By In Stuff

WAR is stupid, People are stupid

Well, as expected, Los Angeles’ Mike Trout is beginning to open up his WAR lead on Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, not that anyone really cares or should expect it to make much of a difference in the MVP race. I’ve been saying for a couple of months now that by the time the season ends, Trout will have a higher WAR than Cabrera. I would argue it’s because while Cabrera is the best HITTER in the game, Trout is the best PLAYER in the game, But you could certainly make the argument that it’s about the WAR stat itself.

First, the numbers right now:

Baseball Reference WAR

Mike Trout: 7.2 WAR

Miguel Cabrera: 6.3 WAR

Fangraphs WAR

Mike Trout: 8.2 WAR

Miguel Cabrera: 7.5 WAR

Baseball Prospectus WARP

Mike Trout: 8.2 WARP

Miguel Cabrera: 6.7 WARP

Basically every version of WAR I’ve seen has Trout ahead at the moment, and I suspect that the gap will widen before the year ends. The reason is simply this: Cabrera has only one way to add to his WAR — by hitting baseballs. Trout has multiple ways to add to his WAR — with his hitting, his fielding, his speed, etc. f you have two stores that are selling Diet Coke exclusively, and for the same price, the store that sells more always will make more money. But if one store also sells Diet Pepsi and Coke Zero while the other doesn’t, well, obviously, what you have is a strained analogy but I’ve got this caffeine headache and really need a Diet Coke right now.

Trout just puts more stuff into the WAR bucket. You might not like how WAR adds up such things, but that’s the simple fact here. WAR, in all its forms, tends to look past the context issues and anomalies of basic statistics like batting average and counting RBIs.

Here’s a quick example: You probably know that Cabrera is hitting a rather extraordinary .358 with a .450 on-base percentage. Trout is hitting a slightly less extraordinary .330 with a .428 on-base percentage. So, Trout is great … and Cabrera is better. Seems obvious, no?

Well, sure, except for this: Trout has reached base nine times on error. Cabrera has reached zero. Now, I don’t want to go off on a rant here about errors and their statistical absurdity — but let’s just say that as far as baseball value goes, reaching on error is just as good a reaching on a hit. In both cases, you hit the ball into the field of play and you reach base. Same thing. We can argue from now until forever how it should be figured statistically, but it is inarguable that they are of equal value when it comes to the actual game.

Batting average and on-base percentage count reach-on-error as OUTS. Everything I think about this, it drives me crazy. It’s one of the dumbest statistical tricks in all of sports, maybe the dumbest, it is not unlike not giving a shooter credit for a three-point shot because he made it off the backboard or taking away not giving a receiver credit for a catch and yardage because the defender slipped and fell down. If you hit the ball and reach base it should absolutely NOT be counted as an out. It’s not an out. No out was recorded. IT IS NOT AN OUT. Sorry, I am going off on a rant here.

If you give Trout credit for the times he reached base on error, his batting average jumps to .350 and his on-base percentage jumps to .444 — suddenly very close to Cabrera.

This, I think, is one of the benefits of speed. Here’s another one: Cabrera has come up in a double-play situation 118 times and hit into 16 of them. Trout has come up in 92 double-play situations and hit into just six. So that’s 10 fewer outs for Trout. That should be figured in somehow when considering a player’s value, no? Throw it into the WAR bucket.

Home field context should be considered. Trout plays in a brutal hitter’s park. Cabrera plays in a very good one. Speed should be considered. Trout has stolen 27 of 31 bases and he leads the American League with eight triples. Cabrera has three stolen bases (though he has not been caught) and one triple. Throw it into the WAR bucket.

Trout has, by the numbers, had a tough year defensively. Last year, the numbers showed him to be a defensive superstar, but this year Baseball Reference has him with a negative defensive WAR and the Dewan Plus/Minus shows him to be minus-7 — about seven plays worse than the average center fielder . But those numbers have climbed rapidly the last few weeks and I suspect they will keep going up, Trout is simply too fast, too hard-working and too talented to be a defensive liability. I fully believe he’s had some defensive issues, but class eventually rises.

Cabrera meanwhile — he fought third base to a draw last year through sheer stubbornness, but he has always been a defensive liability and from everything I can tell he’s been pretty terrible there this season. The numbers also indicate he has been pretty terrible this season.

