Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera is basically a lock to win baseball’s first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski did so way back in 1967. That’s a cool feat, sure, but to me the Triple Crown means absolutely nothing.
Using an analogy, the Triple Crown is like when a person from a different generation tells you how awesome their music is, how great a movie was or how great a certain athlete was. It’s 2012 now. There is no need to judge sports the same way we did back in 1967.
The Triple Crown isn’t even basic math. It’s someone saying that these three statistics (BA, HR, RBI) mean more than any other hitting statistic way back in the early 1900s. If an Amish person came up to us and told us that a horse and buggy was the quickest way to get from point A to point B, we would laugh in their face and tell them to live in the now. Well, we probably wouldn’t do that because it’s incredibly rude, but you get the picture.
There are many baseball Amish types out there. Those people are as clueless as the major SABR guys who completely ignore some statistics, like batting average, completely. There are a few mind-blowing observations I have made about Cabrera’s season this year. The first one is that he was better last season:
2011: .344/.448/.586/1.034, .436 wOBA, 177 RC+, 7.2 fWAR
2012: .329/.393/.608/1.001, .417 wOBA, 166 RC+, 7.1 fWAR
As you can clearly see, Cabrera’s rate statistics were better last year when he saw his teammate Justin Verlander unjustifiably win the MVP award. The other thing that is fascinating about “one of the greatest offensive seasons ever” is that Mike Trout has been even better offensively.
Trout’s wOBA is at .423 and his RC+ is at 175; therefore, he is better than Cabrera in two more telling statistics and it’s safe to say we don’t need to go into the baserunning and defensive comparisons between the two.
Now, I’m sure you are asking what wOBA and wRC+ mean if you are one of the Cabrera MVP people. Essentially, wOBA and wRC+ weigh the important aspects of hitting and neutralize them based on where they play.
wOBA is based on a simple concept: Not all hits are created equal. Batting average assumes that they are. On-base percentage does too, but does one better by including other ways of reaching base. Slugging percentage weights hits, but not accurately (Is a double worth twice as much as a single? In short, no). On-base plus slugging (OPS) does attempt to combine the different aspects of hitting into one metric, but it assumes that one percentage point of SLG is the same as that of OBP. In reality, a handy estimate is that OBP is around twice as valuable than SLG (the exact ratio is x1.8).
Translation: Slugging percentage is generally a lot larger than on-base percentage; wOBA attempts to neutralize them.
Similar to OPS+, Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average. League average is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. For example, a 125 wRC+ means a player created 25% more runs than league average. Similarly, every point below 100 is a percentage point below league average, so a 80 wRC+ means a player created 20% fewer runs than league average.
Translation: How many runs is a player responsible for based on the park they play in? Then compare it to the league average.
I’m not one of the loons who says batting average doesn’t matter, but it certainly isn’t the only statistic that determines how good a hitter is. I won’t get into how stupid the RBI statistic is, considering it’s a number based strictly on opportunities from your teammates. So if Cabrera wants to thank someone for having the RBI lead, it should be Austin Jackson for being so awesome. And chances if you believe RBI matter, then you didn’t even bother reading this after the title of my article.
If there was a “what makes a good hitter” pyramid of sorts, batting average would be a base at the bottom of the pyramid, but you have to keep working your way up from there to find the game’s best hitter. Does he hit for average? Does he draw walks? Does he hit for power? Does he do both? Does his park aid him? Does his park deter him? Etc. etc. etc. And at the end of the day, Trout is just as good, if not better than, Cabrera offensively.
If we are awarding arbitrary things like Triple Crowns for batting average, home runs and RBI, then I award Trout the fictitious SABR Triple Crown for leading in wOBA, wRC+, and fWAR.
After all, would you rather ride into town in a horse and buggy, or something a little more modern?
The defense rests.
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For more on why Trout should be the MVP, check out Jeff Moore’s take here.