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, Johan Santana, David Ortiz — offered very similar value by the WAR stats. Nobody really jumped out, and I would argue that when that happens we will often get a weak MVP.

Morneau was a weak MVP. He finished about 20th in the league in WAR, his .375 on-base percentage and .559 slugging percentage were not in the Top 5, his 34 homers were not in the Top 10, he couldn’t run and his first-base defense was subpar. He literally won the award because he led the league in RBIs and because he is a good guy. It’s probably the worst choice of the decade.

Ryan Howard had an amazing offensive season — but when you consider that Pujols hit for a higher average, had better on-base and slugging percentages, was a much better base runner and defender AND killed it the last month of the season (which seemed so interesting to voters this year), it’s kind of hard to square this choice with reality. But Pujols had won the MVP the year before. And Howard hit a lot of home runs (58) and drove in a lot of runs (157), which traditionally is where MVP voters start their search.

And, by the way, one quick connection between Howard-Pujols and Miggy-Trout — Pujols’ team made the playoffs (and went on to win the World Series) while Howard’s did not reach the postseason. But — and I knew I had heard this somewhere before — Howard’s Phillies actually had a better record than Pujols’ Cardinals. So, and I remember hearing this, people said: “Hey, Howard’s team had the better record. It’s not his fault that he was in a tough division.”

In other words, that argument is perfectly fine for BBWAA voters to use, but only if the voters choose to use it.

* * *


American League — MVP: Alex Rodriguez; HOW: Alex Rodriguez

National League — MVP: Albert Pujols; HOW: Albert Pujols

Voters and stats unite! Andruw Jones actually led Pujols by a tenth of a point in Fangraphs WAR. He finished second in the voting. More on him in a minute.

* * *


American League — MVP: Vlad Guerrero; HOW: Ichiro Suzuki (7th)

National League — MVP: Barry Bonds; HOW: Barry Bonds

Here’s something that seems to happen a lot — the right guy wins the award, but he wins it in the wrong year. Ichiro won the MVP in 2001; by WAR, he was an appreciably better player in 2004. Vlad won the award this year, but he was an appreciably better candidate in 1998 and 2002.

But, the MVP generally comes down to three things: (1) success of team; (2) homers and RBIs — with batting average thrown in as a tiebreaker; (3) late-season heroics or general leadership points.

Ichiro hit .372 this year, set the major league record with 262 hits, stole 36 bases and played masterful defense. He was a force of nature. But the Mariners stunk to high heaven — lost 99 games, finished dead last in runs scored, tried to prolong the careers of Bret Boone and Edgar Martinez and so on. Ichiro finished seventh in the voting. The Angels, meanwhile, were good after Guerrero signed a free-agent deal. Vlad was one of my favorite players. This was probably his fourth or fifth best season.

* * *


American League — MVP: Alex Rodriguez; HOW: Alex Rodriguez

National League — MVP: Barry Bonds; HOW: Barry Bonds

Both too good to ignore. This was A-Rod’s first MVP award. Based on WAR, it should have been his third at minimum.

* * *


American League — MVP: Miguel Tejada; HOW: Alex Rodriguez (2nd)

National League — MVP: Barry Bonds; HOW: Barry Bonds

A-Rod hit 57 home runs and won the Gold Glove at shortstop; it’s hard to imagine that guy on the most basic level is not the MVP, especially when the voters chose a different shortstop in the same division who was not nearly as good.

Bonds in all four of these years — 2001 to 2004 — was the no-brainer choice, and that showed up in the voting. There were 128 first-place votes available those four years. Bonds got 114 of them.

* * *


American League — MVP: Ichiro Suzuki; HOW: Jason Giambi (2nd)

National League — MVP: Barry Bonds; HOW: Barry Bonds

The first-place votes in the American League were divided among four players, Ichiro (11), Giambi (8), Bret Boone (7) and Robbie Alomar (2). It really was close by WAR too, though Ichiro was a clear fourth behind Giambi (.477 on-base percentage and .677 slugging percentage in Oakland); Boone (.331 average, 37 homers, 141 RBIs, 118 runs scored ) and A-Rod (led league with 52 homers and 133 runs).

* * *


American League — MVP: Jason Giambi; HOW: Pedro Martinez (5th)

National League — MVP: Jeff Kent; HOW: Randy Johnson by an eyelash over Todd Helton (Unit was 17th in voting)

Another situation of “right guy, wrong year.” Giambi was better in 2001 than 2000 by WAR. Meanwhile, Pedro was otherworldly. A-Rod was, again, the best position player in the league based on WAR.