So we are once again in a situation where Cabrera’s superior batting average and power numbers face off against Trout’s very good batting average and power numbers, great speed and better defense. Of course, Cabrera’s team leads the American League Central while Trout’s team is dreadful and has been all season. I think we know where this is going. Trout will once again win the hearts and minds of those who like the advanced stats. Cabrera will once again win the MVP.

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88 Responses to WAR is stupid, People are stupid

  1. Claire says:

    If there’s one thing that’s worse than nitpicking, it’s nitpicking on a different site. So here goes…

    Hull City is in the northeast, not northwest.

    An English stadium is called a ground: “the City Ground”, not “the Polo Grounds”.

  2. Rob Smith says:

    Oh, wow, here we go again. The post children for Sabermetrics and Traditional stats go head to head.

    In my view, we also have the ESPN-metrics. How many times do they show Cabrera hitting some otherworldly bomb that has an impact on the game. I.e. his double killing of future HOFer Mariano Rivera last week. ESPN will show Trout making good defensive plays (and bad, btw, which were ugly earlier in the year) and hitting HRs (fewer than Cabrera)… but you won’t often see replays of him beating out a double play, stealing second, walking, getting on via error, going from 1st to 3rd on a single, etc.

    The average and even big fans get a lot of their sports info from ESPN. And, not surprisingly, a Cabrera bomb off Mariano Rivera is getting air time over Trout beating out a DP.

    That said, while overall players are great for the team, and you could argue BETTER for the team, they just don’t move the needle emotionally the same way as someone who is putting up Ruthian offensive numbers. When you watch Trout, you say “wow, that guy is really good. He can do it all”. When you watch Cabrera, you say, “wow,an opposite field, game tying bomb off Mariano Rivera! The guy is an unworldly beast! He could be the modern day Babe Ruth!”.

    There, I argued both sides. We all know which side will win…. and I think that’s totally fair. Cabrera is at his career peak showing off his greatness. The timeclock says that peak won’t last for long. Let’s enjoy it.

    • Rob Smith says:

      So…. about the all around player…. this plays out at younger ages too. My oldest son was a pure shooter in basketball. He could flat out knock it down. But, he didn’t rebound or play any defense. His ball handling was iffy and his passing was just OK.

      My younger son could make shots, I’d say he was an above average shooter from outside. He was a very good rebounder and could play defense against any player on any team. Our coach almost always had him defend the opposing teams best player, regardless of position. He was an above average, though not great ball handler, he often led or almost led the team in assists too… though his turnovers were higher than they should have been. Typically he was the team’s best defensive player, 2nd leading scorer, 2nd leading rebounder and 2nd in assists.

      So, who got more attention? Answer: my older son. His shooting was just so awesome that it stood out. He flat out seemed to make everything. Some people actually thought he was a great player and, at minimum, the best shooter they’d ever seen. All this despite huge deficiencies in the rest of his game.

      Regarding my younger son, people would say, “you’re son is a good player. He does a lot of things very well. He really helps the team”.

      If I was a coach, I’d be tempted, but I’d want my younger son on my team. Really, it shouldn’t even be close.

      In the same way, people are in awe of Cabrera’s hitting. But, if people were really honest and watched every day. They’d want Trout on their team first.

      As for the MVP, the requirements are pretty loose and interpreted differently…. and sometimes applied differently year to year. So, that argument will never die.

    • Mark says:

      Good argument but fans don’t get to vote for MVP. The problem is that the writers who DO get to vote aren’t anymore sophisticated about this stuff than the average fan.

    • Bronnt says:

      Agreed. And even though ESPN will show you some of Trout’s outstanding plays, what’s completely inaccessible for almost all fans are the not-outstanding-but-good plays Trout makes. He’s got the range to get to a lot of balls, cutting them off to hold potential doubles to singles, making some outs that are difficult but not exciting. Miguel Cabrera will make a few terrible plays, but also some really exciting ones as well. It’s the plays that he doesn’t make, singles that go past him which other third basemen can field, that hurt his value.

      Some will argue, and correctly, that those are small things that don’t have a huge effect on his value. And they’re right, a couple of singles don’t really matter, and he’s still an extremely valuable player, basically the second most valuable player in the entire world. But they do add up over a season, and Trout is a good enough hitter that the other things he does add up.

  3. PL says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. PL says:

    For what it’s worth, Cabrera is way less worse as a first baseman. He’d definitely have a higher WAR if he played there instead of Prince, who is terrible defensively there and should be DHing.

