Traditionalists VS. Sabermetrics: Who Should Win The American League MVP?
The baseball holy war is still in as much as a stalemate as the Cuban missile crisis. There is one half that still ignore modern statisitics and believe wins matter for a starting pitcher, while the other half believe Michael Bourn is better than Josh Hamilton. The beauty of this holy war is neither side is completely wrong about their beliefs. Baseball is a lot like politics: you have your right-wing (traditionalists) and your left-wing (SABR nerds), and the extremists on each side just make either side unbearable. This is why I only lean towards the SABR side and stay somewhat centered. You might be asking why all of this matters? Well, it matters because the American League MVP race is the ultimate holy war argument.
On one hand, there is Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera, who is only two home runs shy of leading in batting average, home runs, and RBI, is the obvious choice for the traditionalists. After all, he would be the first triple crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967.
On the other hand, there is Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout. Trout, who reached 10.0 rWAR just a week ago, is the obvious choice for the SABR folks. I mean, why wouldn’t a guy who can hit for average and power, steal bases, and cover more ground in the outfield than most defenders could dream of not win the MVP?
If you want to argue for the traditionalists, you could make a case that Cabrera has 13 more homers, over 50 more RBI, and has a higher slugging percentage. Those arguments might have worked in 1984, but not in today’s age of advanced statistics.
Trout is a full three wins better than Cabrera on both Baseball-Reference’s WAR and Fangraphs’ WAR. WAR is a lot like the margin of error in polling: there’s a negligible +/- that every poll has that have an affect on a poll. That would be a good situation for the NL MVP race between Ryan Braun and Buster Posey. Braun leads Posey in WAR, but the margin isn’t enough to say for sure Braun is better than Posey. Three full wins, however, is definitely large enough to realize Trout is better than Cabrera.
Saying Trout is the MVP over Cabrera isn’t downplaying Cabrera’s season whatsoever. If we look at this historically, this is somewhat similar to the American League MVP race in 1941. Joe Dimaggio was awesome for the pennant winning New York Yankees, while Ted Williams‘ Boston Red Sox finished a full 17 games behind the New York. Dimaggio won the MVP award with a stellar season, while Williams hit .406 and was the runner-up. That MVP race was another holy war based on the premise of the MVP award should be given to the best player on the winning team, rather than the best player in the league.
Seventy-one years later, we are in the midst of another classic holy war for the American League MVP. Who will come out victorious? Will Tigers’ fans riot if Cabrera doesn’t win? Will Angels’ fans and the SABR crowd have an aneurysm when Trout doesn’t win?
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