Two things I found fascinating looking at all this. One is that Johnson was the best player in the league two or three times. He legitimately could have won three MVP awards (though he never came close to winning any). I have written that I think Greg Maddux has a chance — a chance, mind you — of setting the record for highest Hall of Fame voting percentage. Well, what I have written is that Maddux could become the first unanimous Hall of Fame choice, but I’m backing off that because someone will undoubtedly send in a blank ballot or a ballot covered in mud or something like that to protest, you know, whatever they’re protesting. Anyway, I think Maddux could be a 99 percenter. And I think Unit is right there too. I have no idea who would vote against him.

Second: I’d say that three or four times in his career, Andruw Jones was a strong MVP candidate. He finished second in the voting in 2005. He was even better by WAR in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Obviously, it depends on how much value you give his defense, but if you see Jones as a breathtaking defensive center fielder in the realm of Willie Mays (as some people do) and you throw in his 434 homers, he’s at least an interesting Hall of Fame candidate. Winning an MVP award might have helped him.

* * *


American League — MVP: Ivan Rodriguez; HOW: Pedro Martinez (2nd in voting)

National League — MVP: Chipper Jones; HOW: Randy Johnson (15th in voting)

A famously close vote in the AL; Martinez got one more first-place vote than I-Rod but lost out when he did not appear at all on two ballots. Well, that’s the MVP voting — narrative rules. In 2011 the narrative shifted enough for Justin Verlander to not only contend for MVP but to win it outright. In 1999, though, there was some real doubt about whether a pitcher could actually be the best player in the league. Rafael Palmeiro, a glorified DH* playing half his games in an absurd hitters’ park, got four first-place MVP votes. It was like that.

*Though he famously won the Gold Glove at first base, despite playing only 28 games there.

Randy Johnson threw 271 innings, 12 complete games, struck out 364 batters and posted a league-leading 2.48 ERA. Chipper was fabulous, the best every-day player in the league, I believe. This time around, though, I don’t think there’s a particularly good argument for anyone except Unit as the best player in the league.

* * *


American League — MVP: Juan Gonzalez; HOW: Alex Rodriguez (9th in voting)

National League — MVP: Sammy Sosa; HOW: Kevin Brown (16th in voting)

Two thoughts: One, you would have to imagine that members of the BBWAA — I know many of these people, and know how seriously they take their votes — absolutely CRINGE when they look back at the two MVP awards they gave Juan Gonzalez. Baseball writers, myself included, have mea-culpa’d everyone to death about not covering the steroid scandal better when it was going on. It might be time for official apologies on the Juan Gone MVPs too.

Second: Could you even IMAGINE what would have happened in 1998, after that amazing home run summer, if the voters had chosen Kevin Brown as the league MVP? People might have taken to the streets. Brown was incredibly good that year, though. Take a look at these two years:

Player 1: 251 innings, 174 hits, 24 homers, 250 strikeouts, 57 walks, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts, 2.40 ERA

Player 2: 257 innings, 225 hits, 8 homers, 257 strikeouts, 49 walks, 7 complete games, 3 shutouts, 2.38 ERA

You probably figured it out. Player 2 is Kevin Brown in 1998. Player 1 is Justin Verlander in 2011.

And, in retrospect, knowing what we now know about PEDs: Kevin Brown allowing just 8 home runs in almost 260 innings is absolutely mind-blowing.

* * *


American League — MVP: Ken Griffey; HOW: Roger Clemens

National League — MVP: Larry Walker; HOW: Larry Walker and Craig Biggio in virtual tie

Once more, based on WAR, the MVP went to the right guy in the wrong year. Griffey was almost certainly the best every-day player in the American League in 1997. But this was an otherworldly season for Clemens. He apparently pitched angry all year because of the way the Red Sox treated him. Let’s also compare him to Verlander’s 2011:

Verlander: 251 innings, 174 hits, 24 homers, 250 strikeouts, 57 walks, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts, 2.40 ERA

Clemens: 264 innings, 204 hits, 9 homers, 292 strikeouts, 68 walks, 9 complete games, 3 shutouts, 2.05 ERA

Bill James, in his New Historical Abstract, went through just how remarkable Craig Biggio’s 1997 season was. He hit .309, walked 84 times and was hit by a league-leading 34 pitches. He had 67 extra-base hits, scored a league-leading 147 runs, stole 47 bases and, incredibly, did not hit into a double play all year. He could not come close to matching Walker’s absurdly gaudy numbers (.366, 49 homers, 46 doubles, 130 RBIs, .720 slugging) but those numbers were unquestionably inflated by the altitude at Coors Field. If you contextualize everything, those two players were REALLY close in value, I believe. But Biggio did not get a single first-place MVP vote.

