The Winner Of The Debate: Mike Trout

I am so old that the previous two Triple Crowns were won in a) the first year I had any awareness of the game, and b) the first year I was a true fan.

I got kinda spoiled.

It was – and is – a singular accomplishment. Miguel Cabrera deserves all the praise. He deserves to be in the company of F. Robby and Yaz and all the rest. He does not deserve the Most Valuable Player Award.

I know, I know, I’m the traditionalist and the one who whined here about Felix Hernandez getting the Cy Young last year. And I’m not going to hang this entirely on the idea that historically there was nothing automatic about a Triple Crown equaling MVP (ask not just Ted Williams, but Lou Gehrig). But I also have an appreciation of (if not a slavish dedication to) all the statistics that have come into the game since Carl Yastrzemski’s matchless September got him his place in history in 1967. And the thing being left out of the arguments about Cabrera versus Mike Trout is that the reason “The Triple Crown” was such a big deal all that time was that it wasn’t just the imaginary title we gave the leader of three Glamor Batting Categories – it was the imaginary title we gave the leader of the only three batting categories we had.

I exaggerate only slightly here. The years that the baseball cards were horizontal and not vertical, we also got Games Played, At Bats, Hits, Doubles and Triples printed on the back. Well, those were just for us kids, right? What about the grown-up stuff?

Who’s Who In Baseball – the softcover handbook, still printed, the last vestige of the fabled baseball publishing industry of the 1930’s – offered exactly what the baseball cards did…plus stolen bases.

Still, that was nowhere near official. What about the bible of the game? The veritable New Phone Book of the season ahead and the season behind? What about The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide? It dated to 1942 and its antecedents stretched back to Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player edited by Henry Chadwick in 1860.

Here’s exactly what were considered baseball’s official stats the year Yaz did The Miggy:

(Sorry for the warping. My ’68 guide still has some spine left to it)

This is way more sophisticated, no? Games, At Bats, Runs, Hits, Total Bases (ooooh, Total Bases), Two Base Hits, Three Base Hits, Homers, RBI, Sacrifice Hits, Sacrifice Flies, Stolen Bases, Caught Stealing, and “Percentage” – Batting Average.

By the way, Caught Stealing was a revolutionary statistical addition.

Notice anything missing there? I don’t mean WAR and VORP and OPS and UZR and RISP and Percentage of Pitchers Faced With ERA under 4.00. I mean:


The Triple Crown was The Triple Crown because it was the most sophisticated measurement of a batter’s total impact on the game. And in terms of historical placement, it was a gold mine. When Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski won their Crowns we were still a couple of years away from The Baseball Encyclopedia. What those of us who did not have complete runs of The Sporting News Guide, The Reach Guide, The Spalding Guide, The Players’ League Guide, and Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player had, was The Official Encyclopedia Of Baseball.

In one fan’s lifetime, in my trip from an eight-year old going to his first Yankee game to the 53-year old sitting in the front row last night going deaf from the excessive PA system, who used to host the telecasts of the World Series before the turn of the century (!), we went from what you see to the left, to WAR and PZR.

That – Full Name, Birth Date, Birth Place, Date of Death (sometimes), Batted/Threw (sometimes), Games Played, Won-Lost Record, and Batting Average – was all that we had for the official baseball historical record the last time somebody won the Triple Crown before Miguel Cabrera did it last night. No homers, no RBI, no Slugging Percentage – no hits, no runs, no errors!

And – you’re right – Ruth’s entry is the most sophisticated one in the book because he was a pitcher and a position player! 

So I applaud what Cabrera did, and I want to buy him something to thank him for doing something that merely reminds me of the excitement of a player sweeping the statistical board – as we thought we knew it – when I was a kid.

But I’ve grown up (somewhat) and so have the statistics. And I won’t labor them anew here but Mike Trout had a remarkable season according to the closest thing we have to an all-encompassing number, WAR:


1. TROUT, Los Angeles (10.72)

2. CANO, New York (8.23)

3. VERLANDER, Detroit (7.44)

4. CABRERA, Detroit (6.95)

5. BELTRE, Texas (6.66)

6. PRICE, Tampa Bay (6.47)

7. GORDON, Kansas City (6.28)

8. HARRISON, Texas (6.09)

9. SALE, Chicago (5.80)

10. ZOBRIST, Tampa Bay (5.6)

11. HUNTER, Los Angeles (5.5)

12. JACKSON, Detroit (5.30)

In short, Trout was about 30 percent more valuable than the runner-up (and that’s with Robinson Cano’s explosive finish), and he doubled the value of the 12th best player in the league. For contrast, the top five guys in NL War finished in a grouping of 0.5 (Buster Posey 7.2, McCutchen 7.0, Braun 6.8, Molina 6.7, Wright 6.7) allowing room for interpretation and argument. To get down to half the value of the WAR champ, you have to go to Carlos Beltran and David Freese and a tie for 33rd.

