Just when you thought everyone associated with the baseball was getting smarter, an awards voting comes along and proves we’re still really dumb.
Angels center fielder Mike Trout was shut out in the awards voting this month. He finished second in AL MVP, and he did not win a Gold Glove. Oh yeah, he did win AL Rookie of the Year. Whoopie. Excuse me if I’m not so excited about the best player in the game winning an award that was also given to the likes of Angel Berroa and Bobby Crosby.
Trout put together the best season by a position player since Barry Bonds, per Baseball Reference’s WAR metric. Trout finished with a 10.7 WAR, which actually topped Bonds’ WAR for the 2003 and 2004 seasons, and only was shy of Bonds’ WAR for 2002 and 2001, the years he batted .370 and hit 73 home runs respectively.
WAR measures “Wins Above Replacement,” aka how many more wins the player contributed to the team than the average replacement player. Since it takes into account defensive, base running, and offensive statistics, the way it is calculated is subjective and slightly different depending on the outlet.
Fangraphs, which has a more reliable WAR calculation, measured Trout at 10 WAR. The next highest player was Buster Posey with 8, and he won NL MVP. Miguel Cabrera, who won AL MVP, was eighth in their calculations with 7.1, behind even Robinson Cano in the AL.
A few tweaks to the formulas can result in a slightly different order for the top players’ WAR, but what is not disputable is that no matter the outlet, Trout was anywhere from 25-50% more valuable than the other best players in baseball.
The reason why WAR is the best metric to determine a player’s value is because it measures all aspects where a player can contribute. For position players, it weighs offensive, defensive, and base running contributions. Many analysts and writers are only used to looking at stats like home runs, batting average, and RBIs to measure players, but that doesn’t give you the full picture. WAR, while not perfect, is the best overall stat for measuring players.
And what WAR says about Mike Trout — that he was the most valuable player in the game — truly matches what he did this season.
Trout led MLB with 129 runs and 49 stolen bases. His .963 OPS was third behind just Cabrera and Ryan Braun. No player came close to him when it came to excellence in every facet of the game.
Trout robbed four home runs this season — which is the maximum possible defensive play a player can make. He had superb range in the field, helping to save runs defensively. He was a lock scoring from second on base hits, scoring from first on extra-base hits, and taking the extra base. That all matters just as much as getting an extra hit here and there, which is the difference between Cabrera beating Trout in batting average (.330 vs. .326), to give him the elusive Triple Crown.
When it comes down to it, the biggest reason Cabrera won MVP over Trout is because he won the Triple Crown. The Triple Crown is indicative of overall offensive prowess in a given season, but it is comprised of three entirely subjective offensive categories. Batting average, for instance, is not as meaningful as OPS, which also factors on-base percentage and extra-base hits, which are much more valuable than just hits. And, as stated above, the difference between Cabrera and Trout in batting average this season was FOUR hits. Just four more hits, and there’s no Triple Crown for Cabrera. The Triple Crown also values RBIs, which are important, but also a poor measure. What’s more important than the actual number of RBIs a player has is the batter’s RBI percentage, since RBIs are dependent on actual chances; a player batting leadoff (like Trout) will have fewer RBI chances than someone batting third (like Cabrera).
Change the Triple Crown to runs, stolen bases, and home runs robbed, and Trout wins it. What makes batting average, home runs, and RBIs more important than those three categories? And why should Cabrera be rewarded just because nobody had won the Triple Crown since 1967? I’m guessing nobody in history won the Trout Triple Crown.
To break this all down very simply, I’ll say this: Mike Trout was slightly inferior to Miguel Cabrera as a batter this season, but significantly better as a base runner and defender than Cabrera — and everyone else in baseball.
Isn’t a guy who was the third-most productive offensive player, best base runner, and a top-five defender probably the most valuable player in the game? He’s certainly more valuable than a guy who was the most productive offensive player, below-average base runner, and far below average defender.
And if all that logic still can’t sway you that Trout was robbed of AL MVP, then I’ll give you this: Mike Trout led his team to more wins (89) this season than Miguel Cabrera did (88). The only reason Trout’s team didn’t make the playoffs is because the AL West was a more difficult division.
While we’re at it, Justin Verlander was robbed of his second straight Cy Young Award. He was better than David Price in almost every category, except his 17-8 record wasn’t as impressive as Price’s 20-5 mark. He also threw 27.1 more innings of high-quality ball, which is the equivalent of three more complete games than Price. That should have been his award.
Though I don’t think the voters screwed up the NL Cy Young as badly as they did in the AL, I think they gave it to the wrong guy. R.A. Dickey certainly had an excellent season and was deserving of the award, but Clayton Kershaw should have won it. They were nearly equal in almost every category, but as Fangraphs said, if you’re splitting hairs between them, most of the hairs fall in Kershaw’s favor. Both pitchers should have won their second straight Cy Young Award.
Way to go, MLB voters, you didn’t reward the right players once again.