* * *


American League — MVP: Juan Gonzalez; HOW: Ken Griffey (4th)

National League — MVP: Ken Caminiti; HOW: Barry Bonds (5th)

This was the worse of the two Juan Gone MVP votes.

Here’s a thought: I wonder if every year we here at the blog should give out what I would call the Tommy Harper award — that is the award to the player (usually relatively unnoticed) who does the most things well. I would name it after Harper because the guy was awesome and, more to the point, in 1970, in Milwaukee, Harper played five different positions, hit .296, walked 77 times, hit 31 homers, stole 38 bases, scored 104 runs and accumulated 315 bases.

Obviously, Biggio was the winner of the Tommy Harper Award in 1997. Chuck Knoblauch would have won it in 1996. He hit .341, walked 98 times, was hit by 19 pitches, led the league with 14 triples, added 13 homers, stole 45 bases, scored 140 runs, accumulated 299 total bases and seemed to play an excellent second base (before the throwing thing happened).

* * *


American League — MVP: Mo Vaughn; HOW: Randy Johnson (6th)

National League — MVP: Barry Larkin; HOW: Greg Maddux (3rd)

From 1987 through 1996, 10 seasons, the BBWAA voted Mo Vaughn (4.1 WAR); Juan Gonzalez (3.5 WAR); Andre Dawson (3.7 WAR) and Dennis Eckersley (2.8 WAR) as MVPs. I would have to believe that, even as people yelp about the inequities of WAR, the voters will never again choose anyone quite that low in statistical value again.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the 1995 voting in the American League is actually a trivia question: Between 1990 and 2012, which Red Sox every-day player recorded the highest WAR in a single season?

I suspect Red Sox fans know this right away. And I suspect that, because I asked the question, you know that it isn’t David Ortiz or Kevin Youkilis or Dustin Pedroia or Nomar Garciaparra or anyone obvious.

It’s John Valentin in 1995. He posted an 8.1 WAR, which is actually higher than Jim Rice’s legendary 1978 season (higher, in fact, than any Jim Rice season). It was the highest in the American League in 1995 among every-day players.

Now, let’s just say this: Valentin was crazy good in 1995. He hit .298, walked 81 times, hit 27 homers, stole 20 bases, scored 108 runs, drove in 102 runs and, by the numbers, played exceptional defense at shortstop.

But was he really the best every-day player in the league? Better than Albert Belle or Edgar Martinez? Was his year really better than Rice’s in ’78? Or is this just a statistical blip based on him being rated way too high defensively or the numbers not being properly adjusted for Fenway Park (he hit 40 points higher and slugged 40 points better at home)? Is this merely a sign that WAR is just hopelessly flawed — “an overrated bauble” in the words of the great Tom Verducci?

Or do these stats — because they do not even attempt to measure leadership and aura, because they do not care if the player is named Valentin or Clemente, Zobrist or DiMaggio — do a better job of calculating who contributed most on the field?

* * *

Bonus breakdown: Cy Young 1993

There’s a cool interview on Fangraphs with David Cone, and he brings up the 1993 Cy Young Award. His point is that, take away pitcher wins — as we try to do here — and it would be very hard to separate Jack McDowell’s Cy Young Award season from David Cone’s season (though Cone did not receive even a third-place Cy Young vote).

McDowell: 256 2/3 innings, 261 hits, 20 homers, 158 strikeouts, 69 walks, 10 complete games, 4 shutouts, 3.37 ERA, 1.286 WHIP

Cone: 254 innings, 204 hits, 20 homers, 191 strikeouts, 114 walks (yikes!), 6 complete games, 1 shutout, 3.33 ERA, 1.256 WHIP

Wow, Coney, that’s a lot of walks, brother. I had no idea. But, other than that, Cone is absolutely right. The numbers are eerily similar — almost same number of innings, almost same ERA, same homers, almost same WHIP, McDowell gave up more base runners by hit, Cone by walk. Look at it this way:

Runs allowed by start


0 runs — 4 times
1 run — 1
2 runs — 9
3 runs — 9
4 runs — 4
5-plus — 7 times


0 runs — 4 times
1 run — 3
2 runs — 8
3 runs — 4
4 runs — 8
5-plus — 7 times

Pretty close to identical, no? McDowell had a couple more one-run starts, Cone had an advantage in two- and three-run starts. Pretty close to identical. And yet, McDowell got 21 first-place Cy Young votes and Cone got none, and I imagine that nobody even thought of giving Cone a first-place vote. Why? You know why. Wins. McDowell went 22-10. Cone went 11-14. That was the whole story.

