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.