    If you can have this absurd “Bad defensive players mean that Trout should get hits” notion, then I can have Cabrera playing 3B is if like Trout was asked to catch, and the position change is a lot more important to note when taking Cabrera’s shockingly bad UZR there into context of his WAR total. Not saying it steamrolls him past Trout, but it does make the gap more close.

  5. Tim says:

    I have both on my Strat team. I try to point that out whenever I can. Sorry.

    I think sportswriters and the general public are more impressed by pure hitters than all-around players. Hitting is the one thing they know they can’t do. “I can catch a fly ball!” “I can go first to third!” No, you can’t, but you think you can. Most people understand that they can’t hit a 95-mph fastball or any kind of curve, and so when Cabrera makes it look easy, they swoon.

  6. Devon Young says:

    That is a really great point about ROE’s, & how Trout has several while Cabrera has none. Do you look at RE24, WPA, & RBI%? They’re three of my favorite stats, and I hate to admit that Cabrera leads Trout in all three right now.

    RE24 – 65.78 (Cabrera) vs 61.35 (Trout)
    WPA – 5.40 (Cabrera) vs 3.90 (Trout)
    RBI% – 21.88% (Cabrera) vs 17.87 (Trout)

    RE24 & WPA stats from,d

    RBI% from*%28OnRBI.RBI-OnRBI.HRs%29%2FOnRBI.RunnersOn&SortDir=desc&MinPA=300

  7. ZelmoOfTroy says:

    I’m a bit Billy Martin on this (though generally without being a drunken, philandering bully). I watch Miguel Cabrera regularly and Mike Trout less so, which leaves me more opportunities to be astonished by Cabrera. On the other hand, WAR is WAR — though of course, it isn’t, since the various WARmongers never quite agree on their numbers.

    My only objection to Joe P’s post is the adoration of reaching on an error, something out of the hitter’s control. Are there analyses that prove faster players force more errors, or does it just sorta makes sense? If it just sorta makes sense, count me out. You could just as easily say a line-drive-mashing beast like Cabrera handcuffs more infielders than one of them speedy little fellers.

    • invitro says:

      You don’t think that hitting the baseball and running to first base are in the hitter’s control?

    • Rob Smith says:

      This is easy. Does an infielder throw and field more accurately when they have time to set up, field the ball, then take a crow hop and throw? Or do they field and throw better when they need to rush to throw out a fast runner?

    • Ian R. says:

      So, I took a look at some numbers to try to verify this. I looked at Andrew McCutchen, a guy who profiles fairly similarly to Mike Trout and has enough history in the league to get a pretty decent sample. I found out that he reached on 26 errors from 2009 to 2012, which seems like a fair few. (Granted, 2009 was an abbreviated season for him, but he still had almost 500 PA).

      Then I looked at Miguel Cabrera over the same time. He reached on 23 errors – just three fewer than Cutch, albeit in over 200 more PA. His 0 ROE this year are a serious aberration.

      I haven’t done a detailed study, but it looks like except in extreme cases (Ichiro had double-digit ROE totals year-in and year-out for quite some time), reaching on errors not a skill that’s exclusive to fast guys.

      However, I think Joe’s point is fairly valid because an error is a judgment call. If a shortstop picks up the ball and then makes a wild throw to first, that’s an error; if he dives and the ball scoots past him into left field, that’s a hit. It’s the same action on the hitter’s part, and it leads to the same result. Why should it be scored differently?

    • I wish I could find a useful article, but it bears mentioning that the active ROE leaders are Jeter, Damon (he hasn’t officially retired, right?) and A-Rod – three guys known for, at one time, having plenty of speed.

  8. Sully says:

    Remind me why a batter should get credit for a hit if the fielder screwed up?

    • Why should a basketball player receive credit for a slam dunk because the defensive player screwed up and was entirely out of position?

      Why should a QB and WR receive credit for a TD because of egregious mis-communication by the secondary?

      A batter receives credit for a hit when the outfielder is too damn slow or does not judge the ball correctly and thus the ball lands safely without a play being “made” on it.

      A batter receives credit for a HR when the pitcher screws up and throws a breaking ball that doesn’t effectively break and the batter crushes it like a batting practice pitch.

      But if a batter hits a hard ground ball that is muffed but the official score keeper decides the fielder could have and should have handled easily — error!

      I say let the advanced metrics tease apart skill vs. luck, but as for counting stats, subjective calls should not be affecting them and deciding what is and isn’t a hit.

