Saturday, March 23, 2013

A few final words on the AL MVP

Answer:  Mike Trout

Question:  Who was the AL Player of the Year in 2012?

Before we move into the new season, I wanted to say a few things about last year's MVP race, and take on the statheads and pundits who screamed bloody murder and how the voters are concerned only about the Triple Crown statistics that aren't a true evaluator of performance.

Here are my problems with their arguments:

1.  What exactly is WAR?  Fangraphs has Trout at 10.0, Baseball Reference at 10.7 - because they're based on different weighted formulas.  Each gives different positions different values, and the defensive metrics are still in their infant stage.  I was a big fan of Bill James' Win Shares, but I think he's copyrighted that since I can't find his own rankings.  When WAR becomes the same for everyone, I think the older guard will gradually accept it...or just retire and let the younger generation accept it.

2.  Statheads also argue that there is no such thing as "clutch", and that a game in April is as important as a game in September.  To an extent, they are correct:  it counts the same in the standings.  But anyone who has seen a 92% free throw shooter miss the first of a 1 & 1 in the final minute of a last game, or a wide receiver letting a sure TD pass slipping through their hands on the final drive knows that the games at the end of a season are under a magnifying glass.  While it may be the same as an April game, the pennant race is studied a lot, lot closer - in the locker room, on sports radio, and the players can feel it.  So what did Trout do at the end of the year?  August and September were his worst months.  For Cabrera, it was the exact opposite - the last two months were his strongest.

3.  Finally, Cabrera was in the position to do something no has done since 1967:  win the Triple Crown.  More importantly, he did it...and while we can all agree that RBIs has more to do with opportunity given to a player by his teammates, the fact is Cabrera succeeded where others have failed.  So, not only was the Tigers being watched as they moved towards the post-season, Cabrera was under intense scrutiny for his pursuit of an achievement accomplished only 13 times.* 

This is why Cabrera won the MVP award, and I'm really not upset by it, even as I focus more and more on OPS, xBA, UZR and the like. 

Mike Trout was the best player in 2012...but Cabrera was the MVP. 

*I'm not counting Lajoie's achievement in 1901 when the AL was a minor league, or the two times Baseball Reference counts it from the 1800s.

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