July 22, 2014

Any Way You Look At It, Mike Trout Is The 2012 AL MVP

November 14, 2012 by · 16 Comments 

WAR, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing; at least within the confines of this article. While they aren’t the end-all, be-all, I am a major proponent of advanced baseball stats because I believe they greatly enhance the understanding of many components of the game. Not everyone agrees, and traditionalists prefer more time-honored metrics like batting average, home runs, and RBIs in lieu of WAR, UZR, and other acronymic gauges. The 2012 American League MVP, which has already become the most hotly debated baseball topic in recent memory, is hurtling the two sides of the baseball stat spectrum to their Antietam and promises to last well after the final vote is announced tomorrow.

Los Angles Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout is my MVP pick over Detroit Tigers’ third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who won the Triple Crown in 2012. Trout’s remarkable production as a hitter and defender gave him overwhelming stats (advanced and otherwise), solidifying his status as the most valuable player in the AL to stat heads like myself. I have argued with many Cabrera supporters, and no matter how many times I boxed them about the ears with my statistical artillery, I am fairly certain I failed to change even one mind—a blow to my ego and to common sense. With that in mind, I decided the best strategy is that if you can’t beat them, join them. Using only standard baseball stats and refuting popular narrative, I will show that even by traditional standards, Mike Trout should be your 2012 AL MVP.

Myth 1: Cabrera should be MVP because he won the Triple Crown: Winning baseball’s Triple Crown is a rare feat, having been accomplished just 13 times prior to Cabrera’s monster season. But the rarity of the feat is not synonymous with the MVP award. Ted Williams’ two Triple Crowns resulted in two second place MVP finishes. The same fate befell Chuck Klein in 1933. Poor Lou Gehrig only finished fifth in the MVP race when he had his Triple Crown in 1934. In fact, only six of the 10 players with Triple Crowns during seasons with an MVP award actually took home the hardware; hardly the sure thing Cabrera supporters make it out to be.

For those who believe Cabrera deserves the MVP because of the rarity of his achievement, consider that Trout was the FIRST player in major league history to have 30 home runs, 45 stolen bases, and 125 runs scored in the same season. Those are not unimportant numbers. They are the mainstream, old-time baseball stats embraced by so many Cabrera supporters. By the logic of scarcity, if Trout’s achievement had never been done before, isn’t that even more deserving of MVP than the relatively common Triple Crown (14 times)?

Myth 2: The Tigers made the playoffs and the Angels didn’t  thus giving the edge to Cabrera: The Tigers may have played in October while the Angels were busy on the back nine, but it’s also not that simple. The Tigers won the AL Central, but their 88 victories came in a weaker division and were one less than the Angels’ total of 89. Detroit feasted on the lowly Royals, Indians and Twins, who posted three of the five worst team ERAs in the American League. Their record against these teams was 31-23—a full one third of all their games! By comparison, every team in the AL West had an ERA in the top half of the league.

The Tigers’ record would have been good enough for just fourth place in the AL West, but the Angels’ win total would have won them the Central Division. For those believing that a player’s impact on their team’s won/loss record should help determine the MVP, consider that the Angels were 81-58 with Trout playing, while the Tigers were 87-74 with Cabrera; an approximate 6 games difference in the standings over a full season.

Myth 3: Cabrera single-handedly dragged the Tigers into the playoffs: You can’t take anything away from Cabrera when it comes to his performance down the stretch, as in 57 games after August 1st he hit .361 with 19 home runs and 54 RBIs. However, it is pure myth that he was the sole hero of the Tigers post-season bid. Big Prince Fielder practically matched Cabrera’s production over the same two-plus months of the season, hitting .337 with 14 home runs. Gritty Andy Dirks hit .317.

The most valuable Detroit player(s) from August 1st may not have even been a hitter. Justin Verlander was 6-1 with a 2.67 ERA, while Max Scherzer was also 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA. In games started by other pitchers during that span the Tigers were a mediocre 22-22.

The Tigers also benefited greatly from their final 13 games of the season, which came against the Twins, Royals, and Indians; three of the four worst teams in the American League. None of this is meant to discredit Cabrera, but rather is proof that casting him in the role of a savior is more window dressing for his MVP candidacy than actual reality.