But, amazingly enough, it wasn’t Cone but ANOTHER Royals pitcher who absolutely, positively, no questions asked should have won the Cy Young that year. Look at one more comparison:

McDowell: 256 2/3 innings, 261 hits, 20 homers, 158 strikeouts, 69 walks, 10 complete games, 4 shutouts, 3.37 ERA, 1.286 WHIP

Royals pitcher: 238 2/3, 183 hits, 8 homers, 186 strikeouts, 81 walks, 5 complete games, 1 shutouts, 2.56 ERA, 1.106 WHIP

That’s a whole lot more run prevention going on. It’s even more striking when you break it down by start:


0 runs — 4 times
1 run — 3
2 runs — 8
3 runs — 4
4 runs — 8
5-plus — 7 times

Royals starter

0 runs — 5 times
1 run — 5
2 runs — 11
3 runs — 8
4 runs — 1
5-plus — 3 times

Not close, is it? The Royals starter, of course, was Kevin Appier and his 18-8 won-loss record just didn’t impress the voters quite like McDowell’s 22-win season did. It’s a shame. Appier was a great pitcher from 1990 through 1997, and almost nobody noticed.

35 Responses to MVP and HOW

  1. Joe: I didn’t read this post. I only read your tweet about using 4000 words on the topic.

    I am commenting to ask you for a different kind of story.

    Where do players stay when they are traded mid-season? Do they find apartments? Who helps them — the team? Their agent? Nobody?

    I saw a video of Hunter Pence commuting to AT&T Park by Segway, and it made me wonder about this.

    I’ve been following baseball for years and have seen maybe 2 stories on this topic. I would really like to learn more about how ballplayers manage changes of cities. I don’t have the media pass to ask these questions myself, but you do.

    Or you could write another 4000 words on this year’s AL MVP. But please consider my request. The two are not mutually exclusive.

  2. One issue I haven’t seen addressed in the entire MVP discussion is: what does the actual MVP ballot state? (see below) Statistical performance is clearly only one element.

    An *equal* element is ‘number of games played’ and Cabrera played more games than Trout in 2012.

    Another *equal* element is ‘general character’ etc. and in that regard one could argue that a veteran star uncomplainingly moving from first to third demonstrates superior loyalty or disposition.

    Given the *actual* standards for MVP from BBWAA to consider, doesn’t that create room for reasonable disagreement about Trout v. Cabrera?

    This is the standard from the Baseball Writers Association from the FAQ which can be found here:

    Dear Voter:

    There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

    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.

    5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

    You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.

    Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.”

    • Jeremy T says:

      First of all, WAR, as a counting stat, also takes games played into account.

      As far as the “general character” clause, it doesn’t seem like that much of a sacrifice to move from 1st to 3rd. If he had been willing to move from 1st to DH or if he was an outfielder moving to a less “flashy” position, then sure, but 1st to 3rd seems like a promotion. Also, that same clause mentions “effort”, where Trout has to outrank pretty much everyone else in the sport.

      Depending on how heavily you weight the individual factors in your mind, there’s an argument to be made for Cabrera. I just think the argument for Trout was better. On the other hand, a lot of people seem to like the story surrounding Cabrera better for whatever reason. What’s done is done, and the argument has been beaten to death enough, I think.

    • David says:

      I agree a lot with Jeremy above. If we really look at those 5 comments, we can throw out #4 and #5 right away: no one’s arguing that Trout shouldn’t win because of Pujols, or that Cabrera shouldn’t win because of Verlander; likewise, neither won has previously won an MVP, so that clause has nothing to do with this race.

      As for #2, I think “number of games played” is pretty accurately depicted by “actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.” And besides, it doesn’t say how to *treat* the number of games played, just to consider it. One could CONSIDER that Trout put up counting stats nearly as good as Cabrera, in spite of not playing as many games. There’s no reason to believe that that’s not what this stipulation means.

      As for character, I think Cabrera’s drunk driving incidents more than make up for his great sacrifice of changing positions, so I don’t see how that can sway the vote either way.