That room for argument is non-existant in the American League. Miguel Cabrera won a Triple Crown, and Mike Trout’s season was 54 percent more valuable. 

Which is, at minimum, the added value of all the new statistics, since Yaz won, and I was a kid, and there were only 20 teams – and “The Triple Crown” was the best we had.



  1. Fan

    Why can’t we make it easy and say that Trout & Miggy are offensively close enough that Trout deserves the award b/c he plays out of this world defense and steals bases….where Miggy is an average/below average defender…

    (RBI & BA are meaningless/antiquated stats. Miggy’s OPS does not separate him from Trout.)

    • Juan

      There’s something about Mr Cabrera from the beginning of the season that we’re forgetting, which has to be said.

      When Prince Fielder came in from the Brewers, Miguel was switched from 1st to 3rd base, after several years of not playing the position – “go back to third and make a defensive fool of yourself”… yet no complaint was heard from the man. Many pundits predicted a Tiger defensive disaster… yet no complaint was heard from the man, and Detroit ended up #12 overall in MLB fielding, out of 30 teams. A .966 fielding % and 19 errors is NOT a Dr Strangeglove scenario in a year of defensive transition.

      Put in a very awkward situation, Cabrera led by example of “for the good of the team” spirit and professionalism (the opposite of a diva), and won himself a Triple Crown to boot! If as a baseball fan that doesn’t impress you, turn in your credentials now.

      Have you ever heard a jazz quartet take itself to the next level when a superior guest musician jams with them that night? Without question Cabrera inspired his teammates and he gets my MVP “applause vote”.

  2. Mike Sherman

    While I like the WAR stat, it still isn’t perfect and shouldn’t be used as the sole measurement for an MVP award. WAR compares players at the same position, which makes it easy to determine the most valuable player at that certain position. However, comparing WAR from position to position doesn’t make sense to me. What the WAR numbers tell me, is that there was overall better play throughout the league at third base than the outfield, since Trout’s WAR is so high and Cabrera’s is relatively low for the numbers he put up.

    I do think there is a strong argument for both players, and I believe Trout’s defense could be the deciding factor in the MVP race if people aren’t blinded by the triple crown numbers.

    Love the blog.

  3. bigyaz

    What set apart Yaz in 1967, besides the Triple Crown, was his superhuman performance in the pennant race. Delivering in September is huge in my book. Let’s compare Cabrera and Trout in September:

    Cabrera 104 22 32 6 0 10 27 13 24 0 0 .308 .378 .654 1.032
    Trout 101 21 26 3 1 5 6 20 32 6 0 .257 .380 .455 .835

    The key points: Cabrera wins in HR, 10-5; RBI, 27-6; BA, .308-.257, and Slugging, .654-.455. OBP is virtually identical. Trout, of course, wins in stolen bases.

    If you want to be an MVP you have to deliver when it counts. Cabrera did, Trout didn’t.

    • Fan

      Uh, it all counts. That’s why we look at the whole season instead of cherry-picking small sample sizes. Miggy can be player of the month for September I guess though…

      • bigyaz

        So you’re effectively saying there’s no difference between coming up big in April and doing the same in September. And it’s fine to disappear — as Trout pretty much did — in September when your team is struggling (and ultimately failing) to make the playoffs.

        I doubt even you believe that.

      • Juan

        Of course it all counts, but as a sample look at the Rangers, leading their division for 161 games, then relegated to the wildcard on game 162. Math as a block for 162 games is good in retrospect, but there’s also distribution. You may score a thousand runs in May, but only a hundred in September.
        Please don’t get me wrong, I believe in Bill James, but I’m still not sure if things go back to square one when every team has a sabermetrics department.

      • bigyaz

        Oh God spare me the “clutch doesn’t exist ” trope. Only Stat geeks who never played beyond junior high buy that one. But I realize you guys all have to drink the BP Kool Aid. Sort of like Tea Partiers an Fox News.

    • Fan

      I played in high school, as if it matters….

      Do you know what an ad hominem is though?

      I guess I’d go that way too if the facts weren’t on my side.

      Try addressing the other points I made. I’ll wait…

      • bigyaz

        People like you have been misinterpreting that old Sheehan piece since he wrote it. He in fact says: “The correct idea is that clutch performances exist, and clutch players exist: every last one of them.”

        His point is that over the course of an entire career the statistics don’t support a player being more “clutch” than others. But certainly over a period of time — a game, a week, the month of September — a player can perform better than another. And in virtually every offensive category Cabrera significantly outperformed Trout when his team needed it most.

        If Trout had done the same in September his team might still be playing. But he fell off significantly from his extraordinary numbers in the previous months.

