By In Stuff

MVP (The Aftermath)

One of the themes of late has been that the baseball writers, among others, are becoming more and more sabermetric in their thinking. This was why some people thought — key word being “thought” — that the American League MVP vote was going to be close between Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and WAR winner Mike Trout.
I never thought the vote was going to be close … I’m not bragging about this or even humblebragging. I just felt confident going back to September that if Cabrera won the Triple Crown he would run away with the MVP voting. He won the Triple Crown. And he ran away with the vote — 22 first place vote to 6 for Trout. It really could not have gone any other way.
The reason some people think that the voting has changed is because two years ago, Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award despite a 13-12 record. This was widely viewed as a breakthrough moment for the Baseball Writers — for good and for bad. A Cy Young winner with only 13 victories? What was happening? Had the world gone mad? Had the BBWAA gone futuristic?

The thing is, you look back at that specific vote and you realize that there really wasn’t another particularly good candidate. There was only one 20-game winner in the American League, C.C. Sabathia, and his ERA was almost a full run higher than King Felix, and he pitched 12 fewer innings, and he had 35 fewer strikeouts, and so on. Picking him over Hernandez would have been just weird (though three voters did anyway).

David Price was more viable with his 19-7 record and 2.72 ERA, but even that was almost a half run higher than Hernandez, and he pitched 40 fewer innings, and you really couldn’t make a great argument that HE pitched better than King Felix (though four voters did anyway). Plus, Price didn’t win 20, and once you get below 20 wins, the win totals don’t matter as much anyway.
The point is — while many people looked at it as a breakthrough, well, I’m really not sure that it was. Last year, both Cy Young winners won 20-plus games (though there was a good statistical argument for 19-game winner Roy Halladay over 21-game winner Clayton Kershaw). This year, both Cy Young winners won 20-plus games (though there was a good statistical argument for 17-game winner Justin Verlander over 20-game winner David Price and 14-game winner Kershaw over 20-game winner Dickey).
The point is: I don’t think the tide really has shifted all that much. Yes, there are a few more sabermetrically inclined people in the BBWAA, which is great, but I think the strong majority leans traditional.
There were a lot of reasons people voted for Miguel Cabrera.  And as I have said many times, he had an amazing year. Say that again: He had an amazing year. He had an MVP year that stands up well with other MVPs through the years. The Triple Crown was a remarkable achievement. The guy hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs and that’s just plain awesome.
But I will say that one thing that seems to happen when it comes to the MVP is that many people first pick the PLAYER they want to vote for MVP and then pick the REASONS after that. With Cabrera, it became apparent to some people after a while that just repeating, again and again, that he won the Triple Crown wasn’t quite getting the job done.* After all, we live in the Moneyball era when many people realize that batting average and RBIs are not exactly the first stats you should go to when trying to measure a player’s value. Plus, even the most staunch Triple Crown advocate might admit that it tells you nothing at all about a player’s defense, his base running, his ability to score runs, his ability to avoid hitting into double plays and about 5,000 other things.
*Admittedly, others never did reached this point and kept repeating, “If you win the Triple Crown, you win the MVP.” They repeat it still.
So, best I could tell, there were four other major arguments made for Cabrera (and I’m not even including the “He led his team to the playoffs” argument since Trout’s Angels had a better record). But it seemed to me that all of the four of these “arguments” were not just flawed, they were pat. The arguments were made to confirm Cabrera, not to separate him. Here’s what I mean:
Argument 1: Cabrera moved to third base to help the team, which is at the heart of “value.”
OK, two things. One, I have no idea if Miguel Cabrera moved to third base against his will. In my memory, Miguel Cabrera WAS a third baseman when he came to Detroit. And after being so utterly useless there for two-plus weeks the Tigers had no choice but to move him to first base. I imagine THAT was the move he didn’t want to make. Moving back to third — the position he played most in the minors, the position he came up with, the position he seemed interested in playing when he came to Detroit? I don’t get the hardship here.
But the second thing is this: If I’m making the Cabrera for MVP argument, I’m probably not bringing up defense. Mike Trout is a lot better defensive player than Cabrera. A lot better. Even Cabrera’s staunchest supporters are just impressed that he fought third base to a draw. Meanwhile Trout was a marvel in the outfield. Cabrera’s willingness to go to third if he really did not want to go is admirable, I suppose, and if you want to give him some points for that then give him some points. But please give Mike Trout many more points since he was a significantly better defensively.
Argument 2: Cabrera was better in August and September.
Three things this time. First is, yes, Cabrera was better than Trout offensively those two months. He hit .344/.411/.670 to Trout’s .287/.383/.500. That’s better. Trout did score more runs, however. He stole 18 bases to Cabrera’s 0. He was still the much, much better defensive player. Was Miguel Cabrera really the better PLAYER the last two months of the season, or just the better hitter? I mean, if the MVP is only about who hits the ball in August and September, well, Prince Fielder’s .337/.453/.607 should have put him pretty close to Cabrera’s level as an MVP candidate.
Which leads to the second thing: Isn’t it interesting that Fielder and Cabrera both went cuckoo at the plate the last two months of the season. I wonder why. Maybe it’s because they are both extraordinary pressure hitters who rise to the occasion when it matters most, when backs are against walls, when time is up, when chips are down, when fat ladies sing. Maybe it’s because they have some sort of inner strength that others lack, some sort of clutch hitter gene that triggers when the team needs them the most.
Or — and I’m just spitballing here — part of it could be that the Tigers played Cleveland (last in league in ERA), Minnesota (second-last in league in ERA) and Kansas City (11th in league in ERA) 28 times in the last two months. I suppose that is at least possible. Meanwhile Trout played Oakland (2nd in ERA) and Seattle (third in ERA) 21 times, just those two teams. 
Look, it’s never as simple as saying that ballpark factors or strength of schedule or anything like that makes all the difference. They don’t make all the difference. Cabrera hit good pitchers and bad all year — the guy’s a masher. But it seems impossible to me that people would divvy up the season like that — making games after August 1 sacrosanct — without taking that little tidbit into consideration.
And there’s the third thing. Take a look at July:
Mike Trout: .392/.455/.804
Miguel Cabrera: .344/.409/.677
Do you see it? Yep: Miguel Cabrera was almost exactly the same in July as he was in August and September. Seems he didn’t just turn it on August 1st because the team needed him. He’s just a really good hitter. Meanwhile Trout was otherworldly.
And … wait a minute: It looks like they played baseball in June too:
Trout: .372/..419/.531
Caberra: .311/.387.604
Hmm. And wait, what’s this? They played baseball in May too?
Trout: .324/.385/.556
Cabrera: .331/.371/.468
It’s fun to parse the baseball season into nice, bite-sized chunks to make a point. You know from Sept. 25 to October 3 — the last nine games of the season! The crunchiest of crunch times — Mike Trout thoroughly outhit Cabrera