    • mckingford says:

      If you read Joe carefully, he isn’t necessarily saying the batter gets credit for a “hit” when the fielder screws up, he’s saying he shouldn’t get credit for an out. The question is, remind me why a fielder should get credited with an out WHEN HE DID NOT MAKE AN OUT?

      Here’s the other thing – and an example of the arbitrariness (and thus stupidity) of errors. Not all – or even close to all – fielder blunders get credited as “Errors”. I was watching Miggy the other day and he swung hard and ended up popping up a flare to center. Because of the swing, and likely because it was Miggy, the CF took a few steps back, only to realize that the ball wasn’t hit deep at all, and then was forced to run in on the ball, except too late and even though the ball seemed to hang up in the air forever, the ball dropped in for a “hit”. So Miggy gets credited for a hit…even though a CF who played that correctly would have caught it easily. So the CF committed an error, but not an “Error”. And Miggy gets credited for a “hit”, even though there was an error. The important point, of course, is that no out was recorded.

    • John Gale says:

      I’m OK with factoring it into on-base percentage, but not batting average.

    • Which Hunt says:

      Absolutely, BA is a crazy relic of days past and should be left alone with its weirdness intact.
      OBP should be every instance of the batter making it to first base over PAs. Period.

    • Tigerdog1 says:

      I think that we’d all be more comfortable with how errors are scored if there was something remotely resembling consistency, or accuracy in these official scorers’ rulings. It seems that scorers make more errors in a season than fielders do. What passes for a base hit these days is almost laughable.

      I think it’s fair to assume that some, but not all, of Trout’s ROE’s were probably caused at least in party by the pressure that his speed puts on the defender. But if they score it right, I’m sure that there are plenty of cases where a fielder doesn’t make a clean play and doesn’t get him out because it’s scored a hit, under the theory that Trout would beat the throw anyway. The same bobble would be scored an error with Cabrera running- except that he’s out anyway.

      You can make a sound case that Trout is a better all around player than Cabrera, but you completely lose me when you resort to WAR to prove the point. The wins aren’t real wins, the runs that lead to the hypothetical wins aren’t real runs, and replacement level isn’t replacement level. I won’t sweat replacement level, because it’s fine as ground zero on the barometer- just don’t use the “wins above” to mean that without that player, they’d have X fewer wins.

      Baseball is not a context neutral game. “Value to his team” is entirely dependent on the context in which a player produces his numbers. It is entirely possible that the “best player” as measured by taking his numbers into a context neutral setting, is not the most valuable to his team. A team measures value by what a player does to help them accomplish team goals. Absolutely this gives an advantage to players on better teams, but that’s how the award has always been given.

      Even going to RE24, where Cabrera is out performing Trout this season, you can’t discount the fact that Cabrera produces more because he has more opportunities to produce. This production is real value to the team.

      Finally, one look at Trout’s UZR tells you that it’s not a reliable measure of defensive value. One year he’s a ten and the next, he’s a zero. Until two weeks ago, Andy Dirks was the best defensive outfielder in the league, and Trout was a negative. Fangraphs even tells us that they need two seasons of data for the numbers to stabilize. I think that, in the quest for one number to tell us what a player’s value is, the accuracy is lost when applied to small samples.

      WAR is useful in comparing players over multiple seasons, maybe even comparing pitchers and hitters. But when you’re preaching advanced metrics to the masses, using WAR in the MVP conversation does a disservice to sabermetrics, IMO.

  9. Sully says:

    I get why speed will help you reach base on an error… but REWARD a hitter when a fielder makes a bad play is absurd as giving a pitcher a save when they let up 2 runs.

    Sorry, not buying it.

    • Devon Young says:

      Then do you think OBP shouldn’t include HBP?

    • Which Hunt says:

      Define “bad play”.

    • So, you think that the batter should get credit for a home run when an outfielder jumps in air and snags the ball over the fence? If you’re going to penalize the batter when the fielder is amazing, you should reward him when the fielder is not. Because that’s how the game actually works.

      Also, it’s a simple fact that we can’t separate out the obvious fielding gaffes from the ones that the batter induced with a hard-hit ball or speed that were more to blame than the fielder himself. No one wants to count the fly ball that the fielder drops for no good reason, but you have to.

  10. invitro says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. The problem with errors is that sometimes it’s a judgement call. Sharp, difficult grounder that’s booted – sometimes it’s an error and sometimes it’s not. Maybe errors should be counted as Not An At Bat, just like sac flies are. Which brings up another point: should sac hits be counted as an AB or not?

