Immediately following the conclusion of baseball’s regular season, we wrote about the brewing Miguel Cabrera/Mike Trout A.L. MVP debate, and our position was pretty clear:
1) Trout should win the MVP
2) It wouldn’t be a disaster if Cabrera won because the Triple Crown is a legitimately amazing achievement, even if two if its three statistics have been widely discredited
3) Everyone involved with the debate is annoying
That was intended to be our final word on the subject. But shit done changed.
And I’m not talking about Cabrera actually winning the MVP by a comfortable margin. That’s not surprising at all. The Baseball Writers Association of America is filled with Luddites, and it’s filled with people who have an axe to grind against people who call them out on a regular baseball — namely, stats nerds. Rather, I’m talking about the reaction from Cabrera supporters and voters immediately following the revelation.
Cabrera’s victory has brought out the worst in the anti-stats, anti-facts, guts-and-grit-and-prayer crowd. As Friend of the Blog Arriaga Pizzoza suggested, imagine the reaction among conservatives if Mitt Romney had won the election. Imagine the things that they would be saying about Nate Silver right now. That’s what we’re witnessing in a baseball context. It’s like watching Evangelicals gloat as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse ride across the country, decapitating all gays.
I still think that voting for Cabrera was a defensible position. Wrong, but defensible. But hearing the explanation for these beat writers voting their consciences is making me reconsider.
Let’s begin with my beloved Mad Dog, Chris Russo himself. Yesterday, he engaged in a Twitter war with ESPN analyst, former scout and sabermetric gadfly Keith Law. Here’s Mad Dog’s side of the debate:
Boy oh boy. Where to start? With Russo’s oddly bigoted-sounding “you types” broadside? With the dreaded eye test? With Russo’s nonsensical assertion that games in April somehow count less than those in September? Fuuuck, if only MLB’s Standings Team had remembered to apply the 1.3 factorial rating to September games, the Orioles might have won the division! I also adore that Russo literally couldn’t stop himself from bringing ARod into the argument. It’s like a compulsion. He probably doesn’t even know that he typed that.
I’m almost a little sad for the Doggie. Without Francesa around to spar with, he’s picking fights with people who are clearly his intellectual superiors. He’s a little adrift, isn’t he?
“aaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNDDDDDDD GOOD AFTERNOON EVERYBODY! HOW ARE YOU TODAY! Nice to have you with us today! On the program today, we’re going to be debating Keynesian economics with Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times. How are you today, Martin? Now, what a terrible job by you, Martin, announcing the death of free-market capitalism. I DON’T WANT TO HEAR YOUR STATISTICS, MARTIN! COME ON!! I have $327 in my wallet right now! Don’t talk to me about a recession! And if there is an issue with aggregate demand, don’t you think ARod’s contract is to blame? I mean COME ON!”
Then, we have Kansas City Star writer Bob Dutton, who KC Sabermetric Mafia chieftain Joe Posnanski (who supported Trout) espoused as having an intelligent argument for Cabrera:
So why Cabrera?
The simple answer is I believe the players know more about what players do and mean in terms of value than I do. I talked to a lot of players (not just Royals) and to other reporters who talked to a lot of players — and the result was overwhelming. They said Cabrera was the MVP and, generally, said it wasn’t close.
Yes, I know all about those stats that Jeff, Joe and others cite. I’m not dismissing them. Here’s the thing: Many of the players knew those stats, too. And they understood them. They still said Cabrera and said so overwhelmingly.
Congratulations, guy. You have dismissed the legitimacy of your own profession.
Brandon McCarthy aside, most baseball players are idiots. They are good at playing baseball, not analyzing baseball. That’s why most former players make for terrible announcers and analysts (paging Joe Morgan, Harold Reynolds, Mitch Williams, Billy Ripken, John Smoltz, Hawk Harrelson…). If this is your attitude, Bob Dutton, why ever form an opinion for yourself? Why not simply poll the Royals’ 40-man roster for every awards vote and column opinion.
“Well, the Royals may have won 71 games this year, but Eric Hosmer convinced me today that they’re a team on the verge…”
“I was going to vote for David Price for Cy Young, by a straw poll of big leaguers I’m pals with convinced me that C.J. Wilson is made of much sterner stuff…”
There’s a reason we don’t let athletes decide this stuff. And that reason is because they’re terrible at it. Being able to throw a baseball very hard does not mean that you’re qualified to understand why certain players are more valuable than others. Furthermore, players are incentivized by the stats that they think are going to get them paid: namely, RBIs and home runs. I thought we had seen the dumbest of pro-Cabrera arguments many times over (“Clutch!” “Teamwork!” “Cleanup hitter!” “Cabrera felt more like an MVP!”), but I was wrong. This one takes the cake.
Which brings us to respected journalistic cheat and liar Mitch Albom.
The eyes have it.
EYE TEST PUN ALERT! EYE TEST PUN ALERT!
Also, can a lede be inducted into the Pop Culture Has AIDS Sportswriting Hall of Shame?
In a battle of computer analysis versus people who still watch baseball as, you know, a sport, what we saw with our Detroit vision was what most voters saw as well:
Allow me to rephrase: in a battle between people who watch baseball and attempt to understand it better versus people who watch baseball as, you know, a metaphor for clinging to an ever-crumbling old-timey belief system, what I saw with my EYES is something statheads would give their EYETEETH for because they have low IQs:
It also answered the kind of frenzied cyberspace argument that never shadowed baseball 20 years ago but may never stop shadowing it now.
Cyberspace? Shit! All the votes for Trout probably got lost when America Online shut down!
Today, every stat matters. There is no end to the appetite for categories — from OBP to OPS to WAR. I mean, OMG!
You are not the first, and likely won’t be the last, moron to make a joke about how advanced stats have acronyms you can’t follow. There may never be a less funny joke on the subject, though.
The number of triples hit while wearing a certain-colored underwear is probably being measured as we speak.
That would be more useful than batting average.
So in areas such as “how many Cabrera home runs would have gone out in Angel Stadium of Anaheim” or “batting average when leading off an inning” or “Win Probability Added,” Trout had the edge. At least this is what we were told.
I mean, did you do the math? I didn’t. I like to actually see the sun once in a while.
So, you are discounting stats because you don’t believe the math other people did to calculate them? But you’re too lazy to disprove them yourself? Cool. Cool argument.
Plus he has intangibles
Besides, if you live in Detroit, you didn’t need a slide rule. This was an easy choice.
[ed. The Dilemma died on November 15, 2012 at 4:06 p.m. after reading the above subheader and passage. His death was difficult and painful. In lieu of flowers, he requested that you contribute to David Eckstein’s favorite charity. He also requested that his ashes be scattered in his mother’s basement.]