erik lundegaard

Miggy

I never thought I'd see another Triple Crown winner in Major League Baseball. I thought we were done with that. There'd been one in 1966 when I was 3 (Frank Robinson), one in 1967 when I was 4 (Carl Yastrzemski), and ... nobody since. Nothing for nearly half a century. Baseball had become too specialized, it was argued. Nobody can lead the league in homeruns and RBIs and batting average anymore because they require different talents. In the modern era, there had ony been 13 TC winners anyway, and some of the best hitters in baseball history had never done it: Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds.

Now someone else has done it: Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, Miggy, who did it this year, hitting .330, slugging 44 homeruns, and driving in 139 runs. Makes me want to pump a fist. And I'm not even a Tigers fan.

2012 Topps Miguel Cabrera baseball cardIt's come as a surprise, though, an annoying surprise and shock, that the baseball bloggers I read tend to think he shouldn't be the league's MVP.

Excuse me?

Their argument is all about Mike Trout, who was brought up in May and played the way Casey Stengel wanted Mickey Mantle to play in 1951: he hit .326, slugged 30 HRs, and led the league in runs scored (129) and stolen bases (49). Plus his WAR is 10.7. Miggy's isn't even top 5; he's sixth with 6.9. No contest.

Wait, WAR?

Yeah, I know. And I know you know. Wins About Replacement. But WAR isn't like almost every other baseball stat. There's no standardized definition for it. It tries to combine everything in a way that seems fair, and different orgs have different arguments for how to value this over that, or that over this. Baseball Reference's WAR rating seems to be the popular choice, as ESPN.com is using it.

In WAR, defense is included. Trout shines there. He's a fantastic defensive center fielder. Cabrera is a serviceable third baseman. But even offensively, Trout's WAR rating is 8.6 (No. 1) to Miggy's 7.5 (No. 2). So again: Trout.

You can keep going back and forth. Miggy led the league in runs created (133.6), while Trout was No. 2 (129.8). Trout is No. 1 in runs scored/9 innings (8.85) while Miggy is second (7.98). Miggy's first in OPS, Trout in OPS+. Etc.

To be honest, I've never felt like more of an old fogey in a conversation about baseball stats. I'm a Bill James guy, but to me this isn't even a question. The Triple Crown is hallowed.  I know guys who've managed the TC haven't always won the MVP--Chuck Klein in '33, Lou Gehrig in '34, Ted Williams twice in the 1940s (sportswriters hated him)--but every dude since has: Mantle, Robby, Yaz. And then it became impossible to do. And now somebody's done it. And these guys are talking WAR.

As for the defense argument I'll add this: Yes, Trout's amazing in the field and fun to watch. But Miggy's been playing out of positon all year. He's normally a first baseman. When the Tigers had the chance to grab Prince Fielder, however, who could only play first, he moved over to third. For the good of the team. The Tigers would not be in the post-season right now if they hadn't grabbed Fielder; and they wouldn't have grabbed Fielder if Miggy hadn't moved.

So he's not only the best hitter in baseball, he's a team player. That has some value.

Plus, and not for the last time, he won the frickin' triple crown already. Yeesh.


Posted at 12:40 PM on Thu. Oct 04, 2012 in category Baseball  
Tags: , , , , ,

COMMENTS

Daniel Davenport wrote:

I hope I can manage to relate this playfully rather than unkindly, but do you know what else makes you seem like an old fogey in a conversation about baseball stats, writing “Cecil Fielder” when you are intending to refer to his son, Prince.

Comment posted on Thu. Oct 04, 2012 at 01:12 PM

Tim wrote:

Give this one to Cabrera. I'm generally with those that say defense should play a big role in evaluating a player, but there's all kinds of precedent for middling-or-worse defenders being MVP and nobody put up better numbers.

Trout should get plenty of accolades, he's crazy-good; as an all-around player, he may be the best in the game today. And he has his whole career to win all kinds of awards, including this year's ROY, which he no doubt will. But this year, he's not the league's MVP.

Wins Above Replacement is too subjective and amorphous to be a “real stat,” if you ask me. It assumes far too much. But going with WAR's logic, the Angels won more games with Trout than they would have with an average replacement for him. OK. But without Trout they would have finished third. With Trout, they were third. On the other hand, without Miggy, where would the Tigers be? Not division champs and not in the playoffs, you can bet on that.

Comment posted on Thu. Oct 04, 2012 at 03:22 PM

Erik wrote:

Daniel: I call it creeping Niehausism. I'll fix.

Tim: Well said. Bravo.

Comment posted on Thu. Oct 04, 2012 at 04:38 PM

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