Myth 4: Trout slumped down the stretch, which should preclude him from winning: Baseball is a game of streaks, both hot and cold, but the ability to bounce back determines a player’s value. Trout hitting .257 for the month of September has been cited as a slump that carried him out of MVP consideration, but such an assertion is shortsighted. Despite his lower batting average, the Angels tore through their September schedule, going 18-9. Trout played in all 27 September games, hitting five home runs, walking 20 times, scoring 21 runs and stealing six bases. 95% of major league players would kill to endure such a “slump.” Clearly Trout’s September production didn’t derail the Angels, and he actually helped them to their best record for any month. It also can’t hurt to mention that 19 of those September games came against the A’s, Rangers, Tigers, and White Sox; all contending teams fighting to get into the playoffs.

Myth 5: Defense is too hard to measure or count… Third base is a much harder position to play than outfield… The award for good defenders is the Gold Glove… Defense has nothing to do with who should be MVP: The easiest way to address the question of defense being appropriate criteria is by going straight to the guidelines given to the voters. They state—”The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931: (1) actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense; (2) number of games played; (3) general character, disposition, loyalty and effort; (4) former winners are eligible; and (5) members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.”

I won’t violate the terms of this article that I set disallowing the use of advanced stats, but I challenge anyone to say with a straight face that Cabrera is anywhere near the quality of a defensive player as Trout. Cabrera surprised many by being somewhat adequate when he was moved to the hot corner this season, but Trout was truly electric, patrolling the outfield like a hyperactive Frisbee dog. His defensive value must be part of the MVP discussion.

Even if you don’t understand or value advanced baseball stats, it’s hard to contest that many of the most common arguments being made in favor of Cabrera’s MVP candidacy don’t hold much water when explored in more depth. In baseball, if an elaborate narrative is needed to bear out what the numbers don’t, it may be a good idea to reevaluate your position. Miguel Cabrera had a terrific season; one for the ages, but he is not the 2012 American League MVP. The logical choice is Mike Trout, by Sabermetric or traditional standards, or any other way you may choose to look at it.

Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. He can be reached at historianandrew@gmail.com. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew.

Comments

16 Responses to “Any Way You Look At It, Mike Trout Is The 2012 AL MVP”
  1. Mike Lynch says:

    Thank you! This is exactly what I’ve been arguing with Cabrera supporters ever since the season ended. Trout, and not Cabrera, deserves to win the MVP Award. And I know you’d rather relate to the average fan, but advanced metrics show that it’s not even close. Trout’s WAR is in Ted Williams/Willie Mays territory and ranks in a tie for 20th best EVER. Cabrera’s is 496th.

    I got into a friendly argument with former MLBer Junior Spivey, who tried to convince me that Cabrera’s RBI total should win him the award all by itself. I countered that Trout’s runs scored total was just as impressive (or close to it) but he acted like that didn’t count. Then his buddies did the same. It makes no sense. It’s like arguing about the chicken and the egg. If you give credit to one guy for RBIs, you also have to credit the other guy for scoring.

  2. Andrew Martin says:

    @Mike Lynch@Mike Lynch@Mike Lynch – Thanks, Mike. The huffy nature of most Cabrera supporters make me laugh. They are so aghast that somebody would have the audacity to question Cabrera that they get completely flustered.

    I’m sorry but the MVP is most valuable player, not the most valuable hitter. Even if it was the most valuable hitter I am not sure Cabrera should win.

  3. Todd Boss says:

    The “most valuable player” IS NOT THE AWARD FOR THE BEST PLAYER!!! Why can’t the majority of the holier-than-thou sabrematrician bloggers and writers who intone this over and over get this through their thick skulls?? It isn’t the “Best WAR in the league” award, nor is it solely based on an individual’s performance.

    If you want an award to go to the “Best player” so that Mike Trout can get some well deserved recognition for his season, then make a “Cy Young” version for hitters. Until then, the MVP was and still is a slightly different award.

    Like it or not, the voter base defines the MVP as “the player who meant the most to his more-than-likely playoff-bound team.” The Angels finished third with Trout; without him they probably finish … third. Can you say the same for Cabrera and the Tigers? I don’t think so; I think he made a far more significant difference for that team over the entire season. Morseo than the “leading” player for any other playoff team. That’s the way the award is interpreted and that’s they way it is likely going to be given.

  4. Here is what the official ballot says:

    Dear Voter:

    There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

    The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

    1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

    2. Number of games played.

    3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

    4. Former winners are eligible.

    5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

    You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.

    Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.