      That leaves us with point #1 as really the only thing that matters here. I say Trout was better. Some may say Cabrera. Fine. But I just don’t see how the other things apply in this case.

    • Stephen says:

      Somewhere in the shuffle, people seem to forget that Trout switched positions mid-season, from LF to CF. While that isn’t required to make Trout’s case for MVP, it would certainly negate the argument that Cabrera should get credit from moving from first to third.

    • Stephen says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Rich Warren says:

      Then how did Hamilton win in 2010 when he played only 5 games after Aug 31. I heard many supporters of Cabrera put a lot of emphasis on how he played down the stretch. Hamilton didn’t play at all in 2010. I’d take that to mean that games played is not a critical factor to most voters. On the same point considering Trout’s reduced games played as a negative when he had no control over it seems odd for anyone who voted in the Hamilton year.

    • Can I ask a simple question here? No offense to Mike Trout. Yes he is a phenomenal talent and has had the best season for a rookie in years. My question is this, how does a great rookie season even come close to a triple crown year. It’s the triple crown, not done since Yaz. And might I had if you had taken Cabrera out of that lineup that really only left The Tigers with Young and Fielder for power options and if you took Cabrera out of that lineup the Tigers don’t get to the World Series and possibly don’t win their division. It doesn’t matter with sabermetrics whether The Angels were a far better team with Trout. The Angels with him didn’t make the playoffs. So for me Cabrera Triple Crown equals Pennant and World Series trip. By the way Yaz took his team to the World Series that year too and without him, they wouldn’t have made it. Trout got his award. He is the Rookie of the year and deservidly so. Once again Cabrera Triple Crown, pennant trip to World series. Sorry Brian Kenney and sabermetrics geeks, case closed.

    • How does a great rookie season even come close to a triple crown year?

      Simple answer: there have been SIXTEEN triple crown seasons & there have been NINETEEN 30-40 seasons. That’s pretty close to the same statistical frequency I would say, so clearly we are talking about a narrative. The triple crown is revered, but it’s virtually the same thing as a 30-40 season.

      Further, Mike Trout went 30-49. Had he not gotten caught in game 162, he becomes only the THIRD player EVER to go 30-50. A what if that didn’t happen, sure, but we’re talking about the difference between 1 steal on Trout’s side and 1 more (actual) home run on Cabrera’s side, and that is the only difference: narrative. Proving this point even further, if we adjust the scope even a tiny bit: Trout became just the FIFTH player in MLB history to go 30-45. Why stop at round numbers of 30/30, 30/40, 40/40? Again: narrative.

  3. Bill says:

    I go by narrative. Because sports is about narrative. There’s never a right answer, even if you go by numbers, because which stats are you favoring and why?

    It’s much more engaging to go by the imperfect “this is what I saw” — because memories are about NY kids in the 80s thinking Don Mattingly was the greatest player ever and Boston kids being sure that Boggs was a better hitter than Gwynn. Knowing that stats could prove that wrong means what, exactly?

    But I have no problem if folks feel the other way. The only thing is… how many times do you have to write about Trout/Cabrera? The more you beat the stats drum, the more you come across like Bob Greene writing about Baby Richard or a partisan political columnist bashing the other side: any good points you make get lost in the fact that you’re saying the same thing over and over and over again. And again. I liked the Trout narrative and would have been happy if he won, but, man — let it go. An argument doesn’t get better the more times you repeat it. You’re coming across like the stereotypical ugly American traveling oversees, convinced folks will understand your English if you say the same thing over and over again, only more loudly each time.

  4. Although the more I looked at it, the more I thought the Cabrera/Trout thing was a tie–with neither side making an airtight case–I like to think of myself as at least moderately statistically oriented. I remember being outraged, for example, that Howard won the MVP over Pujols in ’06 and I frequently laugh at the Juan Gone MVP’s.

    But inasmuch as a lot of time outrageous numbers can be rolled into narrative, I’d still have to say that MVP SHOULD be narrative. If you can’t tell me in two sentences why a guy should be MVP, then he probably shouldn’t be.

    • Chris says:

      Then tell us in two sentences why Trout or Cabrera should be MVP without using numbers (no WAR or Triple Crown talk) to back you up.

    • Daniel Flude says:

      Mike Trout should be the MVP because in 2012 he was a better player than Miguel Cabrera.

      I only needed one sentence.

    • Adam S says:

      Miguel Cabrera should be MVP because the AL Champion Tigers because the Tigers wouldn’t have made the playoffs without him.

