Advanced metrics are great tools. They have enhanced the knowledge base of a baseball fan in infinite ways. Because of the study of so many who get labeled with the sabermetrician tag, we now know true measures of a playerís performance. We know that batting average isnít as important as on base percentage. We know that wins and ERA are move of a product of the team rather than an indication of how a pitcher actually performs. The evolution of statistical analysis is now making it into the mainstream, which is actually causing some great discussion between the mainstream writers and those sabermetricians who have always been on the outside trying to bust in.
But, we are still years away before a mainstream article will talk FIP, ISO, wOBA, wRC+, xFIP, tERA, and Sierra matter of factly. And, thatís alright; this kind of change is erasing 100 years of past practice. For years, it was all about the home run, RBI, batting average, and stolen bases. Pitchers were measured by wins, ERA, and saves. Change takes time. Baseball media is changing, just not at the pace that many would like.
That change is wonderful, but there is a negative to that change. Sometimes, the focus can shift too far away from what we are really watching. This season, it is playing out like that with the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Mike Trout is the likely winner of the award. The 20 year oldís accomplishments have been discussed everywhere. Heís batting .327/.395/.556 with 118 runs scored, 24 doubles, 6 triples, 27 home runs, 77 RBI, and 46 stolen bases. With his defense also rated at an elite level, he is a deserving winner of both the MVP and Jackie Robinson Awards. His .231 ISO, .420 wOBA, 174 wRC+ are also quite impressive. His presence on the Angels and the impact he made on their slow start is measurable and meets the criteria for being considered valuable.
But, Trout does have one other contender for the MVP Award in Miguel Cabrera. The Detroit slugger has long been one of the most consistently elite hitters in the game. Heís been overshadowed by Albert Pujols for most of his career and this year has been overshadowed, like everyone else, by Mike Trout. Cabrera is hitting .333/.398/.614 with 101 runs scored, 38 doubles, 41 home runs, and 130 RBI. Of course, Cabrera is an awful defender at third base, but that was already a given before the season started.
The conflict in the MVP voting is that many are discounting just how special of an offensive season that Cabrera is compiling. He is one home run away from actually being a potential triple crown winner.
And, that is actually the conflict. The triple crown was once one of the most revered accomplishments in Major League Baseball. In some corners, it is still referred to with reverence. But, as one prominent analyst stated, they are the three wrong statistics. Batting average is no longer a statistic of value when it comes to determining a playerís performance. RBI are even less so as so much is dependent on that category.
Havenít we gone a bit too far to actually denigrate a potential triple crown season? True, RBI is a circumstantial statistic, but a player hasnít had a triple crown since 1967. And, quite frankly, it still is an amazing accomplishment. Cabreraís season is one of the most dominant, powerful seasons in quite some time. His .292 ISO, .420 wOBA, and 169 wRC+ are also quite impressive.
Mike Trout should win the Award. By WAR standards, Trout is a 9.4 WAR player. Cabrera is a 6.6 WAR player. Cabrera does get heavily penalized because of his defense. Troutís season and all around value are incredible. There is no arguing that. He does deserve the award.
But, his winning the award shouldnít come at the price of discounting Cabreraís potentially historic season. Yes, he leads two categories that arenít considered as valuable in todayís game, but the accomplishment is still quite impressive. It is one that should be celebrated and should be factored into the MVP voting. Batting average and RBI arenít useful statistics in terms of ascertaining a playerís value, but they arenít useless either. Some weight should be given to them.
And, it wouldnít be a travesty if Cabrera were to win the award. He has compiled a worthy season. He has compiled an historic season. In terms of value, he has been every bit as valuable to the Tigers as Trout has been to the Angels. His presence in the lineup is just as important as Troutís.
Advanced metrics and analysis favor Trout, but that doesnít mean voters would be wrong for giving the award to Cabrera. What is wrong is to simply dismiss Cabreraís accomplishments because they donít fit the new criteria. That is wrong; itís also exactly what the sabermetric community fought against when most of their statistics and formulas were just ignored before even tested. The pendulum cannot swing too far the other way where excellent, elite seasons are dismissed.
Is Mike Trout a legitimate MVP? Sure he is. His season is outstanding and is outstanding in all areas of the game. But, Miguel Cabrera's season is also MVP-caliber, even if it is based strictly on offense. To ignore it or dismiss it completely, would be a sign that the voters are simply missing the point.