        I never said — nor would I — that Cabrera is more of a clutch player than Trout. They’re both obviously terrific ballplayers. All I said — and the facts support me (since you’re big on facts, albeit selectively) — is that Cabrera put up much bigger numbers down the stretch.

  4. Jamie Reidy

    Yes, Trout is waaaay better in the field. And Jon Jones is a better MMA fighter than Kevin James. But I think Cabrera deserves points for playing a position he does not want to play! Think about that.

    It’s not like the Tigers are trying to hide him in left field. No, the dude is standing on the Hot Corner, with one hundred chances per night of ending up with a hole in his throat like one of those anti-smoking PSAs.

  5. mary_caruso

    I had to look all this stuff up. Shame on you! So I’m thinking it’s sounding like the response is more objective rather than subjective or vice versa….whichever? Confusing but then again you’re better at numbers. Can we thank Bill James or Earnshaw Cook for this sabermeterics thingy? All I know can fit into a thimble for a very tiny person but I enjoy reading your opinions. Baseball will forever keep us all young at heart and that’s the beauty of it. N’est pas? LyK

  6. patriciaellynpowell

    Thanks, Keith, for the return! Wow! Thanks for the gift of baseball and your expertise. It has enriched my life for sure. I was watching Cabrera in the dugout on the news last night and just thinking, “What a gift!” He is amazing. And you are as well. Enjoy each day. Hugs. 😉

  7. Jason Maxwell

    Acknowledging that this is contrary to your reasoning on Hernandez’s Cy Young award doesn’t make it any less laughable. Are you now saying that Hernandez’s Cy Young may have been justified?

  8. Kurt Eckhardt

    Any other year I’d consider giving Trout the nod-129 runs scored in just 139 games played bolsters any offense- BUT a) the Tigers won their division while the Angels couldn’t even finish ahead of the A’s and b) the Triple Crown. Even if Cabrera played for the Indians I’d give him the nod. Ironic given that Trout is a fleet footed lead-off man vs power hitting Cabrera (not that Trout’s 30 hrs are chop liver) but Trout fanned 40 times more than Cabrera despite 75 less at-bats.

  9. Brian Daley

    Interesting bit of trivia: When Frank Robinson won the Triple Crown, it was the only time he led the league in any of the TP categories.

  10. Patrick

    Mr. Olbermann this was a great piece breaking down the numbers. Thanks for writing it. Also, I know this is a weird request, but I know of no other way to contact you. Can you unblock me at Twitter @QuadCityPat. I have been an avid supporter of you and your work and really have no idea why I’m blocked. Thanks for your time

  11. Joe Safdie

    I don’t trust statistics with the word “Replacement” in them; it smacks too much of scab labor. “See, if we replaced this guy with another guy who wasn’t as expensive, we could save some money . . .” I appreciate the main point of your argument, Keith, that HR, RBI and AVG used to be all we had, but if you take OPS, what happens? Cabrera wins. And if we take “Led team to the playoffs” Cabrera wins. Really, isn’t that what “most valuable” is about, finally? The Angels couldn’t get to the playoffs, so how valuable was he? Not as valuable as Torii Hunter was in September, that’s for sure. And he struck out in a huge at-bat against Texas when it mattered last week. He’ll have his time. Right now I’d like to see Cabrera have a monster series . . . and the A’s win.

    (Keith — when will you be back on TV?)

  12. Michael Green

    I wish that people would leave their politics off this site. Keith Olbermann is here to talk about baseball and so are we–and I say that as one who thinks he’s too conservative. Now, that said, I find it interesting that the baseball traditionalist is using the new-fangled stats, and it moves me off of my view that of course Cabrera should be MVP because he won the Triple Crown. Yet I also think that no one could or should say that Trout was robbed if Cabrera won it, any more than we could say that Cabrera was robbed if Trout won it.

    • Juan

      So far so good in the last 48 hours, the baseball comments far outweigh everything and anything else, hooray!

      Talking baseball! Kluszewski Campanella. Talking baseball…!

  13. Pingback: ENOUGH WITH THE TROUT MVP BULLSHIT | SmorgasBurgh
  14. Mark Dugo

    What good is a great WAR if your team does not make the play offs? Seems like the Angels could have saved money with a triple A player.

  15. meluvhooters

    Lets just say Trout defense makes up for the gap between him and Miggy. You could even say he is slightly more valuable if you think stolen bases are more important than batting in runners…

    Further comparing the two… The Tigers don’t make the playoffs without MIggy. The Angels don’t make the playoffs without Trout… oh wait… the Angels didn’t make the playoffs with him either…

  16. toddles

    You have to be kidding me. Any stat (WAR) that gives more value to a Robinson Cano than a Justin Verlander has to be called into question by even the brightest baseball minds and statisticians. I mean, really. Cano? That’s enough for me. MIGGY is MVP.