    As you mentioned there is no clear-cut definition, but they do provide guidelines. However, under what scenario would the best player not be the MVP? Trout wasn’t just better than Cabrera, he was significantly better. It is a laughable narrative to suggest that the Tigers won 88 games because of Cabrera, but the Angels didn’t need Trout to win their 89.

  5. You will also notice that defense is mentioned as a criteria…

  6. David says:

    In my opinion, there is a solid, non-sabermetric argument to be made for Trout over Cabrera. First, you just have to suggest that the currency of baseball is runs.

    Then, you can look at a good, non-sabermetric stat like Runs Produced (RBI+R-HR). Trout had 182; Cabrera had 204. Or you can go more simply and say that you get half-credit for each run, and half-credit for each RBI. In other words, (R+RBI)/2. 106 for Trout; 118 for Cabrera. That’s either a difference of 12 runs, or 22. Let’s just hedge our bets and use the larger, 22 run-advantage for Cabrera. The question becomes, is it possible that Trout’s baserunning+fielding yielded 22 runs? Well, he pulled back 5 home runs this year. That’s five runs right there, easy as pie. We’re down to 17 runs. Let’s look at baserunning. Let’s say that every CS eliminates 2 SB. And let’s count each SB as 1/4 run. In math, that’s (SB-2CS)/4. That’s not very much. For Cabrera, that gives us (4-2*1)/4=.5. So the difference is back up to 17.5 runs. For Trout, we get (49-2*5)/4= 9.75. So the difference is now down to 7.75 runs. Are you really going to argue that non-stolen base baserunning and defense (which, keep in mind, we’ve only accounted for in terms of home runs stolen) is less than 8 runs? Didn’t think so.

    This is the best non-saber case I can make for Trout. I think it holds, as much as any such argument could. It shows Cabrera to be “up” by 7.75 runs – but that doesn’t account for the slew of extra outs he made, or the fact that the Angels foolishly left Trout in the minors for a month, or the fact that the Angels won one more game than the Tigers, or account for differences in ballpark. Frankly, I don’t see how you can even make the case for Cabrera in light of this. But that’s my opinion.

  7. Mike Lynch says:

    Originally Posted By Todd Boss
    The “most valuable player” IS NOT THE AWARD FOR THE BEST PLAYER!!! Why can’t the majority of the holier-than-thou sabrematrician bloggers and writers who intone this over and over get this through their thick skulls?? It isn’t the “Best WAR in the league” award, nor is it solely based on an individual’s performance.

    If you want an award to go to the “Best player” so that Mike Trout can get some well deserved recognition for his season, then make a “Cy Young” version for hitters. Until then, the MVP was and still is a slightly different award.

    Like it or not, the voter base defines the MVP as “the player who meant the most to his more-than-likely playoff-bound team.” The Angels finished third with Trout; without him they probably finish … third. Can you say the same for Cabrera and the Tigers? I don’t think so; I think he made a far more significant difference for that team over the entire season. Morseo than the “leading” player for any other playoff team. That’s the way the award is interpreted and that’s they way it is likely going to be given.

    Then how do you explain Andre Dawson in 1987 and Cal Ripken in 1991 (just to name two)? They won the award because they were perceived to be the best player in their respective league, and clearly not because they were “the player who meant the most to his more-than-likely playoff-bound team.” The Cubs finished in last place in 1987 with Dawson and they easily would have finished last without him. The Orioles finished in sixth place with Ripken and might or might not have finished last without him (the Indians were so bad that year, the O’s probably still would have finished sixth without Ripken). Based on traditional stats, you can definitely argue that Ripken deserved the MVP award in ’91; based on newer metrics, Ripken definitely deserved the award.

    The only traditional stats that really support Dawson’s case are home runs, RBIs and Total Bases. Based on newer metrics, though, Dawson was a terrible choice. I suppose if you have two players who had nearly identical production, you could use team standings as a tie-breaker, but I find it ridiculous that Cabrera is considered “more valuable” because the Tigers made the playoffs and the Angels didn’t.

  8. Andrew Martin says:

    @Todd Boss – Todd, I have yet to hear a good argument for why Cabrera was more valuable than Trout. Cabrera’s team won one less game in a worse division, and his team’s winning percentage when he was in the lineup was six games worse than the Angels when Trout was in their lineup. I really don’t get why Cabrera gets credit for bringing all this value to the Tigers, while Trout is not given any for what he did for a clearly better team.