Trout: .361/.465/.694

Cabrera: .313/.353/.500
And do you know what that means? Nothing. It’s the MVP. Whole season.
Argument 3: Trout is just a rookie … he will have many chances to win the award.
This one’s just dumb. Let’s talk WAR for a second. By WAR, Mike Trout just had the best season for any American League everyday player the last TWENTY YEARS. Yep, you throw every single season since 1992 into the bin — A-Rod’s best seasons, Griffey’s best seasons, Jeter’s best, MannyBManny’s best, Mauer’s best — Mike Trout is better than all of them. Do you realize how rare a 10.0 WAR season is? Stan Musial had one in his career. Cal Ripken had one in his career. Hank Aaron never had one. Roberto Clemente never had one. Joe DiMaggio never had one. Mike Trout could go on to become one of the greatest players in baseball history and still never have another season as amazing as this one.
Dwight Gooden, I would argue, was far and away the best player in baseball in 1985. Nobody was even close. His WAR was 13.0 — the highest for any player or pitcher since Babe Ruth. He threw 276 innings with a 1.53 ERA. He won the pitching Triple Crown. He threw 16 complete games and eight shutouts. If you had a MVP award from 1950 to 2012, Dwight Gooden in 1985, Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, Steve Carlton in 1972, Barry Bonds one of his cartoonish years like 2001 and maybe Mickey Mantle his Triple Crown year or Willie Mays in 1965 or Pedro Martinez in 2000 or Bob Gibson in 1968 or Roger Clemens in one of his most dominant years might be the finalists. Gooden’s year, I think, should win.
Gooden didn’t come close to winning the MVP that year. He was only 20 that year — you might have thought he would have those kinds of years again and again. Of course he didn’t. He never even approached that season. Breathtaking years — even for the best players — are rare things. Ted Williams, perhaps the best hitter that ever was, only hit .400 once. To comfort yourself for not giving Mike Trout the MVP this year by saying he will win others is nonsensical and just plain wrong.
Argument 4: The players, by large majority, think Cabrera was the better player.
Two people I like very much — Bob Dutton and Susan Slusser — both made the point that they asked a lot of players who they thought should win the award and most of them thought it should be Cabrera. Well, Slusser gets docked a few points because she admits talking to Brandon McCarthy who TOLD HER that Trout was MVP, and she decided to listen to other players. Susan, listen: Brandon McCarthy is smarter than all other players. All of them. Listen to him. Always. You should know this by now.

Look, I am certainly not going to in any way knock-down baseball players’ knowledge of the game. They know 10 million things about it that we layman who topped out in Little League will never know. But here’s the thing: By and large, we are paying a lot closer attention. This becomes all too obvious when so many of these baseball players become announcers. We are spending a lot more time studying the players. We are breaking down their performances. We are measuring them over an entire season. Most of the players Bob Dutton would talk to have been facing Miguel Cabrera 19 times a year for the last  five years. And they have seen Mike Trout play, what, six times? Maybe? Susan is probably talking to players who have seen Trout more this year, but even so Cabrera has been in the league for years, he’s been one of the best players in the game for years, OF COURSE they are going to say that Cabrera is more valuable. Except for Brandon McCarthy. Because Brandon McCarthy is paying attention.
The coach’s poll in college football is a living testament to the obvious: Coaches don’t really pay much attention to other teams. Neither do players.
Bob brought up the idea that he knows baseball beat writers better than anyone and would trust his own instincts over a statistical model. That might be true. But if some 20 year old kid came up and instantly became this legendary beat writer (using all sorts of new technology in new ways), and there was some old war horse of a beat writer who everybody admired and who was having a great year by traditional standards — who do you think Bob would pick? I know Bob well. I’m pretty sure I can guess who he would pick.* I’m pretty sure he would look at the beat writer statistics and absolutely acknowledge the kid was having a great year but he would still vote for the older guy because that’s human nature, and because a reputation has been built, and because there would be some vague idea that the kid will have plenty of other chances.
*Update: Bob makes a good case that he has an open mind and might pick the younger beat writer. I can vouch for his open mind and so soften my viewpoint, but with this caveat: I don’t think a lot of people — or players — have Bob’s open mind.
Asking players is certainly a viable part of voting for the MVP. Ask them. Ask coaches. Ask scouts. Watch them play. Study the stats. Just remember the limitations of all of these. 
And in case of emergency: Just listen to Brandon McCarthy.

99 Responses to MVP (The Aftermath)

  1. GregTamblyn says:

    Trout not winning smells fishy.

  2. Bryan says:

    At this point, the “argument” for Cabrera over Trout is just one more example of the anti-quantitative crowd expressing fear and unhappiness about the future. Those people may as well be Karl Rove sputtering about Butler county. Quant is here, it works, and everyone who argues against it is going to have to explain some embarrassing YouTube clips someday.

    Different question: who has the *worst* argument? Word-for-word, I’d vote for what came out of Wilbon’s mouth during PTI yesterday.