  17. Kranepool

    Gee, several posts ago we were actually talking about the Triple Crown. Did you know that Yaz was not a unanimous winner of the MVP? That is, he did not receive all of the first place votes cast for the award. One other player got one other first place vote. Hints: He was a Minnesota Twin. He is believed to be the major leaguer who broke up more no-hitters than any other player. He definitely once played all nine positions in a major league game and unlike Dagoberto Campaneris, he finished the game. I give you: Cesar Tovar

  18. Nick Johnson.

    Where was all this WAR discussion in previous years? That’s right, it didn’t exist. Why then, is it brought out in a year when a player wins the Triple Crown? Where was the importance of WAR in previous MVP races? Nowhere. WAR is a stupid statistic. Wins Against Replacement is meaningless. It’s a stat about how well a non existent replacement player would do if they stepped in for a player that exists if both players were able to play the entire season. It not only involves a player that doesn’t exist, it determines how well said non-existent player would play and then compares that against the player who exists and how well they would play. Let’s review, WAR attempts to put into numbers how many games a team would win if an actual player, using other statistics to guess how his season would pan out, played a full season versus how a minor league non existent player at the same positions, using other statistics to guess how the non existent player would pan out, would pan out.

    How many non existent layers of BS does a statistic need before it can be laughed at? Hey, Trout has a better WAGRP than Miggy. Not familiar with WAGRP? It’s Wins Against Godzilla and Rue Paul. It’s calculated by using statistics to determine how many more wins against Godzilla and Rue Paul a player would receive if Rue Paul went through with the sex change, then injected steroids and topped it off by teaming up with Godzilla to try and replace the player in question. Why it’s been left out of the MVP discussion is beyond me. Trout has the better WAGRP than Miggy. Every heard of “WAFC”. It’s Wins Above Fat Chicks. It calculates how many more wins a player would have if they didn’t bang fatties throughout the year versus wins against a fake minor league player who stayed away from fat girls. Trout has a better WAFC than Miggy as well.

    Here’s a better idea. Look at the stats that matter, such as batting average, RBI’s, HR’s, OBP, etc, take a look at what a team actually did with a player versus what they would have done if an actual player who exists with a record in either the majors or minors replaced the, and then ask who is the most valuable?

    With Trout the Angels lose their division, just as they would have without him. So let’s put a stat with three unknowable things (how well a team would do with a non existent player over an existent player, how well the non existent player would play, and how well in that same situation said actual player would play) and put that out in front of just about every other measurable statistic other than stolen bases and use that instead..

    What is WAR: “Wins Above Replacement, commonly known as WAR, is a non-standardized sabermetric baseball statistic that is used to show how many more wins a player would give a team as opposed to a “replacement level”, or minor league/bench player at that position. While WAR values are scaled equally for pitchers and hitters, the result is calculated differently for pitchers versus position players: position players are evaluated using statistics for fielding and hitting, while pitchers are evaluated using statistics related to the opposing batters’ hits, walks and strikeouts in Fangraph’s version and runs allowed per 9 innings with a team defense adjustment for Baseball Reference’s version.

    There is no clearly established formula for WAR. Sites that provide the statistic, such as Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and Baseball Reference, all calculate it differently; however, all of these sites calculate the value of WAR using these principles, and each site publicly acknowledges their methods for calculating their individual WAR values.”

    OK, so let’s review. Cabrera is ahead in most actual statistics and there is no question the Tigers don’t make the playoffs without him where as the Angels don’t make the playoffs with Trout yet Trout is the MVP because he’s ahead in a statistic baseball experts can’t agree on that is derived from other statistics that attempts to put a number to how many games a team would or wouldn’t have won if a player was replaced by a non existent minor league player.

    How desperate and reaching is that logic? If you can even call it logic. Which no thinking man can. WAR is a reach by Yankee fans who hate the Tigers for beating them three playoff series in a row to justify giving the MVP to a guy whose team didn’t make the playoffs with him over the first Triple Crown winner in decades who is in the same league as the other guy and whose team wouldn’t have made the playoffs without him.

    Delusional doesn’t even begin to describe it.

  19. redpalaceskyeaglebullbluesox

    Oh, KO, I fear you’ve gone over to the dark side. WAR? “Oh, pshaw! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” Trout is ROY, Cabrera is MVP. With iffy pitching and a hit or miss offense during the regular season , Miggy was the one true constant. He carried the Tigers on his back most of the way. I feel like Charlie Brown telling Lucy, “Tell your statistics to shut up!”

  20. Pingback: The Non-SABRmetric Argument Against Miguel Cabrera « Baseball Nerd
  21. Pingback: The Non-SABRmetric Argument Against Miguel Cabrera - Unofficial Network

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