Hasty Assumptions: Cabrera’s WAR With MVP
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By: Dan Hasty, WWJ (@DanHasty34)
The debate over whether Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera or Angels outfielder Mike Trout should be the American League MVP is getting more interesting by the day. For months, I felt that Trout was more deserving. Trout’s the prototype of the perfect player: he hits for average, power, has speed, and plays great defense, not to mention he’s young and incredibly cheap. Everything you like in terms of player qualities are there.
I’m a huge Mike Trout fan. If I’m building a team from scratch and had to pick one of the two, I choose Trout and it’s not close. With that said, anointing Trout as one of baseballs greatest players by giving him an MVP because of a few sabermetric stats doesn’t add up.
This brings us to the most compelling statistic being used by the Trout camp, Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. It’s arguably the most popular stat of baseball number crunchers. This non-standardized statistic (made with multiple formulas) indicates that Trout should win the AL MVP instead of Cabrera because Trout has created roughly three to four more victories for the Angels than Cabrera has created for the Tigers this season. (WAR as of 9/24: Trout: 10.4 – Cabrera: 6.8 – Baseball Reference)
What do we really know about WAR? Sure, it accounts for defensive ability, speed, and baseball acumen, but it doesn’t take into account why an opposing team decides to pitch around Cabrera so they don’t have to face him. It doesn’t reflect that the hitters in front of Cabrera will hit for a higher batting average this season because of Cabrera’s mere presence. I like Andy Dirks, but I don’t think he’s a .300 hitter without Cabrera lurking in the on-deck circle. Quintin Berry has had a nice season, but he’s not nearly as successful without a player like Cabrera hitting behind him. In fact, Berry hits close to .300 when hitting in front of Cabrera, roughly 40 points higher than anywhere else he has hit in the lineup (BA as of 9/24: .289 hitting second in front of Cabrera, .250 hitting anywhere else).
The race for MVP should not be a race to accumulate the highest WAR, but about the player that makes the biggest impact in the game. Does WAR measure the influence that Cabrera has on his teammates in the clubhouse? Look at Avisail Garcia, hitting .375 in his first month in the big leagues. From the looks of it, Cabrera has been the biggest player influence on Garcia during his short time in the majors.
In 40 years, when people talk about the great seasons in Major League history, they would talk about Miguel Cabrera winning a Triple Crown, the first time a player had won since 1967. Does anyone truly think that 40 years from now, we’re going to be talking about the magic of Mike Trout and his WAR over 10? Probably not.
It has taken a long time to convince me that there would be a reason to not give the MVP to Trout. A Triple Crown for Cabrera is it. Winning a Triple Crown is one of baseballs greatest accomplishments, not having a WAR over 10. If Mike Trout ends up in Cooperstown one day, I doubt there will be a paragraph on his Hall of Fame plaque devoted to the great story of his WAR.
I imagine one day when we see Commissioner Bud Selig standing at a podium saying “We present this prestigious award for the Most Valuable Player; a man who led all of Baseball in Wins Above Replacement,” then leans over and whispers to his assistant, “What is that?” Colleague whispers back, “Wins above replacement, sir.” Selig: “What’s a Wins Above Replacement? Who’s he replacing?”
I enjoy baseball statistics as much as anyone, but let’s not get carried away here. Mike Trout is a great player. In time, he may finish as one of baseballs great players. He will get his MVP trophy eventually, but he shouldn’t stand in the way of someone achieving one of baseball’s most difficult feats. I said earlier that I’d pick Trout if I was building a team, but if I was playing in one game I had to win this season, I’d take Cabrera by a landslide. If Miggy wins the Triple Crown, he’s the MVP.
Follow Dan Hasty on Twitter @DanHasty34