    ~17:24 in this clip:

    I’ve watched PTI nearly every day for the last three years, and after his last “be careful,” I deleted the episode turned off the TV. I hate to say this, but that show might be better without Wilbon.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I’m not against advanced stats, and I like Trout (and probably would have voted for him if I could), but (and I know this is narrative) it is really hard not to reward the first Triple Crown in 45 years with an MVP. I know the Triple Crown is artificial, but when you name the other players who have Triple Crowns, you have to admit it’s pretty damned impressive. Yeah, I know Cabrera can’t run or field. Still, I can’t see the outrage when a guy has an offensive season like Cabrera did. It’s not like he had a mediocre season.

    • George says:

      Blindly trusting “quant” gets you LTCM. Read Nassim Taleb.

    • Saverno says:

      The Difference between advanced baseball metrics for an MVP discussion and LTCM quant models is that advanced stats explain past behavior while the LTCM “genius” tried to predict future market behavior. A better analogy would be the quant model to baseball contracts, where management pays for future performance.

    • Saverno says:

      The Difference between advanced baseball metrics for an MVP discussion and LTCM quant models is that advanced stats explain past behavior while the LTCM “genius” tried to predict future market behavior. A better analogy would be the quant model to baseball contracts, where management pays for future performance.

    • I got tired of those shows years ago!! WIlbon is horrible, he pretty much only knows basketball

  3. PL says:

    To anyone who keeps bringing up Trout’s fWAR, the main flaw with fWAR in general – and it very much so applies to Trout – is that it takes more than one season to stabilize due the UZR factor, which takes more than 1 season to do so. Trout playing 85% of 1 season is exactly why we should take his UZR with a grain of salt. We don’t have enough data to work with so his overall fWAR was inflated to the point it was. Yes, Trout passes the eyeball test with flying colors and will most likely continue on that way, but I’ll let the Fangraphs quote from their site speak for itself:

    “you should always use three years of UZR data before trying to draw any conclusions on the true talent level of a fielder.”

    Trout doesn’t have 3 years of data, ergo, his WAR this season was slightly skewed upward. Why Fangraphs doesn’t average out UZR’s every 3 years to show the correct WAR is beyond me, but it most likely has to do with them trying to sell WAR as the 1-stop-shop go-to stat to look at, which is a fine goal of sabermetrics to break through to the general baseball fan. But it didn’t help Trout win the MVP, and won’t until the UZR kinks are worked out, which they won’t be because, like Fangraphs said, you need 3 years of data and MVP’s are voted on yearly.

    My other thought here is: how is Cabrera -not- the MVP? His numbers are incredible, he led MLB in the very underrated stat of Total Bases, the MLB network somehow got a decent looking highlight reel of him playing 3B, he was devastating in the last 3 months of the season at the plate, and the fact that Jeter also got a ton of MVP votes shows that the voters simply don’t think defense comes into the question when voting, and why would they? Its a nondescript thing in the first place: so what, a 3B doesn’t have the range to get to the ball, and the runner ends up on first. But then the pitcher strikes out the side so, no, no damage was done. Compare that to a home run, putting an actual, real run on the board should be viewed as more valuable.

    • As with most pro-Cabrera arguments, there are plenty of excuses and not a lot of logical justifications.

      1) UZR can be fluky in small samples, but we have no shortage of other data and scouting to tell us that Trout is, in fact, a very very GOOD center fielder, and that Miguel Cabrera is, in fact, a very very BAD third baseman. So when UZR, DRS, professional scouting and people with working pairs of eyes all agree on the defensive discrepancy, we can make certain rough adjustments in value assessment.

      2) Even if you ignore the defensive component entirely, Trout was still easily more valuable. Cabrera was worth about half a win if you only consider HITTING. But when you consider total offense – namely baserunning – Trout was a full win better. So even if you ignore defense entirely, the hitting and baserunning totals – which are accurate reflections of value and do not require larger than a one-year sample – Trout was the better player.

      What voters think matters is not important, because as they have clearly demonstrated, both in BBWAA voting and in coach/player voting, they generally don’t have any idea who the best players are. They build their ballots on reputation instead of fact.

    • PL says:

      See, this is where the pro-Trouters get all hyperbolic, I do agree with a lot of this but the “Miguel Cabrera is, in fact, a very very BAD third baseman” is not even close to being fact. If this were true, then why did I watch a highlight reel of him making a ton of great plays this season? If he were as awful as the overly enthusiastic Trout fans say, he wouldn’t be making any of those. The fact and reality is he’s about league average, Edwin Encarnacion is the player that fits that quote, but Cabrera is just meh there. Not “very very BAD” but not good. Passable.

      Trout’s missed games really hurt him, and played a huge part. If he had all the raw stats and not just the metric ones, I’d 100% on board, but as it stands, this isn’t as big a deal as the pro-Trout people are making it out to be. There’s been far worse injustices over the years. Big deal they gave it to a Triple Crown award winner who’s team made the World Series, did you honestly believe they would vote for someone else? Plus on the bright side, it will hopefully inspire Trout to kick even more butt next year so it leaves no doubt.

    • Item two should read “Cabrera was worth a bout half a win MORE if you only consider…” To be exact, he led Trout in batting runs 55.9 to 50.9. Trout led in baserunning runs +12 to -2.8.

      And again, even if you disagree with the exact math, WAR is just an indicator of what is intuitively true from the raw totals: Cabrera was the better hitter, but an inferior runner and defender where Trout was elite in all three and most valuable player overall. It’s not a matter of preference, but of common sense.

    • Anecdotal evidence is not a substitute for actual scouting and recorded data, which tells us that Cabrera is noticeably below average at his position. Even a blind squirrel finds nuts sometimes.

      And yet again, even ignoring defense, Trout was clearly the better offensive player overall.

    • PL says:

      The issue here is thinking that the BBWA care about baserunning and defense. I do, you do, many of us do, but they sometimes do not.

      I’d rather move onto why John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press gave a vote for Raul Ibanez but left Robinson Cano off the ballot, that’s the biggest injustice of this MVP discussion, in my eyes.

