Who Was the Real AL MVP?

November 15, 2013
 

For the second year in a row, Miguel Cabrera was named the AL MVP, and for the second year in a row, his selection sparked controversy. Statistically speaking, Cabrera’s 2013 season was similarly productive to his Triple Crown season in 2012. He improved his batting average from .330 to .348, his on-base percentage from .393 to .442, and his slugging percentage from .606 to .636, but his defense declined. He cost the Tigers an estimated four runs at third base in 2012, and that number more than quadrupled to 18 runs this season. All told, Cabrera’s better offensive numbers mostly offset his worse defensive ones. After compiling 150 Total Runs—which measures a player’s offensive, defensive, pitching, and baserunning contributions in terms of runs—in 2012, Cabrera fell slightly to 143 Total Runs this season.

In both 2012 and 2013, Cabrera trailed the overall Total Runs leader, Mike Trout. Last year, Trout outpaced Cabrera by 23 runs. This season, the gap was 17 runs. We typically estimate that 10 extra runs is worth an extra win, so Trout has added about four wins more for the Angels than Cabrera has for the Tigers over the last two seasons.

Of course, wins may well be what these results are all about. Each of the last two seasons, Cabrera’s Tigers won enough games to reach the playoffs, and, despite Trout’s excellent play, the Angels fell short of the postseason both years.

American League MVPs
Year Winner Total Runs Leader Total Runs Leader on a Playoff Team
2013 Miguel Cabrera Mike Trout Miguel Cabrera
2012 Miguel Cabrera Mike Trout Robinson Cano
2011 Justin Verlander Jacoby Ellsbury Ian Kinsler
2010 Josh Hamilton Robinson Cano Robinson Cano
2009 Joe Mauer Zack Greinke Chone Figgins

 

Is postseason qualification a fair requirement for the MVP Award? Perhaps, but it does not seem to be consistently applied. Cabrera did lead all AL players who reached the playoffs in Total Runs this year, but none of the previous four AL MVP winners also led all postseason-bound AL players in Total Runs. Yes, the last five AL MVPs all reached the playoffs, but it is clear that there are other areas of dissonance between how the voters define Valuable and how sabermetric analysis does the same.

 
 

COMMENTS (11 Comments, most recent shown first)

steve161
Run Created is perhaps the best of the advanced stats, because it's verifiable. We have a lot of confidence in it, because when applied to a team it predicts runs actually scored with impressive accuracy.

There is no comparable check on any of the other components of Total Runs, which is why I have elsewhere described it as being the result of adding apples, oranges and bowling balls.

It should give us pause when Chone Figgins' 110 RC (Trout and Cabrera were both over 140) are enough to produce a Total Runs leader.

The only excuse for taking playoff contention (much less actually making the postseason) into consideration is that it means the player dealt with pressure, not only to produce but to win. When the Angels fell out of contention for good in 2012, the rookie Trout's numbers fell off in September, while the veteran Cabrera soared. Possibly that influenced some of the voters. It did me.

Mike Trout is surely the best player in his league, if not in the game, just as Willie Mays was back in the day. He'll win his share of MVPs. At some point, even if the Angels continue to underachieve, his manifest superiority will move voters to ignore the standings.

I agree completely with brewcrew about the NL MVP. Molina trailed McCutcheon 105-84 in RC (I can't seem to find RC/27 in the 2014 Handbook, or any other 'Bill James Leaders'), but--pace Doug Glanville--he's the best catcher in baseball. A significant part of Molina's value came from his handling of a very young pitching staff. Unfortunately there is no metric whatsoever that captures that value numerically.
5:11 PM Nov 18th
 
llozada
@ KaiserD2. I think that by comparing Trout to Mays you are actually making the point of those supporting Cabrera. You say Trout is getting screwed, but history has been really kind to Willie, and I expect the same for Trout.

Folks, Trout has been extremely unlucky in that he's gone against a guy that almost won TWO TRIPLE CROWNS IN A ROW! Miggy may not be as good all around as Mike, but he is a very deserving MVP winner. I'd understand if it was the home-run king with a 310 OBP who won it, but it went to a guy hitting almost 350 in a time when batting 250 is a neutral fantasy average.

Think about it, how about if the MVP had gone to Davis? It probably didn't because Miggy beat him on RBI's, and we know how typical voters love HR/RBI's...
2:56 PM Nov 18th
 
Florko
The answer is Mike Trout, there shouldnt even be a discussion
9:33 PM Nov 17th
 
flyingfish
KaiserD2: Sorry, you're not showing your age, you're just being logical. How can a team that plays in Anaheim, in Orange County, be called the Los Angeles Angels? (Los Angeles is in Los Angeles County.)​
4:45 PM Nov 17th
 
brewcrew
How about the national league? My gut feeling is Molina didn't get the credit he deserved-if he didn't win it, he should have at least been close.
12:05 PM Nov 17th
 
izzy24
Hi ChitownRon. The number of plays that Cabrera actually made went way down in 2013 (most likely due to his injuries).