  9. David says:

    I fleshed out my thoughts from above much more on my own blog. I hate plugging my own stuff like this, but I actually think it might be interesting to some of you. So here it goes:

    http://notmadsports.blogspot.com/2012/11/2012-mvp.html

  10. “The huffy nature of most Cabrera supporters make me laugh. They are so aghast that somebody would have the audacity to question Cabrera that they get completely flustered”.

    Actually Andrew, In all my travels to as many as 30/40/or more Tigers and national baseball media sites daily, I rarely saw or read any Tigers fans angry about Trout for mvp, and not Cabrera and how you couldn’t/shouldn’t vote for him as the MVP. Most all said Trout had a spectacular all around season.
    As an old time baseball fan, my hero and sn was one of those 5 tool all around players with great defense as well as hitting. I try to look at what the counting/regular numbers ‘And’ the saber stats bring to give a more updated 21st century look in print. Thing is, people are going to vote with their heart as well as their heads. Many of the writers used their national media sites, to rip on Cabrera And also on the fans who wanted to see Miguel win the MVP. Shame on them, the keith laws, jeff passans, and brian kennys who shamelessly attacked Miguel, and the fans as luddites or incompotents.
    It’s all subjective. As a Tigers fan since 1954, this was the first Tigers position player to win the MVP since Hank Greenberg in 1940. Close calls, with Kaline 55 + 63, Trammell in 87, and Fielder a couple times as well.
    Something else, Cabrera did lead in some saber stats also, sure he isn’t fast like Trout on the bases, but is smart and took several first to third and second to home during the year, and try as much as brian kenny could on mlb network to denigrate Miggy at third, by showing ‘only’ bad plays, Miguel mad many excellent plays there too. In other words he was not a complete hack, he was about average whether or not the defensive metrics agree with the eye test of watching every Tigers game or not.
    In the end, opinions are like rear ends, and everyone has one. Just have respect for the opinions that are not on the same page. Like what ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian said Thursday: “There are two MVPs this year, Cabrera + Trout. Make a case for your guy, but don’t attack the other guy.
    Thankyou

  11. Hi Ron,

    I can assure you by the numerous people who messaged me and from writers defending Cabrera as their choice that there were certainly some passionate Cabrera supporters out there who were angry. None of the writers you mentioned have put down Cabrera, but they have placed his 2012 season in the proper context. He had a great season, but should not have been the MVP.

    The eye test is just another pro-Cabrera argument that is not based in any reality. Some nights the moon looks big enough for me to grab, but that doesn’t mean I can actually do that. I don’t see how anyone who can say with a straight face that Cabrera is a good defensive player. He’s not.

    Congrats to Miggy for winning the awatd, but like many other times in baseball MVP history, he was not the right choice.

  12. Gordy says:

    One other consideration, Cabrera moving to third so the Tigers could sign Prince. Much like Pete Rose back in the 1970′s moving positions to help the team. Many modern players would never do this nowadays…

  13. Andrew Martin says:

    @Gordy – Gordy, I’m sorry but I don’t award many points to a player making tens of millions of dollars because he did what he was told- especially when it involves moving to his original position.

  14. Gary Velich says:

    Hello Andrew, I want to say that I have a baseball book titled 1994 Essential Baseball and it ranks players on how many Net Bases they gain per Out they make and the formula is Total Bases + Walks + HBP + SB + SH + SF – CS – GDP divided by At-Bats – Hits + CS + GDP + SH + SF. I checked Mike Trouts Numbers and he has 432 Net Bases and he made 396 outs for a ratio of 1.091. Miguel Cabrera had 427 Net Bases and made 452 Outs for a ratio of .945. Mike Trout was the better player according to this stat. He had probably the best rookie season that I have ever seen. Congratulations to Mike Trout for an awesome season.

  15. Thanks, Gary. I totally agree. I will have to check out your book. Any plans for additional books?

  16. Gary Velich says:

    @Andrew Martin – Hello Again Andrew. You can maybe get that book on Amazon.com Norm Hitzges and Dave Lawson have a baseball website at http://www.hardcorehardball.com and they give samples and also stats of the last five years. Check it out and let me know if you found it OK? I like this website also as it gives Win Shares . Whoever created seamheads and put all these wonderful stats up is a genius. Have a great Thanksgiving Andrew!!. Remember to go on Amazon.com and check for the book titled 1994 Essential Baseball by Norm Hitzges and Dave Lawson and also the Hardcorehardball.com website with this stat. They also rate pitchers by this stat also. Sincerely, Gary Velich.

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