    • What the voters care about does not justify the results, it only affects the legitimacy of the award. There’s a reason the Gold Gloves are regarded as a joke.

      There were plenty of dumb MVP ballots. But the one that shows us in whole that the BBWAA has no clue what’s going on was the landslide for the second or third-best player in the league.

    • Mike says:

      You say you watched a highlight reel of Cabrera’s good plays. The problem with that is that you’re not going to see his average and his bad plays in there. You could probably make a highlight reel for almost any player and make him look good by excluding all the bad plays and non-plays.

    • I just watched a highlight real of Cabrera’s hitting. I’m confused that he didn’t bat 1.000 and have about 100 home runs. It’s amazing he didn’t strike out all season.

    • Phaedrus says:

      @PL, you’re making a common mistake when people start dabbling in advanced stats that seek to determine true talent.

      You are correct that it takes a few years to determine “true talent” for defense. But that does not negate the contribution you made.

      MVP is not a measure of true talent. It’s a measure of contribution to your team. Most people win MVP when they have a career year. That year may be BABIP aided. So maybe a true talent .290 hitter hits .340 in one year because of an abnormally high BABIP.

      Maybe a pitcher wins Cy Young because of an abnormally high strand rate.

      True talent has nothing to do with MVP.

      One year of UZR stats is real. Meaning that Trout actually did perform that much better defensively than other CFs this year. Part of it may be luck. But it still happened. In MVP decision making, you should look at what actually happened, not true talent. A guy who just had a ridiculous career year that he’ll never repeat again should still get credit for it.

      This is actually why I don’t like fWAR for pitchers. They use FIP. FIP is not what actually happened. I think ERA has to be taken into account somehow because those runs were actually given up.

    • Mike says:

      One year of UZR is not real. Here is the creator of UZR saying so:

      FIP is what actually happened. The only inputs are unregressed K, BB, and HR.

    • Phaedrus says:

      @Mike, thanks for the UZR info. I honestly did not know that! Very strange. I still think the point that Trout is far and away the better defender and had far and away the better defensive season holds. Even if you discount it as Tango says in the linked article, you still have a gaping difference. Also very strange that Fangraphs would use UZR in WAR without addressing this issue. Maybe they do?

      RE FIP, I disagree. Dave Cameron always says the same thing that FIP is what happened. FIP is calculated specifically to equate similarly to ERA. When you use FIP in a WAR calculation, you’re basically saying, “This is the ERA he SHOULD have had.” There’s nothing wrong with FIP on it’s own, but it’s so often used incorrectly to say, “no, he really pitched to an X FIP, but bad luck caused him to have a Y ERA.” This is why Fangraphs guys were arguing for Liriano getting Cy Young votes in 2010 when his FIP was way better than his ERA. FIP is useful, but when there’s such a huge difference between FIP and ERA, more digging needs to be done.

      Specifically to your statement, “the only inputs are…” I would disagree and state that the additional inputs are various weightings of each component plus an additional multiplier to “equate” FIP to ERA.

      From THT: “The formula is (HR*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP, plus a league-specific factor (usually around 3.2) to round out the number to an equivalent ERA number. FIP helps you understand how well a pitcher pitched, regardless of how well his fielders fielded.”

      Lots of judgement in that statement when placed in the wrong hands!

  4. Chris says:

    We all have better tools now to make decisions like these. But baseball media is like everything else in the game. They don’t like change.

  5. Walt Partlo says:

    Cabrera wasn’t moved to first because he was useless at third base. He was moved because Carlos Guillen was useless at first base.

  6. Robert says:

    @PL, if you look at bWAR, Trout had a slight lead even excluding defense. He really did have a terrific season at the plate, playing a premium defensive position. You can exclude how well/not the guys played defense and still conclude Trout should have won the MVP.

    • PL says:

      I agree, but he also didn’t play in as many games as Cabera and didn’t put up as many raw numbers (like Total Bases). If he had played 20 more games at the same level then yes sure he would have been seen as definitively better, but he didn’t, and wasn’t.

      People are going to argue about this for a long time.

    • David says:

      But weren’t Cabrera’s total bases negated and even surpassed by the amount of stolen bases and extra bases taken by Trout?

    • Robert says:

      The fact that he played fewer games, in a harder division, in a harder ballpark to hit in, yet delivered so much value is exactly why the advanced metrics like him so much.

      I’d have voted Trout, but this isn’t the biggest injustice in the awards history or anything.

    • If you factor baserunning into offense (a no-brainer), Trout was more valuable DESPITE playing 20 fewer games, and the edge is considerably larger than the margin of error. That tells you everything you need to know.

    • PL says:

      @Chris – No player can be more valuable playing less games. Not playing games is zero value. It doesn’t “tell you everything you need to know”, at all.

    • PL – Yes you can. Value is not a rate state, it’s an aggregate one. Trout played fewer games and was still more valuable. Because he was that much better.

    • PL says:

      What if he did play those 20 games and slumped badly? You can’t predict things like that no matter how obvious they appear. Even still, when Trout wasn’t on the field, Vernon Wells was playing. That negates value in my opinion.

      Playing the most games & not exposing a lack of depth > being better over a shorter period. I believe a guy who played 139 games and had 182 hits wasn’t as valuable as a guy who played 161 games and had 205 hits. I will always believe that and always will, sorry!

    • The odds that he would have been worth -1 WAR over a 20-game span is extremely unlikely to the point that it can be safely ignored among probable outcomes. It’s not like he would have gotten negative hits in that span.

      You might believe it, but that doesn’t mean it makes a lick of sense.

    • PL says:

      Do you honestly think baseball ever makes sense?

    • Mike says:

      “Even still, when Trout wasn’t on the field, Vernon Wells was playing. That negates value in my opinion.”

      So now we’re punishing Mike Trout for the sins of Vernon Wells? Tough crowd.

