2012 Awards: MVP

Lefty Grove, 1st AL winner of the modern MVP Award holding the 1931 MVP trophy

Part three of this series looks at the MVP award.

NL–There seems to be a building consensus that this is Buster Posey’s award. OK, fine by me. Posey led the NL in average (and tied for first in sacrifice flies), was second in OBP, fourth in slugging, and sixth in RBIs. That’s a good enough season, but it’s not overwhelming. Ryan Braun, in particular, had an equally fine season. I know he will be punished for the steroid allegations. But remember he beat those and without reference to how he did  so, he is to be considered innocent. That won’t matter, he’ll still be stiffed. Melky Cabrera has the same problem, although there’s no question of his guilt. So I have no real problem with Posey winning, but if that’s the most valuable season in the Nl, then it wasn’t a great year for individual play in the NL (as opposed to great team play). Having said that, if I had a vote, it would go to Posey.

AL–Nearly everyone agrees this is a two-man race: Miguel Cabrera vs Mike Trout. I have no idea which will actually win, but my guess is there are enough traditionalists voting that the Triple Crown will push Cabrera over the top. I would vote that way myself.

There seem to be two arguments for Trout. One revolves around the stat WAR. In researching this post I read everything I could find on WAR that explained how it worked, what it showed. I found two problems with it. First, there seem to be two versions of the stat and I’m supposed to bow down before the baseball god that WAR has become when I don’t know which version to bow before? Gimme a break. Second, most of those articles included a sentence that went about like this, “WAR is flawed, but…”. And it’s the word “flawed” that bothers me. In the last half-dozen or so years WAR has become the queen of stats. Lead in WAR and you’re somehow a baseball god. But if experts admit it’s flawed why use it more than any other stat (all of which are flawed) as the be-all, end-all of statistics? This is not an indictment of WAR as a statistic, but an indictment of the idea that because someone leads his league in WAR, or average, or OBP, or OPS+ or God knows what else, that it automatically qualifies him for MVP. 

Another part of the WAR argument is that a 10.7 WAR is so rare that it merits an MVP. Any feat that is particularly difficult to accomplish must be worth more than one that’s at least a bit more common. If you buy that argument, then you vote for Cabrera. Trout is tied for 20th (with Willie Mays and Ted Williams) on the yearly WAR list (according to Baseball Reference). Know how many times someone won the Triple Crown in the entire 20th Century? Try 13 (and two more in the 19th Century). Apparently it’s harder to win the Triple Crown than it is to post 10.7 WAR.

The other argument for Trout deals with his impact on his team.The argument goes like this.  His team was floundering. They were supposed to be good, but they were having a rough time. So they brought up a player to fill in a key defensive position and the team went nuts, putting up winning numbers. That’s a good story, but it’s also the story of Pete Kozma at St. Louis, of Marco Scutaro at San Francisco and to some extent Brandon Inge at Oakland. No one (including me) has any of the latter three in the debate over the MVP. At least Kozma, Scutaro, and Inge helped their particular team to the playoffs. My point is that Trout did indeed provide a  spark to his team but so did other players. If your premise is that Trout showed up and helped a floundering team and that’s the sole reason you want Trout as MVP, it’s just not enough in my eyes. Trout may have been a better player than either Kozma or Scutaro, but I’m not sure he was more valuable. I understand that both Kozma and Scutaro were in the other league, but I  want to make the point that just revitalizing your team may not be enough to make you the MVP, especially if someone has great numbers and a winning team.

I know others will tell me I’m wrong (they’re entitled to make a mistake 🙂 ). But that’s my position. I’d vote for Cabrera and I hope the MVP voters do also.

One question about WAR about which I couldn’t find an answer. Is the replacement level player pool recalculated yearly? For instance in 1924 that level would include a guy named Gehrig. Today it wouldn’t. Does that make a difference?

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3 Responses to “2012 Awards: MVP”

  1. sportsphd Says:

    I know the replacement level question. It is sort of recalculated yearly, but it never includes real players. So the exact number floats mildly, but that is all, as the sites that calculate essentially decide how many wins a replacement level team would have. The original calculation had a replacement level team being the 1962 Mets. I believe Baseball Reference and Fangraphs both use a higher replacement level now, so that a team of pure replacement players would be expected to win around 50 games.
    My personal favorite example of a real replacement player: In the late 1980’s the Mariners were incapable of posting a winning record. Part of the story was that they continued to believe that Jim Presley was their third baseman of the future. While Presley continued to post sub-.300 OBP’s, some kid named Edgar Martinez was hitting north of .340 in the minors. Theoretically, he would be a replacement player. But in WAR calculations, the term is generic enough to never focus on a specific real guy in AAA.

  2. William Miller Says:

    I would vote for Trout over Cabrera, but I do understand your reasons for preferring Cabrera. Unlike some people who solely utilize modern stats, however, I do believe Cabrera is a more than a valid choice to win the award.
    As for Trout, I think what puts him over the top for me is A) his base-running and B) his defense. He led the league with 49 steals while getting caught just five times. That 91% success rate is unbelievable for anyone, let alone a kid just breaking into the Majors. As for his defense, it is world class. The value he added with his defense alone puts him in the MVP discussion.
    Trout also led the league with 129 runs scored. While Cabrera led the league in RBI, to me leading in runs scored is more impressive than leading in RBI because the latter stat depends a great deal on how frequently there are runners on base to drive in. That’s not a knock on Cabrera’s hitting prowess, it’s just a preference.
    Cabrera won the batting title, but Trout actually had a slightly higher on-base percentage, .399 to .393.
    Defensively, Cabrera is below average, and he’s nothing special on the base paths.
    As of the Triple Crown, I’m of two minds on that. 1) It’s very freakin’ impressive that he’s the first player to lead the league in three of baseball’s most accessible and recognizable stats in many, many years. The man is a fantastic, nearly flawless hitter, one of the best of all-time.
    On the other hand, two of those three stats, batting average and RBI, have each taken a hit in recent years as batting average has been somewhat superseded by on-base percentage and RBI’s are generally considered a stat of opportunity, perhaps more so than actual slugging ability.
    If, all things being equal, Trout and Cabrera were roughly similar base-runners and defensive players, and even considering how two of the three stats that make up the Triple Crown have been somewhat reduced in perceived value in recent years, I’d have voted for Cabrera.
    But I think Trout’s total game is considerably better than Cabrera’s, and I don’t think that Cabrera was more valuable to his team than was Trout (though I do agree that he might be given a bit too much credit for the Angels turnaround once they brought him up.)
    So those are my reasons for preferring Trout. As I said, though, if Cabrera wins the MVP award, I won’t think that Trout got robbed, as some people will argue.
    Bill

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