Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera and Why it Doesn’t Matter

Forget about “old-time stats” and sabermetrics. Forget about the Triple Crown, for now. Ask: who has been more valuable to their team. Who has been the most valuable player? Protect yourself from the questions: who has the best numbers/equations, or, who is the oldest/wisest and most “deserving?”

Which team, without this player, would not be in a pennant-race, maybe eliminated by now. For whatever reason/s.

If we were loyal to our guts, who would we choose?

The argument has become a battle of ideologies – one group holding up signs with percentages on them, the other holding up historic photos of Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski and Frank Robinson. Both sides yelling at brick-walls.

Neither side will ever be right; in the meantime, we can observe the statistics and make our own determinations. Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout are both having MVP-worthy seasons. Whether our opinions matter or not is yet to be decided.

Cabrera and Trout’s numbers side-by-side. All stats current as of September 25th, 2012.

Season Totals

Miguel Cabrera 590 .331 195 42 133 4 1.010
Mike Trout 523 .323 169 28 78 46 0.95


Miguel Cabrera 78 .346 27 9 24 4 1.187
Mike Trout 78 .256 20 3 4 4 .780

Something tells me that stats freaks and “old-timers” are having a good time figuring this MVP award out.

They are. The partisanship in this race is a new thing, for better and worse. The first two tables compare each player’s stats. Stats which forever in baseball have been the end-all-be-all in valuation (minus OPS and for a large part stolen bases).

The reason for the contorversy? John Grochowski of the Chicago Sun-Times puts it succinctly,

“By the time we add it all up and look at the baseball-reference.com version of offensive wins above replacement, Trout’s 7.9 oWAR outranks Cabrera’s 7.3.

On defense, Trout makes it a runaway. Splitting time between center and right fields, he has a 2.6 defensive WAR based on 26 runs saved. Third baseman Cabrera is at minus-3 runs saved, a minus-0.3 dWAR where zero marks an average defender.”

*dWAR – Defensive wins above replacement

*oWAR – Offensive wins above replacement

The title of Grochowski’s article is “Miguel Cabrera might win Triple Crown, but Mike Trout is better.”

These are numbers not to be argued with. Lest we forget the fact that numbers are paramount. They’re numbers, after all – statistical measurements of a player’s on-field worth. If only there were a metric system for managerial decisions, or beers drank.

The partisanship is a result of history; Bill James’ sabermetrics (named after his Society for American Baseball Research) offers a new way of observing success in baseball. One that is indisputable.

Trout, as Grochowski said, makes the AL MVP a “runaway” on defense and he’s right. Unless, there’s more to the equation than the aforementioned. There is.

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), those who will vote for either Cabrera or Trout, will (or should) have more in mind than the calculations available to them. They will, God forbid it, have to rely on their memories and instincts for factors not accounted for by “advanced stats.” Factors consciously present for the participants of this vote will include:

  1. Player’s contribution to his team’s recent success (SEP/OCT performance) whether or not the player’s team reaches the playoffs
  2. Success (including metrics/values) of the players surrounding him.
  3. Recognizable influence the player has on his teammates.
  4. Player’s clutch ability.

Articles have been written since the late seventies about whether or not “clutch” hitters exist but much of the talk is based on single-game performances. A way around this might be to consider pennant-runs — week or month long periods as “clutch” situations.

There is no bottom line in this conversation, only a grey cloud with two silver-linings. Neither side will be right. If either Cabrera or Trout wins the American League MVP, the only truth will be the truth that is now — both players have been a sight for sore eyes in baseball. Two star ballplayers who aren’t jerks, yet. So long as you’ll excuse Cabrera for his scotch-swigging side-of-the-road debacle.

Miguel Cabrera’s power and eye bring the post-steroid era something to look forward to, while Mike Trout reminds us that baseball can be both power, speed, and whatever else it is that Trout has going on. There’s no stat column for outward quirk.

Now, if Bryce Harper would just step it up a notch…

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Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com & ESPN.com

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Tomas Laverty
Tomas Laverty, frequent contributor to the MLB section, runs a Detroit web design company called Detroit Spaces.