    • Mike says:

      In the interest of being less snarky, here’s a question for you, PL. You say “I believe a guy who played 139 games and had 182 hits wasn’t as valuable as a guy who played 161 games and had 205 hits.” Putting aside that there’s more to value that simply collecting hits, I’m wondering what level of play over fewer games would be enough for you to consider the player who played less to have been more valuable?

      In your example, Trout’s replacement would have had to collect 23 hits in those 22 extra games in order to match the overall productivity of Cabrera. Thus, your replacement level would have to be higher than that. Basically, what number of hits would Trout have had to get in his 139 games in order for you to consider him more valuable than Cabrera?

  7. mckingford says:

    I say all this as a Tigers’ fan. Miggy won an undeserved MVP, and Verlander lost a deserved Cy Young.

    I think Verlander is the best example of how traditional markers remain stubbornly in use. His last two seasons are basically indistinguishable from one another, except for one thing: W-L record…which, incidentally, is the *worst* marker (traditional or otherwise) you could use for a pitcher. This season he had a better WHIP, better ERA+, and did it all pitching 28 more innings than Price (that’s basically 4 additional quality starts). It’s pretty hard to justify Price’s win, and it’s pretty clear that his 20-5 record looks better than Verlander’s 17-8 and that’s what did it.

    And when you look at last year, Verlander was great. But W-L record aside, his 2011 season wasn’t really that much different than King Felix’s 2010 Cy winning season or Greinke’s 2009 Cy winning season. So how does Verlander’s 2011 season justify the first MVP by a pitcher in a generation? Well, it doesn’t really. But that W-L record was sterling, and, well, that’s about it.

    So in short, Verlander’s 2011 season was great, but so was Fernandez in 2010, Greinke in 2009, and Verlander in 2012. But because he won 24 games, he wins an MVP. He basically repeats his performance in 2012 and not only does he not win the MVP, he doesn’t even win the Cy Young.

    Looks like we’re still stuck on pitching records…sigh.

    • brhalbleib says:

      Actually, except for 3 outlier votes, two explainable (but biased and wrong) and one completely unexplainable, Verlander and Price would have tied for the Cy Young. First, the explainable, two writers, who just happen to be the LA writers, picked Price 1st, Weaver 2nd and Verlander 3rd. Those are completely biased votes that have no basis in statistical reality. If you give Verlander the two points for getting 2nd instead of 3rd from those two writers, he halves Price’s 4 point victory. Second, the unexplainable, one writer, from the Fort Worth paper picked Verlander 2nd and Price 3rd and Fernando Rodney 1st. What??? No bias here but just plain weird. I have no explanation for this kooky vote. Had this writer picked Verlander 1st and Price 2nd, then Price would have one more point, Verlander 3 more and they would have tied.

    • Chad says:

      As a fellow Tiger fan … I have thought the exact same thing. I think JV should have won, but it’s not like they gave it to someone who had a crap year. I wanted Miggy to win, but would have had no issue with Trout winning the award, either. Again, it’s not like giving the award to Cabrera was giving it to someone who had a crap year.

    • Unknown says:

      Fernando Rodney had a *0.60* ERA. That’s unprecedented and off the charts. In a year where there was no truly great starter, it doesn’t seem all that unexplainable that one writer would choose to reward that historic achievement. Not that long ago, it probably would have won him the award.

  8. Bwahahahaha. Loving this. One of the first comments compares thoughts on the AL MVP race to “Karl Rove sputtering about Butler County.”

    It’s just an award, folks. It’s NOT the Presidency.

    And beyond that, sometimes people can disagree with you WITHOUT being bigots or idiots. Not seeing that realization much from the Trout bandwagon.

    • People can make idiotic arguments without being idiots. Karl Rove is actually a fine example, since he’s by most accounts a very smart guy.

      Most arguments in favor of Cabrera vary from unfounded to outright idiotic, as Joe summarized well in the body of the article.

    • Bryan says:

      Not saying
      (1) Karl Rove is a bigot
      (2) Anyone else is a bigot
      (2) MVP = Presidency

      I am saying that Karl Rove values his gut over math, and he shares that with the Cabrera supporters. It’s quant vs. qual, that’s all.

  9. The guy was the best player on the league champion. Without him, the Tigers don’t make the playoffs. The Angels finished third with Trout and probably could have finished third without him.

    Unfounded, or outright idiotic?

    • Robert says:

      Well, the Angels had a better record than the Tigers. So, ignoring that Trout’s team was (slightly) better and bringing division strength into MVP voting would rightly fall under the outright idiotic umbrella.

    • Unknown says:


    • jco2 says:

      The Angels had a better record then the Tigers. Miggy helped his team to a worse record then Trout’s team. Your logic is awful.

    • jco2 says:

      Since Prince hit better then Miggy to close out the season can’t you make the arguement that the Tigers do not make the playoffs without Fielder? Arbitrary end points are awesome!

    • Outright idiotic, then. Because somebody disagrees with you.

      Y’all must be fun to have around the house.

    • No, it’s not outright idiotic because someone disagrees with it. Some reasons why it’s idiotic.
      The Tiger’s were league champions when the MVP votes were cast. So at best Cabrear was the best player on a team that won one of the weakest divisions in baseball and which had a worse record than the Angels.
      True that without Cabrera the Tigers don’t make the playoffs, but that may also be true of Austin Jackson. Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder (as mentioned above). It also says as much about the division and Cabrera’s teammates as about Cabrera himself.
      Maybe the Angels would have finished third without Trou, but that’s far from certain. Anyway, it says as much about the division and Trout’s teammates as it does about Trout. What is far more certain is that the Angels would have lost more games without Trout. Where that ultimately placed them in their own division as compared to a Cabreraless Tigers in their division is…well…an odd way of assessing value.

    • Daniel Flude says:

      I would argue it’s some of both. First of all, the league champion thing is irrelevant, since that occurred after the MVP vote was taken.

      Second, the Tigers made the playoffs while the Angels didn’t because of geography. Giving someone extra points because of geography is silly.