      Miguel Cabrera should be MVP because Prince Fielder was looking to sign with a contender after the 2011 season and the opportunity to play with a team that included Miguel Cabrera was clearly a factor.

      I did it twice. So there are two arguments. Neither side is wrong or right.

    • Daniel Flude says:

      It is if you use a rational definition of the word value along with the voting criteria that the BBWAA themselves put out there.

    • Andrew R says:

      Adam don’t use the second one, Fielder has loved the Tigers since he was a little boy when his father played for them.

      Had Trout played all year the Angels would have made the playoffs.
      Miguel Cabrera only won the triple crown because of injuries and slumps of other players, MVP shouldn’t be based on luck.

    • Andrew R says:

      Adam don’t use the second one, Fielder has loved the Tigers since he was a little boy when his father played for them.

      Had Trout played all year the Angels would have made the playoffs.
      Miguel Cabrera only won the triple crown because of injuries and slumps of other players, MVP shouldn’t be based on luck.

  5. yefrem says:

    A better measure for pitchers is RA9, which factors in batted ball tendencies. Pitcher is based on absolute outcomes only (FIP). However this does open a new can of worms since some of the biggest beneficiaries of FDP wins (Fielding Dependent Wins) are your Jeremy Hellicksons, James Shieldses, and David Prices – Rays, that is. Maddon’s boys – ie. beneficiaries of the defensive shifts. But, there are a lot of guys who play for conventional managers who are undervalued by WAR – Shaun Marcum for example. His ERA always outperforms his FIP, why? Look at his whiff rate. His is actually better than Verlander’s. So its no coincidence that his BABIP is in the cellar too.

  6. Thanks, Joe, for such an insightful post and all the research it took to prepare it.

  7. Bad Poet says:

    “And, in retrospect, knowing what we now know about PEDs: Kevin Brown allowing just 8 home runs in almost 260 innings is absolutely mind-blowing.”

    Joe, you ARE aware that Brown was on PEDs too, right?? I mean he did appear in the Mitchell Report and all…

  8. Regarding Mauer’s MVP, I think WAR’s defensive valuation of Catchers and positional adjustment for Catchers is lacking and extremely imprecise. The adjustment especially is too low. Eventually that will be fixed as people tinker.

  9. Jeff Nassiff says:

    Regarding Larry Walker in 1997, my recollection is that the narrative was quite the opposite of “but those numbers were unquestionably inflated by the altitude at Coors Field”. Walker’s home and road splits were fairly close that year, and so the writers built the erroneous narrative that Coors didn’t inflate his stats (when surely Coors helped him as much as it helped everyone else, and he actually had a poor year hitting at home disguised by a great park).

  10. DataFace says:

    ” In this case — and this will repeat several times — the players involved are separated by only a few tenths of a point of WAR. And I don’t think even the most strident believer thinks that WAR, as calculated, is so precise that a few tenths of a point mean very much.”

    I think this is what stands out so much about this year’s vote: the WAR difference between Cabrera and Trout was huge. 20.7 to 14. They were in completely different strata of performance.

  11. Kate says:

    “What does your MVP look like? Is it narrative-based? Stat-based? A combination of the two?”

    Well. Yeah. A combination, because stats and numbers should inform but not solely dominate any given discussion. Willie Mays was statistically great, but he was also gorgeous to watch play baseball, say.

  12. matt nagi says:

    It is interesting to me how much press the MVP garnered with Miguel winning despite his WAR being less than Trout’s. However I haven’t read the first word of indignation from the press that David Price won Cy Young despite his WAR being lower than Verlander’s. Can anyone weigh in on that?

    • Chris says:

      My guess is that the difference between the two wasn’t nearly as much as Trout/Cabrera.

      There was a much bigger story with Trout/Cabrera. You have the Triple Crown vs. WAR machine. Old school vs. new school.

      Price and Verlander were similar pitchers with similar numbers.

  13. zugrian says:

    I’ll take the HOW every year, especially since that would mean Bonds would have added another MVP which the writers will all choke on when he comes up for Hall of Fame voting soon.

    Trout should have won in a landslide this year. Cabrera was terrible defensively and one of the worst baserunners in baseball– we really should add grounding into double plays count against OBP or something to highlight how damaging that sort of thing is to a team’s ability to score.

  14. Really enjoy the experiment, but would much rather see it done with Win Probability Added, which I think offers a truer view of who was most valuable in a given year.

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