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2012 American League MVP: A War of Two Worlds

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September 28, 2012 by shivusharma

In advanced metrics, WAR stands for “wins above replacement”. Without going into too much detail, WAR is a statistical measurement that quantifies the value of an individual player based on how many wins he adds to a team. Essentially, the metric spits out a number that says that your team is ‘X’ number of wins better with ‘Player A’ versus an average replacement level player at that position. By no means is this a perfect statistic, but it is certainly one of the most insightful. WAR gives you an idea of exactly how valuable a specific player is to their team.

Right now, the Angel’s Mike Trout and the Tiger’s Miguel Cabrera are battling it out to see who wins the AL MVP award.

Miguel Cabrera’s WAR to date = 6.6.

Mike Trout’s WAR to date = 10.5.

Trout’s WAR number is ridiculous, and that’s because he is the best player in baseball right now. While Cabrera leads the AL in RBIs and Batting Avg., he is still almost 4 wins inferior to Mike Trout in terms of WAR. A big reason for this is because Trout is an elite defensive player, while Cabrera is sub-par at best. If you look at their offensive WAR (taking into account only their offensive impact) Trout is at 8 wins and Cabrera is at 7.2 wins. Far less of a gap, but that speaks volumes as to how valuable Trout’s defense is. The ability to save runs contributes greatly to how well your team does. Mike Trout also leads the league in stolen bases, and could finish the season with 30 HRs and 50 SBs, an unprecedented accomplishment for a player in his rookie season. If you can steal bases and get in scoring position, without sacrificing outs, your team can score more runs, and thus win more games. If you need some more convincing that Trout is the better player, here are more advanced metrics that evidence this:

  • Runs Created per Game: Trout=8.9, Cabrera=8.1
  • OPS+ (On-base plus slugging adjusted to the player’s park): Trout and Cabrera = 165
  • OWn% (% of games a team with 9 of that player would win, going against avg. pitching and defense): Trout=.772, Cabrera=.739

By the way, Trout is producing all these numbers with 65 less plate appearances than Cabrera, since Trout started the year in the minors.

Despite all this overwhelming data, it will be difficult for Trout to win the MVP this year. The baseball writers who decide the MVP awards simply refuse to evolve and objectively examine these new statistics. They are fixated on the old days of batting average, RBIs, and home runs. They care about whether the player plays on a playoff team and whether the player hits certain statistical milestones. They are prisoners of the present, and favor players who go on hot streaks late in the year.

The MVP award should be about who the best player in baseball for that year is. It should be about the entire body of work that that player has put together, irrespective of how good or bad his team has done. The reason we can do this, is because there are advanced metrics that allow us to better compare two players’ individual accomplishments, without allowing their team accomplishments to taint the numbers. Unfortunately, no progress can be made until the people with the power (the baseball writers) start changing the way they use statistics to evaluate players.

Regardless of the circumstances, Mike Trout deserves to be the AL MVP. Whether he wins or not will depend on if the Angels and/or Tigers make it to the playoffs and if Cabrera somehow wins the triple-crown. It won’t depend on an unbiased analysis of advanced metrics, and that in itself, is the true tragedy of this story.

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