      The Angels finished with more wins than Detroit playing tougher competition. Again, giving Cabrera credit for the fact that Minnesota, Cleveland, and Kansas City all were terrible while Chicago tanked in September is also silly.

    • Sorry…should read “The Tiger’s were NOT league champions when the MVP votes were cast.

    • Chris says:

      I was going to say unfounded as I stand in opposition of you, but throwing in the “league champion” part does push it towards idiotic since that had no bearing on the actual vote, nor should it on our discussion.

      I find it strange to try and suggest that either player was not as important to their team. Cabrera was a massive asset to the Tigers and the same of Trout for the Angels.

    • drunyon says:

      W. Blake Gray’s logical style: Make terrible argument, get called out on about 5 logical fallacies in the argument, then claim “you’re calling my argument idiotic just because you disagree with me”.

      This should go up on a Wall of Fame somewhere.

    • Did they not just go out and add Prince Fielder?

  10. Chris says:

    It’s fine. The best part of baseball reference is looking at season’s past and wondering what the hell the voters were thinking. This season can join the many others.

  11. Marco says:

    For me, the most interesting question is:

    What if Josh Hamilton or Curtis Granderson had hit 2 HR on the last day of the season, and how would that change our perception of the relative value between Trout and Miggy?

    • Edward says:

      Granderson did hit 2 HR on the last day of the season to get to 43. Girardi pulled him in the 7th (or 8th, maybe) when he had a chance for his 3rd HR to tie Miggy.

      I was in Kauffman Stadium that night, and the Royals held off on honoring Miggy until Granderson left the game.

    • Grover Jones says:

      But it’s still considered winning the Triple Crown if you tie, correct?

  12. Daniel Flude says:

    Joe, I know you dismissed the “Tigers made the playoffs and the Angels didn’t” argument in your piece (which was great, by the way). But, based on all of the writing I’ve seen to defend the Cabrera choice, the playoff argument had a lot to do with it. As I say above, it’s completely unfounded, since Cabrera is getting credit for geographical circumstance, but it seems to be an even more popular point of emphasis than the Triple Crown. I don’t understand it either.

  13. Perhaps it’s because making the playoffs matters?

    I guess the “Angels won more games” argument is this: With Trout, the Angels had the 5th best record in the league and missed the playoffs Without him, they might have had the 6th or 7th best record in the league and missed the playoffs.

    Is that about right?

    • Daniel Flude says:

      Why does Miguel Cabrera get credit for making the playoffs? His team did. He didn’t. Mike Trout’s team didn’t make the playoffs because the pitching was terrible. Why does Trout get deducted value for that?

    • Because making the playoffs matters! It’s really that simple.

      It’s interesting how many people want to insult me (and others) for making this argument. I get your WAR, stolen bases, defensive position, etc., etc.

      Point is, the goal of baseball teams is to make the playoffs, not to accumulate the most WAR.

      You can disagree with me. But don’t call me stupid for saying that the playoffs are the ultimate goal in baseball. You’ll have to make a pretty strong argument against that.

    • A Fly Moses says:

      No, it’s that the Angels won more games in the toughest or second-toughest division in baseball. The Tigers won fewer games in a the easiest or second-easiest division in baseball.

      The goal of teams IS to make the playoffs, but all they can control in their pursuit of the playoffs is how many games they win. What other teams do in other games is out of their control. You can’t very well reward or penalize them for that.

      Honestly, that seemed so obvious and self-evident typing it that I had to re-read your comment to make sure you weren’t just obviously trolling everyone.

    • Daniel Flude says:

      First of all, I never called you stupid. Nor did I ever say or insinuate that the playoffs don’t matter in baseball.

      My (our) point is that the MVP is an individual award given to one player. Miguel Cabrera didn’t make Detroit’s pitching staff better than the Angels. He had nothing to do with the A’s and the Rangers being better than the White Sox. And, most of all, he had zero to do with Detroit being a city in Michigan just as Mike Trout had nothing to do with Anaheim being a city in California.

      All of these things are outside of these players’ control, yet they’re being factored in to the evaluation of their individual value. There is no basis for doing that – not in the definition of the word value, nor in the criteria for voting that each writer is given. Team quality and division strength have nothing to do with the MVP, yet you’re insisting they do.

    • Maxa says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Ross Holden says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Mike I says:

    What ever happened to men? Guys used to drink real tequila and talk about real numbers – things like batting average, home runs, and RBIs. Numbers that we could compute and agree on. Now guys drink poser tequila and talk about what? Wins above replacement? wRC+? So you’re supposed to invest in a massively parallel supercomputer and a nerd to run it? And then you need another nerd to tell you which nerd’s definition of wins above replacement you’re supposed to have the first nerd implement? And only then can you figure out who the best player is? I’ve even heard nerds say that the guy who won the triple crown is less valuable than a guy who hits less and fields so poorly that he gets moved out of his position for defensive purposes. Since when did we start trusting these nerds? I think I’ll stick to real tequila.

    • Rob Smith says:

      You don’t need to be a nerd with a super computer to view someone’s WAR. A regular PC will do, just like for everyone else. Just google the player and look it up on or similar site. See now, that’s not so hard. But I will take you up on the tequila. I’ll even let you have the worm.

    • Daniel Flude says:

      Here’s the funny thing – in some cases it helps (and I would argue that it does in this case as well), but we don’t need it here. If you look at the hitting stats, Cabrera is barely ahead in average, and a decent distance ahead in homeruns and RBIs. Trout is a decent way ahead in runs scored and blows Cabrera away in stolen bases. All in all, Cabrera hit better than Trout, but not by much.

      Then there’s defense, where all you need is your eyes to tell you that Cabrera is mediocre and Trout is an absolute phenom. He robbed four homeruns and countless doubles/triples. He more than makes up for any difference in hitting with his defense. You don’t need WAR to tell you that.

  16. jkak says:

    Unfortunate that this blog has become so firmly established as a place where no one can offer an opinion that does not without qualification acknolwedge the supremacy of advanced stats or Springsteen. I believe the newer approaches to stats are much better at figuring historical value of a player than the traditional counting numbers. But at the same time, those new stats are not sacrosanct, and in five years there will be slightly different forumla, and also in ten years, and fifteen, and on and on.

