It was my privilege to be part of this morning’s MLB Network Hot Stove roundtable on the real election of 2012 – Cabrera v. Trout (reairs at 4 PM ET if you’re reading this before then).
If you noticed the index cards in my hand, you’ll know that I offered a lot of data – not about VORP or WARP or BABIP or any of the new analytics – but essential hardcore boxscore stuff that undercuts the second biggest argument for Miguel Cabrera as American League MVP: That preference has to be given to the guy on the winning team, and that Cabrera ‘carried the Tigers on his back into the playoffs.
Firstly, the Tigers finished with only the seventh best record in the American League. That’s seventh out of fourteen. In the pre-division days they used to call that The Second Division – and it was a sign of shame. As it applies to this topic, there is also this embarrassing reality:
Angels (Trout’s team) 89 wins, 73 losses
Tigers (Cabrera’s team) 88 wins, 74 losses
The Angels, playing in a far tougher division, won more games than the Tigers did – yet any MVP doubt is supposed to fall on Cabrera’s side because he was on “the winner?”
It doesn’t make sense – it’s a remnant of the days when only one team per league made the “post-season” – and it wasn’t Cabrera who won the AL Central, it was Cabrera and the rest of the Detroit team –but I’ll just concede it to Cabrera’s supporters.
What I will not concede is this assumption that Cabrera deserves the MVP over Trout because, since the Tigers made the playoffs, he was necessarily more valuable – especially as the Tigers managed to sneak past the collapsing White Sox ‘down the stretch.’ One of the cards I didn’t get to fully reveal on the show suggests Cabrera was hardly repeating the Carl Yastrzemski feat of 1967 over the last two weeks of the season.
After the games of September 18, the Tigers were two games behind Chicago. The remainder of the season gives us a small but insight-filled sample of what Cabrera did – and what he didn’t do – over the last 15 games.
CABRERA, AFTER 9/18/12:
Average: .291 (16/55)
It should be noted that three of Cabrera’s RBI came in one game – on September 29 – and two others came on October 2. So he drove in runs in seven of the Tigers’ 15 stretch games.
And there’s a fascinating statistic from those games. The Tigers only won four of them. In other words, they were 4-and-3 when Cabrera drove in runs in a game…and 6-and-2 when he didn’t.
More confusing to the Cabrera “Pennant-Winner” meme, is Detroit’s record when other Tigers drove in runs in those final fifteen games:
TIGERS RECORD WITH RBI BY…
Prince Fielder 6-1
Alex Avila 4-0
Jhonny Peralta 4-0
Austin Jackson 4-1
Delmon Young 4-1
Andy Dirks 3-1
Miguel Cabrera 4-3
But…those RBI in those four games won those games, right? The MVP surely did something essential in the most essential of simple stats, down the stretch, right?
Not really, no.
This is from a card I was in the middle of reading when Chris Russo cut me off. He had reason to do so.
CABRERA RBI AFTER 9/18/12, DETAILS:
1. 9/19: Tigers leading 4-0 in 7th when Cabrera hits solo HR (6-2 win)
2. 9/22: Tigers leading 7-0 in 4th when Cabrera hits solo HR (8-0 win)
3. 9/23 (1st Game): Scoreless in 4th: Cabrera RBI 2B produces 1-0 lead (10-4 loss)
4. 9/23 (2nd Game): Scoreless in 1st: Cabrera RBI 2B produces 1-0 lead (2-1 loss)
5, 6, 7. 9/29: Tigers leading 2-0 in 7th when Cabrera hits three-run HR (6-4 win)
8. 10/1: Tigers leading 1-0 in 6th when Cabrera hits solo HR (6-3 win)
9, 10. 10/2: Tigers losing 1-0 in 3rd when Cabrera 2-RBI 2B produces 2-1 lead (4-2 loss)
I’d grade the actual game situations in which Cabrera produced as ‘tepid.’ Two of his RBI (and half of his homers) were clearly unnecessary tack-on runs. His three-run blast on September 29th would prove necessary when the Tiger bullpen melted down; the solo job on October 1st might have been necessary – hindsight can’t give us a clear answer. On the other hand, the drove in the first run in both games on September 23rd, and his double wiped out a one-run deficit on October 2nd – and that the Tigers blew all three of those games should not subtract from the clutchness (clutchiness?) of those hits.
My point in here is not to dismiss what Cabrera did for the Tigers as the White Sox plummeted past them. There are countless fielding plays, runner advancements, and just his presence in the lineup to consider as “clutch” contributions. But the RBI-by-RBI examination proves conclusively that Miguel Cabrera did not carry the Tigers on his back down the stretch. He was not the slam-dunk MVP of his own team at the team it mattered the most. Without fine-toothed comb examinations of each game it’s hard to say who was, though the superficial data suggests it was Fielder.