In 154 games at 3b in 2012:
Assists: 243
Putouts: 127
Range Factor per 9 innings: 2.52

In 145 games at 3b in 2013:
Assists: 184
Putouts: 87
Range Factor per 9 innings: 1.98

While range factor isn't a great stat because it doesn't take into account strikeouts or where the ball is actually being hit, I think it demonstrates how little Cabrera was involved in making outs on defense. His injuries severely limited his already poor range.

I think Bill James has talked about how defensive win shares aren't an incredibly accurate measure of defense (although his win-loss shares seems to address this problem).


8:28 PM Nov 16th
 
ChitownRon
John,
Cabrera's 2013 traditional stats are very similar to his 2012 numbers.
2012 Fielding % .966 2013 Fielding %.958
2012 Errors 13 2013 Errors 12
2012 WAR 7.3 2013 WAR 7.2

Win Shares:
Season Hitting Fielding Win Shares
2012 26.4 5.3 32
2013 34 2.9 37


I understand his range factor may have changed some, but that much more doesn't seem right to me. I would assume you verify the stats by watching the video tape to double check the research.
So do you verify each others work and correct the data if necessary?
9:37 AM Nov 16th
 
KaiserD2
Sorry, showing my age--Los Angeles Angels.

9:04 AM Nov 16th
 
KaiserD2
Not to put too fine a point on it, Mike Trout--who has a real chance to be one of the five or so greatest players OF ALL TIME--is really getting screwed.

I am engaged in a long-term project ranking great players based upon wins above average per season. According to baseball-reference.com, Mike Trout had 8.8 and 7.0 WAA in his first two seasons. I could be mistaken but I don't think there's a single player in the history of baseball who had ever done that before. He deserved the MVP both times, and he hasn't gotten it, which does not bode well.

I am reminded of Willie Mays's career, which fascinates me. Mays had eight seasons of 7 WAA or more--but he won the MVP only twice. Not only that, but preliminary data, subject to possible revision, shows that Mays led the NL in WAA nine times between 1954 and 1966--but won two MVPs. Apparently, because he was Willie Mays, after 1954 the writers took him for granted, and it took him 52 home runs in 1965 to win his second award.

And frankly, I am quite surprised that after 30 years of serious sabermetrics anyone could argue that making the postseason should count in the voting. Yes, Mays was on postseason teams only 4 times, and in two of them he was not the team's MVP (1951, 1971). But the question that raises is, how bad did the San Francisco Giants' organization have to be not to win more pennants starting with one player who would reliably produce about 7 extra wins a season? And the answer is, very bad. The same question now arises for the California Angels.

DK
8:50 AM Nov 16th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. If I were a voter, here's how I would "apply" it. In fact, almost every year I do my own list of 10 as though I were a voter, and here's how I do "apply" it.

I look first at the teams that make the post-season (with the most special consideration for players from the team with the best record) and list the players from those teams that I think merit consideration for the top 10. (I'm not even thinking yet of who I'll put as #1; I mean usually I already know that, but I'm not thinking of that during this part of the exercise.) Then I look at the teams that came very close to making it and do the same, but I have the players of this group in a lower basic category; they get less 'brownie points' than those from the postseason teams but I do give them some special consideration. Then lastly, I look to see which guys from the other teams deserve consideration -- not (yet) for the award, but for the top 10. THEN I do my 1-10 list, taking into account the brownie points for the postseason and near-postseason guys.

No single thing is a "requirement," but everything counts.
12:24 AM Nov 16th
 
MarisFan61
You're being way too 1-dimensional in how you view the factor of the guy's team making the postseason. You put it this way: "Is postseason qualification a fair requirement for the MVP Award? Perhaps, but it does not seem to be consistently applied."

Of course it's not "consistently applied," because it's one of many factors. Perhaps in some voters' minds it's not a factor at all, perhaps in some it's an absolute thing, but in the minds of many it's just one of many considerations, and therefore in the aggregate, indeed it's just one of many factors. It matters, perhaps sometimes it determines the outcome, and for sure sometimes it doesn't.

Why the 1-dimensional view???? And why the surprise and criticism of it not being "consistently applied"???
12:16 AM Nov 16th
 
 
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