    But this whole mvp argument is relevant to, what?? The numbers, whatever numbers you use, tell you what happened over some period of time. That’s of interest, but it’s not nearly as interesting as watching the games. Part of the beauty of the NL playoffs and the World Series was watching those series revolve around Barry Zito and Marco Scutaro, in spite of their career numbers through the end of September.

    And in the end, who cares about the mvp votes? It’s an award based on a popular vote, not much different from People magazine’s sexiest man or the Oscar for best picture. So what? Trout’s season is not lessened by virture of the fact that a panel of writers voted for Cabrera. We will survive.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I agree. It’s hardly an injustice when Trout comes in second in the MVP voting to a guy who had a monster Triple Crown season. Viva Cody Ross! Viva Gene Tenace!

    • malaikhanh says:

      I’ve seen this point made often of late. Maybe people are just trying to be diplomatic, but I disagree. Trout was superior to Cabrera by a wide margin. I’m sure there have been years where the first and second-best players were very close, so that awarding MVP honors to either one would have been reasonable–but 2012 was not one of those years. We can recognize that Cabrera had a fantastic season and still think favoring him over Trout was a major blunder.

      As for whether we should care about any of this in the grand scheme, in one sense you’re right: nothing in sports really matters, of course. It isn’t really press awards that bother me, though. It’s the apparent state of rational discourse. In a quite general sense, it’s discouraging to see so many people hostile to new, analytic ways of thinking, and so strongly bound by old prejudices. (For example, see Mike I’s comment, above.)

      This will seem hyperbolic, but when I consider some of the more egregious opponents to sabermetrics, I’m struck that their attitude is the sort that leads people to think that evolution and climate change are hoaxes. It’s bad all around.

    • Chris K. says:

      Eloquently stated..

  17. Matt says:

    Joe, you are missing the boat about the rookie thing. There is a reason sometimes rookies have fantastic years… because the rest of the league hasn’t had a chance to figure the player out. Jeremy Lin comes to mind (cross-sport.) This is the basis of the “Sophomore Slump.” Obviously people have had plenty of time to solve Miggy (to no avail.) If Trout can come close to replicating his #’s next year, with a year of tape his opponents can study, he’ll win easily.

    • Mike says:

      1. They have tape of minor league games, so it’s not like Mike Trout was some unknown to the pitchers he faced. Also, Trout played in the majors last year.

      2. The basis of the sophomore slump is regression to the mean (just like the rule of 370). The best rookies are likely to regress simply because it’s tough to maintain that level of play all the time. If you compare all rookies level of play this year to their play next year, the group as a whole will probably fare better.

    • Mattsullivan says:

      Genuinely curious- is there any quantitative evidence that a sophomore slump is real? Is there any overall trend that shows rookies actually perform better than players with larger scouting samples? I tend to think the answer to both is no.

    • Philip Smith says:

      Agree! For me, the MVP award has an unspoken element of Lifetime Achievement Award (ditto for Cy Young). I realize that nominally, the award goes to the best player in a given year, period. But I like giving it to a player that ENTERS the year with huge expectations and the outperforms those expectations. Miggy fits the bill. Going forward, maybe it turns out Trout isn’t a flash in the pan; but Miggy most definitely is not a flash in the plan, and that’s why he gets my MVP vote.

    • Chris says:

      Do you not find this a little strange, that the 2012 MVP is somehow based on years other than 2012 both in the past and apparently in the future for Trout. Baseball already has a lifetime achievement award, the Hall of Fame.

  18. yoyodyne says:

    Carlton had WAR of 12.2 vs 9.0 for Gooden according to FanGraphs.

    Carlton pitched 14 more complete games, 30 in all. He had more strikeouts. He had more wins on a team that didn’t win 60 games all year!

    Gooden’s year was great, maybe 2nd best in live ball era.

    But Lefty’s was better according to virtually any stat you choose.

    • “Lefty’s [1972] was better [than Gooden’s 1985] according to virtually any stat you choose” is demonstrably false.

      Gooden’s ERA+: 228
      Carlton’s ERA+: 182

      Gooden’s WHIP: .965
      Carlton’s WHIP: .993

      Gooden’s K/9: 8.7
      Carlton’s K/9: 8.1

      Gooden’s K/BB: 3.88
      Carlton’s K/BB: 3.56

      Gooden’s BB/9: 2.2
      Carlton’s BB/9: 2.3

      So there are five stats in which Gooden was better than Carlton. Massively better in the case of ERA+.

      Oh. Almost forgot one of the most basic and traditional pitcher stats:

      Gooden’s ERA: 1.53
      Carlton’s ERA: 1.97

      The “edge” for Carlton is entirely based upon pitching more innings. The counting stats favor him, (except for shutouts…they both threw 8 shutouts despite Carlton throwing 14 more CGs) the rate stats favor Gooden. By a lot.

      The 70-extra innings Carlton threw certainly matter, but not enough to say Carlton’s season was better. Baseball changed quite a bit from 1972 to 1985. Carlton just pitched in a time when pitchers threw more innings. Both pitchers led the NL in innings pitched, for example.

      To me, the most telling stat there is the very large gap in ERA+. As great as Carlton was, the gap between Gooden and the rest of the NL was larger than the gap between Carlton and the rest of the NL.

      And finally, I hate to even talk about wins, but if you’re going to cite Carlton’s wins, don’t you also have to cite his losses? Carlton was +17 in W-L record. Gooden was +20.

  19. Grulg says:

    I think its just A-OK that Miggy won. The Triple Crown does count, like it or not. Trout had the best statborg season, of that we’ve no doubt. I’d have not been sad if he won, too. But give Miggy his props, he had a great great year and it’s not like this was giving the MVP to Igor in ’98 or whatever.