    • invitro says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Which Hunt says:

      I think all of the judgement calls about fielding errors should be completely removed from hitting discussions and ROEs should be judged by the outcome, which over time should even out, unless there is something else at play such as speedy players forcing quicker throws in which case it totally validates the outcomes based approach. You can keep your BA the same, because who cares about BA anyway? Sorry about the run on sentence there, I won’t be going back to edit it.

    • Which Hunt says:

      My view is that OBP should calculate sacrifices as outs and FCs as reaching base, but there should be stats that account for moving runners and causing outs that further illuminate the total hitting output. How many of those FCs are an example of a DP being broken up?

    • Wilbur says:

      I could never understanding why from a scoring standpoint (as in scoring on a scorecard) a sacrifice should be recorded as an out, and thus as an at bat. Record it as a sacrifice, and that’s for what the player is credited.

      Even worse, why should a sacrifice fly not be scored as an at bat? Is it different from a ground ball to the right side that scores a run? The credit for each is reflected in an RBI.

      On a slightly different note, years ago some broadcasters would occasionally say “For those of you scoring at home …” and then give the scoring rundown for something like a rundown play “that was 4 to 2 to 5 to 3”. When was the last time anyone ever heard a broadcaster say that? And did you know anyone who ever kept score at home?

    • Wilbur says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Wilbur says:

      That should be “why …a sacrifice should not be recorded as an out”


    • FranT says:

      When I was a kid, my dad photocopied the score sheet from a Yankee Stadium program, and I scored all the games at home. I guess that’s part of the reason I love arguments like the Trout-Cabrera one. Every play of the entire season is recorded an it’s up to us to determine the value of those records.

      The real question is, How often do you see someone keeping score now, even at the ballpark?

    • Dodger300 says:

      When I’m scoring at home, the chick usually thinks I’m weird to have a ballgame on in the background.

    • Tigerdog1 says:

      Dude, if you’re trying to make it with a chick while a good game is on, you’ll never get past second base.

  12. invitro says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. It will be interesting to see how the season plays out for both of them. Last year, it was about this time that Trout cooled off, with September being his worst month of the season by far, whereas Miggy continued being his monster self down the stretch, helping the Tigers reach the post-season and nailing down Triple Crown honors. Trout will have an advantage this September as the hapless Angels aren’t within a country mile of the pennant race, so there won’t be any pressure to perform, and he’s likely to face a few more September call ups than Cabrera. If he’s patient he’ll probably walk a few times a game given the weakness of his surrounding hitters, which will add to his precious WAR (even if it’s more a reflection of how bad his teammates are). Meanwhile, Cabrera’s got to hope that Fielder starts getting hot or he’ll be walked all the time himself. At least Cabrera’s got the luxury of Torii Hunter hitting in front of him and getting on base enough to create a problem for the opposing team, whereas Hunter’s replacement in Anaheim has been Josh “Automatic Out” Hamilton.

  14. Alejo says:

    Both are great, sure, but I’ll never understand sabermetricians. They pestered us for year with the uselessness of stealing but now SBs are suddenly better than home runs.

    Go figure.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Don’t be ignorant. Trout has 27 stolen bases. They are not “the same” as 35 HRs. But 27 stolen bases are valuable. Add the stolen bases to 20 HRs, throw in excellent fielding and other numbers that make up WAR and you have a players value. It’s not HRs vs stolen bases.

    • First, where did Joe say SBs are better than home runs?

      Second, SBs are useless when the SB success percentage is below, say, ~75%. For Trout, Carlos Beltran, etc., the guys who steal a multitude of bases and rarely are caught … that’s added value!

    • Ian R. says:

      It’s also worth noting that the value of a steal has changed markedly in recent years. In the high-flying offensive environment of the late ’90s and early ’00s, stealing a base was significantly less helpful. Now that offense is down league-wide, steals are more useful.

      Think of it this way. If the guy on deck is going to hit a home run anyway (or even a double), stealing second base accomplishes nothing. You can score from first on an extra-base hit just as easily as you can score from second. Getting caught, however, has a big impact, because a high percentage of baserunners turn into runs.

      If, however, the guy on deck is less likely to hit a home run and more likely to hit a single, the value of a steal of second goes up. Meanwhile, the impact of a caught stealing goes down when there’s a higher chance that the guy on deck will make an out – if you would have been stranded anyway, who cares if you’re thrown out instead?