I’ve already gone on at length about why I don’t think the Triple Crown matters in MVP voting (it’s outdated analytics, as dangerously misleading as if we based the voting on the first set of statistics that were so popular pre-1871, which was a ratio of Runs Scored to Outs Made). But I added one bit of research that underscores Rob Neyer’s point that if you have a Triple Crown, it usually means that a lower-than-normal average or homer or RBI total has proved to lead the league in what can only be described as a happy anomaly:
LOWEST AVERAGES TO LEAD AMERICAN LEAGUE SINCE THE INTRODUCTION OF THE DESIGNATED HITTER IN 1973:
.326 Bill Mueller, Boston, 2003
.328 Joe Mauer, Minnesota, 2008
.329 George Brett, Kansas City, 1990
.330 Miguel Cabrera, Detroit, 2012
.331 Michael Young, Texas, 2005
Cabrera won the Triple Crown – in part – because batting average was way lower than usual, and he produced the fourth lowest average among the last 40 A.L. batting champions during a year in which he had terrific homer and RBI numbers.
So you don’t have to go to WARP or VORP or VOR-WARP to deflate the Cabrera MVP qualifications. Good old-fashioned numbers and easy to read details can do it for you.
Oh, by the way, about clutch? During that same post-9/18 time, Trout went 16/52 (.308) with three homers, six RBI, and ten walks. Moreover, after August 19th, as the rest of the Angels made their feeble attempt to stay alive in the West, they were unbeaten…in games in which Mike Trout drove in runs.
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:
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:
In 1968 baseball’s OFFICIAL STATISTICS DID NOT EVEN INCLUDE ON BASE, OR SLUGGING PERCENTAGE.
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:
AMERICAN LEAGUE WAR (2012)
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.
Got it first Sunday at a chain bookstore here and have not dived fully in, but the predictions based on Statistical Reduction and a dozen other complicated formulae cascade out upon you from every page and it’s worth mentioning a few even before anybody’s done a thorough vetting of what they’ve got.
The most poignant of them, perhaps, are the minimalist predictions for the Yankees’ only offensive addition (“his dense hasn’t been good in a decade, and his bat is barely good enough to fill a DH role”) compared to the man the franchise downgraded, degraded, and then forced into retirement:
Player PA 2B 3B HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG WARP
Raul Ibanez 552 28 3 17 65 .251/.311./.416 1.5
Jorge Posada 376 18 0 13 45 .260/.350/.440 2.1
The predictions were done, obviously, before Ibanez signed with the Yankees and do not account for their intention to sit him against lefthanders. If that brings Ibanez’s predicted Plate Appearances down the 32 percent or so to where the Posada predicted Plate Appearances are, the BP forecast for Ibanez translates to 19 doubles, 2 triples, and 44 RBI.
In short, the stats – and remember this is the predictive formula that got Evan Longoria’s rookie season virtually exactly correct, even though it had nothing but college and minor league data to work with – suggest Jorge Posada would’ve had a better year than Raul Ibanez will have. This underscores a point that has become clearer and clearer to me since the Montero-Pineda trade: Brian Cashman and the Yankees are approaching 2012 in exactly the opposite way they should be. They are not flush with hitting and weak with starting. Their offense is, in fact, getting dangerously old, and the only immediate productivity from their farm system was likely to be more starting pitching (the traded Hector Noesi, plus Manuel Banuelos and Dellin Betances). They did not have a hitter to trade, least of all one that Cashman compared to Miguel Cabrera.
I’ll go into the Yankees’ age problem in another post but the Alex Rodriguez prediction is appropriate here:
Player PA 2B 3B HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG WARP
Alex Rodriguez 437 18 0 24 66 .279/.377/.525 4.3
BP has long been known as a deflator of the balloons of hope. It sees Mike Trout getting just 250 ups this year, with a 4-24-.254/.317/.369 line. Bryce Harper gets the same number of plate appearances, and just 7-26-.239/.304/.383. The rookies it likes best include an unusually large lot of catchers: Jesus Montero (2.7 WARP), Robinson Chirinos (2.5), Ryan Lavarnway (2.3; I agree; Boston hopes this year may rest on whether or not anybody on the “New Sox” has the vision to see it); James Darnell (2.1) and Devin Mesoraco (2.1). The likelies to crash (in terms of WARP falloff) are Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Gordon, Matt Kemp, Alex Avila, and Jeff Francoeur – but even with that it still sees Bautista at 9th in that category in the AL and Kemp tied for 7th in the NL.
What it says about the big Pujols move, and the other transactions, I leave to the hard-working editors and publishers. I’ve stolen enough of their thunder.
As to an evaluation of the book itself, there is a format change. In past years, players were grouped by the teams they were with in the preceding year. In this edition, all those who have moved before the publishing deadline have been put in the sections of their new teams – which sounds great, except when you go looking for Pujols and Fielder you’ll find the former with the Angels and the latter with the Brewers instead of the Tigers. It’s a nice try but ultimately not helpful.
And in what is either a booming typo or a bizarre redefinition, the very last leader board in the book – Rookie Pitchers’ WARP – seems to list last year’s rookie pitchers. Unless I’m missing something, Pineda, Hellickson, Ogando, Kimbrel, Sale, et al, don’t get a second bite at the kiddo apple.