    • The thing is, no one arguing for Trout is saying otherwise. No one arguing for Trout is saying that Cabrera had anything other than an awesome year. In many, many years, Cabrera’s year would in fact be the best choice for MVP.

      In fact, this strawman is the most frustrating thing about the “old school” Mitch Albom types harrumphing about Cabrera’s win. They are willfully ignoring that even the most diehard of the Trout camp agree that Cabrera had awesome, studly season.

    • Chris says:

      I don’t understand this obsession to paint every Trout supporter as some kid with a calculator.

      Trout did have more runs scored
      Trout did have more stolen bases
      Trout did have a slightly higher OBP
      Trout did play better defense, just by the eye test

      What do you think the Triple Crown is other than a collection of stats. Nothing I mentioned here is some newfangled stats

      My support has nothing to do with WAR any other advanced stat (even though they do support my case)

      As offensive players they are equal. Miggy gets it down with his power (HR/RBI). Trout gets it done with his speed/baserunning (R, SB).

      On defense, I think even the staunchest Miggy supporters give Trout the edge here and thus my vote. If you don’t want to count defense fine, its more of a toss up, but people need to knock it off with the stat nerd stuff.

      Both players had great seasons.

  20. billy v says:

    Stop with the WAR argument. Jon Jay had a higher WAR than Albert Pujols this year according to Fangraphs.

  21. Jesse says:

    I’m still waiting for someone – anyone at all – to tell me how Detroit benefited in the standings from other players failing to win the Triple Crown for 44 years. I guess Cabrera is fortunate that Larry Walker never pulled it off, or Albert Pujols (who had a decade of seasons as good as or better than the one Cabrera just had), or Barry Bonds, or Gary Sheffield, or anyone else.

    The only question I feel compelled to ask is, “How much would I pay for this season on the open market?” That seems to me to fit the definition of valuable.

  22. A Fly Moses says:

    My favorite thing about all this is that Miggy was arguably better last year than he was this year, but all we ever heard last year was “Verlander carried this team single-handedly!” Then Verlander was basically just as good this year as he was last year, but now it’s “Miggy carried this team single-handedly!”

  23. LazyJ says:

    Dear Joe,

    I say this as someone who has loved – LOVED – your writing for several years. I always respect your opinions and your insight. I even appreciate your jokes.

    But I am so very tired of you beating on this dead horse.

    It feels like every other article you write now has Trout, or WAR, or both in it. I like Mike Trout. I like WAR well enough. I thought you argued persuasively and well for your preference for MVP. But I think most of us just want to move on now.

    What’s the point of it all now? Are you crusading to change the old guard? Trying to champion a favorite stat? Isn’t there room for the two opinions equally?

    I guess I am just asking you to move on. There’s football, and basketball, and a lack of hockey, and offseason baseball craziness (CRAZY craziness) and there’s gotta be a better kind of story out there.

    Please don’t lose my interest as a writer. It took so long to find you, and I don’t want to be stuck with drivel again.

    Your devoted reader,

  24. Teams that win care about defense (see B. Crawford at SS for the Giants). Awards only care about batting (J. Rollins for his Golden Glove, no mention of Crawford anywhere – he just didn’t hit well enough to win a defensive award).

    Thus, you have Cabrera over Trout. Ridiculous? You bet it is. Unfortunately, it’s what we’re stuck with.

  25. Gary says:

    Here’s how I look at it: If you take Trout out of the league, Cabrera wins the MVP in a landslide. If you take Cabrera out of the league, Trout wins in a landslide. In other words, they both had MVP seasons. Is one better than the other? Maybe. But both had seasons worthy of an MVP in most years. The only way the voters couldn’t get it right was if they didn’t vote for either of them.

    • Phaedrus says:

      Robinson Cano has something to say about that. I’d vote for Cabrera over Cano, but most definitely not in a landslide.

      Trout way above either one of course.

    • Vinophile says:

      I agree with Gary. Both had amazing years. I’m a Tigers fan, so I am biased, but here’s my argument for Cabrera: Players who hit for power and average have become so rare that there hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner in 45 years. In the previous 45 years, there were 11. It’s a stunning achievement and deserved the recognition it got.

    • Chris says:

      Since 1990

      There have been 13 seasons of at least .330 AVG and 44 HR.

      If you toss in at least 139 RBI, we have 3 seasons since 1990. Still incredibly impressive, but sheds some light on his generation.

      For me its Trout’s combination of Power and Speed that sets him apart. Not to mention is good AVG.

      2 players since 1990 have hit 30+ HR and had at least 49 SB. Trout is one of them. If you throw in the rest of history we get one additional season.

      Both are incredible years and regardless of my Trout support, Miggy definitely deserves a lot of respect for the Triple Crown. Independent of each other, each season is MVP caliber. Unfortunately for them, but good for baseball fans, they occurred at the same time and only one can win.

  26. kevinglew says:

    Another reason why Joe is one of the best baseball writers on the planet. Great work!

  27. Jon G says:

    I know it’s inhumane, but I honestly can’t wait for every one of the voters hostile to anything created past 1980 to go senile. Preferably all at once.

  28. Robert says:

    Pales in comparison to Barry Bonds not winning the 2002 World Series MVP. Now THAT was ridiculous.

  29. Why did you leave Did Verducci push you out? I read his column on Cabrera winning and it made me want to cry from frustration. You might as well have titled your “Argument 2”: why Verducci is an ideologue.

  30. Unknown says:

    Sir I want to stand up and give you a standing ovation for writing that

  31. The kid didn’t play in April, plays in one of the most pitcher friendly parks (where they haven’t moved the fences in) and is still better! His team plays in one of the toughest divisions, so what you didn’t make the playoffs! (Don’t mention the Tiggers barely won their cupcake division once again, barely get by the A’s and are lucky enough for the Yankees to not show up only to be exposed in the WS for what they really are)
    How is that other MVP Verlander? Mr. 4.22 postseason ERA

  32. big red says:

    Good to see this article. Trout deserved the award in my opinion.

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