      In other words, it’s not just that sabermetricians have changed their views (though to an extent they have). The game itself has changed.

    • Robert says:

      No one has ever claimed stolen bases to be useless. Many have (correctly) observed that their benefit should be weighed against the risk of getting thrown out.

      That’s not intellectual heavyweight stuff.

    • Which Hunt says:

      Right. I think the point is that speed can show up in a number of ways in WAR. He can make defensive plays others can’t, can run out infield hits, perhaps force errors from rushed throws and steal bases with a high degree of success.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Ben Gougeon says:

      Is there a stat that charts the effectiveness of steals? As is mentioned by Ian R., a steal before a home run accomplishes nothing, nor does a steal that ends up getting stranded on base. I mean, if you steal second and end up not scoring, does that factor into WAR? Or are all steals treated equally? Curious.

  15. John Gale says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. John Gale says:

    Well, this is interesting enough, I suppose. But it doesn’t mean a whole lot. Because the Angels are terrible, and Cabrera has been even better than he was last year (at least from a hitting perspective) when Cabrera got 22 of 28 MVP votes…do the math. There may be a couple of stray writers who don’t mind voting for a guy whose “value” was entirely wasted on a terrible team over a guy who may put up the first 200+ OPS+ (not counting the guys who were using PEDs, obviously) season in two decades. But not many.

  17. Chris M says:

    Wait, Comerica is a hitters park now? I admittedly don’t keep up to date on park factors and follow the NL much more closely than the AL, but I remember Comerica being considered a pretty extreme pitchers park when it opened. Have they changed the dimensions?

    Sometimes, I get a sneaking suspicion that park factors are largely bullshit. Citizens Bank Park was Ana amazing bandbox when the Phillies had an awful pitching rotation and Ryan Howard et al in their primes, and then turned into an above average pitching park when the Phillies offense dwindled but their rotation had Halladay/Lee/Hamels/Oswalt. The ballpark didn’t change, the Phillies did

    • Rob Smith says:

      Thymes they did move the fences in. But park factors uses averages that might only mean that the home team has a lot of good hitters.

    • A lot of good hitters … but park factors compare their performance on the road vs. performance at home, yes? So how many good hitters are on a team shouldn’t affect the park factors. Or am I overlooking something?

    • basebawful says:


      Park factors consider performace for both the home club and the visiting club.

    • basebawful says:

      Chris M:

      According to, these are Comerica Park’s factors (where 100 is average)

      Run environment: LHB 113 RHB 106
      HR: LHB 101 RHB 92
      1B: LHB 106 RHB 99
      2/3B: LHB 100 RHB 112
      K: LHB 89 RHB 91
      nB: LHB 95 RHB 104

      Comerica for RHB’s like Cabrera is 6 percent better for creating runs than average, tough on HR’s, average for singles and great for non HR XBH, great for avoiding K’s and good for walks.

    • basebawful — yes, and park factors consider performance for both home club and visiting club, but not just at the park, but also when the team (park) of interest is on the road.

      So I still am trying to understand Rob’s “But park factors uses averages that might only mean that the home team has a lot of good hitters.” sentence.

  18. map says:

    By the way, Cabrera just won a playoff-like game for Detroit against Kansas City with a walk-off home run. He also drove in another run with a double and is playing with multiple injuries right now that makes it difficult for him to even trot, much less run. Just sayin . . .

  19. Mike says:

    Nice Culture Club reference, Joe.

  20. Dodger300 says:

    Joe wrote: “Trout has stolen 27 of 31 bases and he leads the American League with eight triples. Cabrera has three stolen bases (though he has not been caught) and one triple. Throw it into the WAR bucket.”

    I was pretty sure triples are already thrown into the SLG PCT bucket. Is Joe trying to count them twice?

  21. Dodger300 says:

    Unlike some other players, Cabrera agreed without hesitation to move to third base in order to make the team better with the addition of Fielder.

    Does that get thrown into the WAR bucket, too, especially since Cabrera’s defense at 3B dings is numbers?

    Nope, I think everyone just ignores it.

    So much for doing whatever it takes to help your team win…

    • clashfan says:

      He’s doing his job, which is hitting baseballs and fielding 3B. He may be better at his job if it encompassed 1B instead, but it doesn’t. We’re judging how good he does his job.

