Oct 16, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) during batting practice before game three of the 2012 ALCS against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Miguel Cabrera Gets Undeserved MVP Award


I know, the headline. Just skip to the comment section and rage against me, and nerds, and WAR, and my mother’s basement, and whatever else you’re going to do if that’s why you’ve come.

Miguel Cabrera won the MVP award in a not-surprisingly lopsided vote. But, while he had a great season – you can’t win the Triple Crown and NOT have a great season – I don’t think he was the most valuable player in the American League. You can debate all you want about what “valuable” and “most” and “player” mean, but I think of it as which player simply had the best season overall. Want to debate what “had the best season” means? For me it’s this: now that each player’s production level has been set in stone, which would you pick first if we were to re-play the season beginning with every player in a draft.

That’s why, for me, it’s not just about WAR vs. Traditional Stats, it’s about which player helps their team win more games. I happen to believe WAR is the best framework for determining this, but I’m not going to force you (the reader) to believe this. What I am going to force you to believe, however, is that there’s more to player value than bat-on-ball production. Defense matters and base running matters. Anything that helps your team score (or prevent) runs matters.

Just yesterday, as I was driving home from work, callers on sports talk radio were raging on and on about how Miguel Cabrera was the best hitter – and the most feared – and therefore was the most valuable player. This is a flawed argument. I don’t think anyone is really debating that Cabrera was the best hitter in the game. Whether you prefer Triple Crown categories (HR, AVG, RBI) or sabermetric categories (wOBA, OPS, wRC), he was the best in all of baseball. According to wRAA, Cabrera’s bat was worth 9.1 more runs than Trout over the course of the season. That’s nearly one full WAR.

But MVP isn’t just an offensive award. If the MVP award went to the player that was the best at standing at the plate and mashing, then yeah, Cabrera wins without much debate, but it’s not. The key here, for me, is that Mike Trout wasn’t so much worse at the plate that he couldn’t make up for it with plus defense and base running. That is to say, for me, playing plus center field (compared to below-average third base) and stealing 49 bases is worth more than the 9.1 run advantage that Cabrera held at the dish.

This is not to say that I don’t love having Cabrera (the total package) on my favorite team, or that he’s not really, really, really, really good (second in MVP voting is nothing to sniff at), but I don’t think he was the MOST valuable player this year.

Tags: Detroit Tigers Featured Miguel Cabrera Mike Trout MVP Popular

  • bobbleheadguru

    Matt, try giving Cabrera PERFECT scores for both baserunning and fielding… then recompute WAR. When you do (I am assuming you know how to calculate WAR)… you will see that Cabrera’s WAR would still be lower than Trout’s by more than a point.

    WAR is flawed if Cabrera ceiling even with perfect scores in “non-hitting” components of the metric is lower than Trout’s.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lee-Panas/724536412 Lee Panas

    bubbleheadguru, What do you mean by perfect score? There is no limit to how many runs a player is worth on defense or on the bases. Let’s say Cabrera had 12 base running runs just like Trout and 11.4 fielding runs just like Trout. That would give him 104 runs above replacement which is equivalent to 10.9 WAR. Trout was 10.0 WAR

  • chrisHannum

    WAR is a fine stat, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all of player value. If you regress team stats on scoring or winning, team aggregate WAR does a far worse job at predicting than something as “crude” as OPS and basic RC (and so does everything else that I have looked at that factors in positional adjustment, baserunning and defense). At the plate Cabrera was both better by crude rate stats AND played a bunch more games. The primary reason to give this award to Mike Trout would be (as you say) defense and positional adjustment – voters seem to have indicated that they don’t care much about these things when choosing an MVP. Should they care more? I don’t know. I still don’t think Miggy should have won, though, for my own personal reason: he led the league in GIDP and did not hit very well in the clutch.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1082030049 Carolyn Restivo-Dobson

      Chris,
      Cabrera didn’t hit very well in the clutch? Huh? The facts: .356 with RISP (1.004 OPS); .420 with RISP and 2 out (1.211 OPS); .340 with runners on (.993 OPS). He also had super numbers in 7th inning or later. What defines “clutch” to you?

      • chrisHannum

        Clutch hitting is doing things that lead to runs and wins in high-leverage situations. There is more to “clutch” than batting average with runners in scoring position – though that does matter a lot. One key thing to bear in mind is what happens when he doesn’t get a hit – like 11 inning-ending double plays with RISP. He was way ahead of Trout in WPA/LI but way behind in WPA – not because of differences in OPS in different situations (Trout was actually bad in late innings, especially late and close) but because Trout only hit into 7 double plays all year, and only 2 ended threats on the spot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/todd.patten.7 Todd Patten

    WAR has it’s good points, but one thing it can’t do is measure the things that just don’t show up in stats like the effect Cabrera has on the way opposing pitchers pitch our entire lineup. When Jackson is up, pitchers are already thinking about Miggys spot coming up.

    • chrisHannum

      I’m not sure that should be more of a factor than how Trout threatening to steal affects how opposing pitchers handle the guys coming after him.

  • http://twitter.com/jtssrx Jason Thomas

    How can Trout be the MVP if his team can’t even make the playoff’s????

    • http://tomaroonandgold.blogspot.com Matt Snyder

      Trout’s team won more games than Cabrera’s team. Making the playoffs, therefore, was more of a measure of their relative division strength. Do you really want that determining an MVP award?

      • John Verburg

        Not only did they win one more game than the Tigers and do it in a tougher division. The team was under .500 when Trout joined them. His effect was even greater winning pct wise than just the one more team win.

  • chrisHannum

    The curious thing is that Posey really shouldn’t have won the NL MVP without the benefit of that “positional adjustment”, so it is a little strange that voters would totally ignore that when it came to Trout v. Cabrera.

  • http://www.facebook.com/todd.patten.7 Todd Patten

    I’m not going to get into the “old-school” versus “new-school” debate.
    Instead, I’ll just say this. There’s something to be said for the fact
    the pretty much EVERY player or manager who was asked about the MVP said
    Cabrera should win. Numbers are nice, but both players had numbers to
    support their MVP campaigns (Cabrera – HRs/RBIs/Avg, etter “clutch”
    performance from 7th inning and later and a much better last month of
    the season, Trout – WAR, stolen bases, runs). But the people who
    actually play and manage the game on a day in and day out basis almost
    uninamously picked Cabrera. For the managers, an argument could be made
    that they are “old-school and crusty,” but what’s the excuse for
    players who would be more prone to accept “new-school” thinking? Both
    had great seasons, but in the end, it was Cabrera in a landslide.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lee-Panas/724536412 Lee Panas

      I think a lot of it that has to do with seniority. Players are taught to respect the veterans and treat the rookies like kids with hazing and all that. Buster Olney tweeted near the end of the season that most of the players and managers voted for Cabrera, but the GMS voted for Trout.