*The first since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. In a related note, I definitely see why sportswriters went with Yaz with him.
**A very real possibility, but by no means a lock. The Tigers and White Sox are tied as of this morning for the division lead.
And, you know, if the Tigers do make the playoffs and Miggy does hold on to the lead in all those categories, he still might win MVP. But, if you asked most voters right this instant who their MVP is, the overwhelming response is Mike Trout.
It’s hard to argue with that vote, either. Cabrera is batting .329 with 42 home runs and 133 RBI. He leads the American League in batting average (by three points over Joe Mauer) and RBI (by nine over Josh Hamilton) and is only one homer back from Hamilton. Mike Trout, though, in his rookie season, no less, is batting .324 with a very respectable 28 home runs and 78 RBI. But, his case is not based on those numbers alone, obviously.
Trout is leading the league in three categories, too. Those would be runs, stolen bases, and WAR. Now, nobody can deny the value of runs. I mean, when you really boil down baseball to its basics, runs are the currency of baseball. That’s how you win and lose games. All the other stats are fluff to help you understand how runs are scored or prevented.
Stolen bases is another piece of fluff that has a complicated relationship with baseball understanding. Stealing a lot of bases has gone in and out of vogue, which I’ve written about before. Right now, I would generally say that a ton of speed is a bit on the downside of its cyclical popularity. And, he’s only stolen 47 bases, which wouldn’t have even cracked the top twenty some years in the 80’s. And that’s only two up on Rajai Davis, so it’s not like he’s blown the rest of the league away. Still, he is the leader, and that’s something to consider. I’m just not sure how much that’s really contributing to his overall MVP case.
The last number, WAR, I think is where Trout is really earning his hype. This is a “new school” stat, though I think most are familiar with it now. To paraphrase, WAR stands for “Wins Above Replacement.” The replacement in this sense is an absolutely average guy, your standard AAA call up or what have you. It gets figured a little bit differently in different places, but this stat aims to give you an idea of how many wins your team has gotten because you have this particular guy in the lineup as opposed to the average replacement. FanGraphs has Trout at 9.5. Baseball Reference has him at 10.5. Baseball Prospectus has him at 8.2. For perspective, an MVP level season is pegged at 6. That tells you the kind of season Mike Trout is having overall. For comparison, Miguel Cabrera’s WAR is 6.8 on FanGraphs.
So, yeah, but that measure, Miggy has had an MVP type year, but Mike Trout has had an MVP+ type year. And while the voting will be interesting to watch,* the more interesting discussion to me is how we as fans have changed.
*The biggest X-Factor to me is team performance. I know MVP is supposed to be an individual award, but look at when Sammy Sosa won the MVP over Mark McGwire. You can’t tell me that wasn’t because the Cubs made the playoffs and the Cardinals didn’t. They were in the race for home runs, and McGwire had more of those. But the Cubs had more wins. Anyway, more to the point, the Angels were supposed to be the Heat of baseball this year, splurging on Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson, and (later) Zach Greinke. The results have been less than impressive, with the extremely cheap A’s looking like they will finish ahead of the Angels. The Tigers, as mentioned earlier, may well win their division.
I suppose the most enjoyable is the widespread acceptance of “egghead” stats. Some sabermetrics are borderline useless, either for a need of revision or a lack of sample size to this point. But, most tell us things that the “traditional” stats either ignore or sell short. It’s a great way to see if your eyes match up to the paper. And it seems to me that WAR is the crown jewel of sabermetrics. It’s not quite standardized, true, but the three main sources are more or less in line with each other. It’s a simple concept to understand. And it’s a quick indicator of what kind of overall season a player is having. A player have a 4 WAR? He’s have a solid year. Oh, he slipped to 2 the next year? He’s just a bit above a scrub. Now, whether or not it’s just a down year or he’s becoming washed up, that’s a different matter. No paper can tell you that. But it’s a quick indicator of where a player is in that moment.
The writers certainly seem to have embraced that with this year’s MVP talk. Mike Trout’s value flies off the page with new stats. Without those new stats, we would be forced to look at the available numbers and conclude that Miguel Cabrera is the head-and-shoulders choice for MVP. I’m sure Mike Trout would still win Rookie of the Year, because his talent is pretty obvious. But you might miss just how good he is without some advanced numbers that take his all-around athleticism into account.
The bums may have lost, as they say in The Big Lewbowski, but the nerds will have their revenge.