      We’re not judging how good a person he is, or how good a teammate he is.

    • Tigerdog1 says:

      So you ignore how valuable Cabrera could be if he were to play first base, but you take Trout’s and Cabrera’s production out of their real life setting and plug them into a fictitious “context neutral” setting to come up with how many runs they would produce in that fantasy world. Yes, Cabrera is a third baseman in real life, but he’s also on the Tigers in real life.

    • Ian R. says:

      Trout has been more than happy to float between left and right field to help his team win. Does anyone mention this in the MVP arguments? If anything, that’s probably holding his WAR down because of the positional adjustment for LF.

    • Ian R. says:

      Whoops. I meant to say left and center field (though he appeared in a handful of games in right last year as well).

  22. Robert says:

    I like this debate, Joe, but there are two glaring problems with it.

    1) Advanced stats are supposed to give fans/ trophy-voting baseball writers more information than just traditional stats and what the fans/ writers have seen, but in this post it sounds like you want to use the stats but disregard what the fans/ writers see.
    Anyone who has watched Trout and Cabrera play this year has to know Cabrera has been a much better player than Trout. What you see has to be taken into account too. For the same reason that disregarding what one sees means they are processing less information in making their decision.

    2) WAR woefully undervalues RBIs. Guys like Cabrera, who drive in 130+ runs year after year don’t just fall off the back of a truck.

    Take the best teams in baseball, say with 100 wins and 62 losses. Of the 62 losses, I’d bet the manager sad something like this 25 times, “We had our opportunities, but we just couldn’t get the timely hit to drive in the runs that would have won this one for us.” That’s 25 times a year for a team with 100 wins. Think of how many more times the manager says something like that on a team which plays .500 or less ball.

    • Ian R. says:

      WAR does not woefully undervalue RBIs. WAR deliberately excludes RBIs because, while they measure something useful, they’re full of noise.

      A hitter’s RBI total is a function of several things:
      1) The hitter’s own ability to get hits.
      2) The hitter’s ability to hit for power.
      3) The hitter’s teammates’ ability to get on base in front of him.

      Miguel Cabrera is a fantastic hitter, the best in the league. He’s also the #3 hitter for one of the best offensive teams in baseball, and he hits behind Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter. Mike Trout, for comparison’s sake, bats leadoff, which means a high percentage of his at-bats come with the bases empty.

      There are better metrics (like SLG) that measure the hitter’s ability to drive in runs than his actual RBI total, and WAR incorporates those things while filtering out the impact of his teammates.

    • Phil says:

      Something I pointed out on a different message board the other day: Cabrera’s RBI-a-game rate this year is almost wholly attributable to his own self. Austin Jackson is hitting .258/.331/.402 out of the leadoff spot–nothing special, to put it mildly. Torri Hunter has been better: .305/.341/.460 out of the #2 spot. The average and the slugging pct. are good, but still, .341 is a mediocre OBP. Meanwhile:

      Cabrera with runners on (256 PA): .383/.496/.786 (phenomenal)
      Cabrera with RISP (161 PA): .432/.547/.880 (other-worldly)

      This is not meant to suggest that WAR isn’t valuable (it is), that Cabrera is a better all-around player than Trout (he isn’t), or that Cabrera has magical clutch abilities (over the course of his career, his slash stats in those two categories are a little better than his overall numbers, but not significantly). But it’s just a fiction to suggest that his RBI this year owe a whole lot to Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter.

    • “Anyone who has watched Trout and Cabrera play this year has to know Cabrera has been a much better player than Trout.”

      When we’re watching the highlight reel, sure. Cabrera has had more opportunities for the big hit, but he’s also come through with alarming regularity.

      But when you’re watching them in the field, on base, or running the bases? No, no one should agree that Cabrera is better.

    • Paul Hoffman says:

      Hey, if I had to draft a team right now Trout would be Number One. But for right now…Cabrera is the guy, I have never seen stuff like this before, like what he did to Rivera. Unbelievable. You guys can crunch all the numbers you like, Pujols and Cabrera are the best. Bonds is not a part of this equation.

  23. Up2Drew says:

    Actually – and I’ve watched Cabrera play in person fairly often – Cabrera doesn’t reach base on error much because he doesn’t run hard to first on balls that appear to be outs.

