First off, a link to Joe Posnanski making some strong points in favor of Mike Trout as AL MVP over Miguel Cabrera this year. My favorite is his suggestion that you vote for whoever Brandon McCarthy thinks should be MVP.
Since the season ended, I eventually came to the idea that Mike Trout was most deserving of the award. The preponderance of the evidence weighs in his favor, even if I don’t think it’s quite so clear a case as some. By that I mean that despite Trout trouncing Cabrera in WAR, the award isn’t solely given to the best hitter or the best player in the league. The MVP is supposed to go the player who was most valuable to his team.
This has led some people to suggest that Cabrera was most valuable to his team because he led it to the playoffs, while Trout was only able to lead his team to third place. These people should note that Trout’s team won more games than Cabrera’s and step away.
But I think a case can be made, sort of, that Cabrera was the more important player on his team. If you use as your measure WAR, and if we’re having this discussion why not, Cabrera contributed 6.9 WAR of Detroit’s hitters’ total of 13.7 WAR, or more than 50 percent. Trout, on the other hand, was worth 10.7 WAR, which was 28 percent of the Anaheim team’s 37.9 batting WAR.
But that’s the best case, and it isn’t that persuasive, since Detroit’s total WAR (they had great pitching, with Justin Verlander worth more WAR than Cabrera at 7.6) was 36.9, while the Angels’ total was 40.5. Trout’s contribution of 26 percent of his team’s total versus Cabrera’s 19 percent of his team’s total is a decisive edge.
Which leaves one final mode of attack: dWAR, defensive Wins Above Replacement, is far from established as a reliable measure of defensive value. Even those who champion it point out that it really takes two years of defensive play to start to establish a fielder’s performance baseline in fielding WAR. In 2012, Cabrera did a decent job playing third base, exceeding expectations but probably not adding to his own value with his defensive contributions (but not hurting it either–some argue that his agreement to play third also helped the Tigers because it meant they didn’t have to play Ryan Raburn), while Trout was simply amazing. Still, if you discount his defense because the measure isn’t reliable (and don’t believe your own eyes), Trout’s contribution in WAR drops to 8.6, or 21 percent of the Angels total, which at least makes it a horse race.
I’ve enjoyed the argument about this MVP race because in discussion new ideas come up. Nate Silver, championing Trout but expecting Cabrera to win, pointed out that Trout was superior to Cabrera while leading off an inning, a not inconsiderable skill that compares nicely with Cabrera’s better stats in the clutch this year.
The bottom line, however, is that the MVP awards are given by voters or judges, and they reflect the values of that constituency. If the BBWA says these 28 voters are the judges, we have to look at who they are to see what values are reflected. They’re the bosses. There was a time when the fans’ access to the records of the game was limited, and some favored Maris while others favored Mantle, for example. Some of that argument was based on numbers, of course, but it was also personality and some ineffable human streak that drew fans to one or the other. And the judges then were Olympian.
We’re now our own best judges, as the ballots of the BBWA so ably demonstrate every time they vote, and this discussion among fans with a much broader understanding of how the game works ideally serves the purpose of helping us better understand baseball, baseball players, baseball teams, winning baseball, and the stats and numbers and opinions that help us describe them. The awards themselves are wan, the judges are suspect, but the discussion is lively, which is just great.