Well, here we are again. The next great battle in the Sabermetric War of 2012 has arrived. But before we get into that, let’s take a moment to enjoy a Tweet from Peter Gammons:
Clayton Kershaw, Dustin Pedroia, Paul Konerko, the Rays…no matter what the standings, they always care
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) October 4, 2012
Hmmmm. Kershaw, Pedroia, Konerko…what do these three guys have in common? They’re all ballplayers, yes, but something more…
Anyway, that’s just a little prelude to the main event: the debate over whether Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera should win the 2012 American League MVP.
The parallel fantastic seasons being had by Cabrera and Trout have reopened old wounds and created strange political bedfellows. The old guard of baseball writers has fallen in line defending Cabrera’s Triple Crown and counting stats. The newfangled stats guys point to Trout’s advanced metrics and his defense. Troubled times are upon us.
In order, these are the worst, most annoying factions in the Trout/Cabrera debate:
4) The Mike Trout Attack Team
Look, let me say right off the bat that these guys are right. Mike Trout’s the MVP. He was the best player in baseball in 2012 by a pretty clear margin and put together one of the best all-around seasons of the past 50 years.
But Team Trout is too quick to dismiss Cabrera’s Triple Crown. It’s a Triple fucking Crown! There hasn’t been one in baseball since 1967! Cabrera’s going to win the MVP (pretty handily, I would bet) on the back of the Triple Crown, and though I’ll disagree, I can’t get too upset about it.
Even a cynical, overly rational stats guy like me is kind of nerding out about Cabrera’s achievement. Batting average and RBIs may be wildly overrated and outdated statistics when it comes to properly measuring performance, but there’s still a wonderful history to both of them, allowing us to compare players across era using terms that every baseball fan can understand. And the Triple Crown has long been one of the Holy Grails of baseball accomplishment. I’d never seen one in my lifetime, and Cabrera is a worthy player to break the 45-year drought. He’s a fantastic hitter, and it’s not like this season is a fluke.
Triple Crowns are like no-hitters, perfect games, cycles and hitting streaks in that they’re cool feats of their own right and tie into the game’s storied past, without necessarily telling you a lot of detailed information about a given player.
3) The Miguel Cabrera Truthers
The old-schoolers. They’re making a stand on this one, yo. Now that I’ve stated my appropriate reverence for baseball history, I can get down to business.
Neither WAR stat is perfect, but they’re probably the best tools we have right now to evaluate a player’s overall game. By Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, Trout beat Cabrera 10.7 to 6.9. By FanGraphs’ WAR, Trout led 10.4 to 7.2. So even by the metric less favorable to Trout, he was worth three more wins to the Angels than Cabrera was worth to the Tigers.
Offensively, Trout and Cabrera were very close. Both had stupendous seasons. This article makes a strong case that even if you’re judging solely on what the guys did with the bats in their hands, Trout still had a better year than Miggy. By OPS+, which adjusts for the players’ ballparks, Trout led Miggy 171 to 166 (with league average being 100, so you can see just how fucking good these guys were.)
Of course, offense is not the only factor in a baseball game. Miguel Cabrera is a butcher of a third baseman. Mike Trout is a defensive wizard at the premium position of center field. Trout is a vastly superior to defender by every defensive metric and also to the naked eye, all while playing a more difficult and more important position. His Ultimate Zone Rating was an insane 13.3 this year. (Miggy’s was -9.2.)
Trout is also one of the best baserunners in the game. He stole 49 bases (while hitting 30 home runs; no Triple Crown but a historic achievement nonetheless) and managed to create runs on the bases even when not stealing — by taking the extra base and not getting thrown out. Miguel Cabrera is a plodding oaf once he leaves the batter’s box.
You don’t have to be a basement-blogging math genius to figure this shit out. Trout and Cabrera both crushed the ball at the plate to very similar effect. But Trout trounced Cabrera in the field and on the bases. Those parts of the game count.
So, Trout’s the worthy MVP.
But by far the most insidious argument by the Cabrera Truthers (copyright Jeff Passan) is that Cabrera is more deserving of the award because he led the Tigers to the playoffs while the Halos missed out.
The Tigers won 87 games in a weak division and Cabrera had Prince Fielder’s comforting bulk adjacent to him in the batting order. The Angels won 89 games in tough division. So because the Angels had the misfortune to be located on the West Coast, and in a division with Texas and Oakland, that means Trout isn’t a gritty, clutch leader? Give me a fucking break.
The arguments from Miggy’s supporters have become so irrational and reactionary that they’re reminiscent of Birthers and people who refuse to believe a fact about Sarah Palin if it’s not in her autobiography. And they’re just as smug in their dismissals of Trout’s candidacy as the sabermetricians are toward people who don’t understand math.
2) The “They’re Both Great! Let’s Stop Fighting!”Gang
This is one of the fun things about baseball — fighting about shit like this. This is why we watch baseball, so we can sit around and talk about it and argue about it. Yes, they are both great. But let’s keep fighting. At least until the right side wins.
1) The Common Sensers
These are the people who say (and Tweet) shit like, “With everything going on in this country right now, can we please save the acrimony and debate for the important issues that call for it — like debt reduction and green energy and Obamacare.” Or, “At the end of the day, does it really matter who some baseball writers decide to give an award to?”
No, good sir or madam, I will use my acrimony where I see fit and I see fit to use it on the American League Most Valuable Player debate. Yes, it matters. To me and a lot of other people. It matters quite a lot. So if you need me, I’ll be charting Pitch F/X data trying to find even more reasons why Trout should win.
As you can see, the Cabrera vs. Trout debate has brought out the worst in everyone, including me.