  24. Ian says:

    I’m late to this thread so I doubt you see this but I’m a bit surprised you didn’t mention something you reported earlier this year – that the A’s internal WAR rated Cabrera ahead of Trout last year. The problem with WAR, at the end of the day, is that the calculations might not be right – esp when calculating both defensive value, impact and baserunning. Ignoring one of the few known MLB internal WAR calculations seems to be omitting something to make your viewpoint stronger.

    • Marco says:

      I’m particularly troubled by the defensive component of WAR. When we use WAR as the hammer in these arguments we ignore the noise in the stat at our own peril.

      Trout is a great example of this. Last year people were running out of superlatives to describe his defense. This year he’s below average. What is more likely: that he forgot how to play the outfield over the winter, or that maybe we don’t know how to measure it that well?

    • Marco, fielding is not subject to season-to-season variation for a player despite his “true” value? If considerable variation happens for hitting and pitching, it can happen to fielding as well.

      I’m not asserting that the fielding component of WAR is a great estimate — it may or may not be — but I think it’s logical to accept that an outfielder can have an otherworldly fielding season one year and then not do so well the next, especially given the sample size of *extreme* plays (not the easy outs) that can make or break a fielding season (similar to one’s double-downs and splits in black jack).

    • “the A’s internal WAR rated Cabrera ahead of Trout last year.”

      Which, frankly, I think most people took to mean that the As might be doing something wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time that a team was just totally incorrect in their method of assessment.

      The factors for WAR might need fine-tuning, sure, and the people who develop the formula and weights tell you that there’s a margin of error which you should consider. And while they’ve drawn on 100 years of data to arrive at those calculations, sure, they could always use fine-tuning.

      But the error is not 3 wins. Because that’s how much Trout led Cabrera. That’s the same as the difference between a scrub and an above-average starter.

  25. Brett Alan says:

    I’m not really the person to speak to all these advanced stats, but I just wanted to say this:

    Last year, I felt that Cabrera should win the MVP. This year, I’m hoping Trout does. Why? Simple. Whatever arguments you can make about Cabrera’s hitting vs. Trout’s other skills, there is NO QUESTION that both of them have been exceptional, terrific baseball players these two seasons. So if they could each get an MVP award out of it, that strikes me as a Good Thing.

  26. Luis says:

    Joe, is it a bad thing if Miggy keeps it up and wins the MVP again? And full disclosure, I am a Venezuelan so OF COURSE I want Miggy to win. However, I always try to reverse the roles to see if I’d come to the same conclusion, so instead of Mike Trout we have Miguel Trucha (Spanish for trout) with his superior WAR and Mike Lamber (English for, well nothing, but you get the idea) and his superior traditional stats and I think I’d be OK if my guy (Trucha) didn’t win.

    The fact is that Miggy by season’s end will probably win his 6th Triple Crown stat in 3 years. Has this been done with the combination of average and power? So again, would this be a bad thing? Forget RBI’s, what he is doing with average and HR’s is unbelievable, so unbelievable that if my Venezuelan was the victim I think I’d be OK.

  27. JRoth says:

    Hold up here, I want to address Joe’s ERROR rant: Did Rajai Davis hit a home run the other day, or no? If reaching base on an error == a hit, than that Keystone Kops act in Toronto was just as majestic as any of Miggy’s shots over the wall.

    Actually, this is something I noticed the other day over at Baseball Nation: Grant Brisbee asked what rules people would want changed, and almost every single response wasn’t about gameplay, but about the rules around keeping score. Something about the existence of scorekeeping really sets off the sabermetrically inclined. I’m surprised I’ve never seen a rant about how stupid it is that the SS is 6 instead of 5, and about how this obviously ruins the game and is an affront to Nature.

  28. Luis says:

    The SS is 6 because they used to play with 3 infielders and 4 outfielders. Then some manager (who’s name I can’t remember) figured out that he could get more outs bringing a short-fielder into the infield, hence the name short stop.

  29. Chad says:

    I cannot take WAR seriously when it tells me Trout has more offensive value than Cabrera.

  30. Paul Hoffman says:

    Who is in first place right now? Oh wait, that is a whole other argument. You can take your WAR and stick it up your asshiles!

  31. Trout hustles, & Cabrera doesnt on a routine grounder to short.

    • Jeff says:

      That is actually a real pet peeve of mine, especially in important games.

      I appreciate this article and all the comments. I’m not a huge fan of WAR, historically, but this has helped me put it into better perspective.

  32. Rob Mease says:

    war is the just a dumb stat because if the guy behind you were better they would be starting .

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