Miguel Cabrera, the Triple Crown and the MVP
With two games left to go in the MLB regular season Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers leads the American League in batting average, home runs and RBIs. If he can hold those leads he will be the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastzremski way back in 1967. Obviously it won’t be easy. Not only are there the immediate problems of Josh Hamilton‘s 43 home runs and Joe Mauer‘s .322 batting average, there is is also the incredible pressure from fans and the media. (Hopefully he won’t take too much notice of my adding to that!) It looked like the pressure was starting to tell last week as he had a very quiet week against the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins, but he roared back tonight in Kansas City with four hits including a solo home run. It has put him in a good enough position that I think he will get there.
I think he will get there because although he is under pressure and although he is finishing the year in the unfriendly-to-home-runs Kauffman Stadium (and especially unfriendly on cold nights in October) he does have the lead right now. If he were behind I would be in a lot more doubt but he is not. He has a one homer lead over Josh Hamilton and tying for the league lead is enough to win the Triple Crown. Thus even if Cabrera does not hit another home run in the Tigers’ last two games, Hamilton has to hit two in the Rangers last two. Stranger things have happened, of course, but it is less likely than not. As far as batting average goes, Cabrera actually has a slight advantage being in Kansas City as it is easier to get a base hit in the expanses of the outfield, although the Royals’ outfielders do cover the ground well. It’s also fairly hard to overcome a six point deficit in only two games anyway; Cabrera would almost have to have a pair of oh-fers in the last two games.
So Cabrera will, I think, win the Triple Crown. Nothing is definite yet, but the odds are in his favour. But the talk of the Triple Crown has almost been overshadowed by the discussion of whether or not he should also win the MVP award. Cabrera has had a great season in the ‘traditional’ stats, but Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels is having an incredible rookie season and has been doing all of the ‘little’ things well along with being quite good at the big things. The discussion focusses on one particular stat: Wins Against Replacement (WAR). WAR is a somewhat complicated stat that seeks to measure how many games a player’s team wins that they would not have won if an average backup were playing instead. In a way it is almost the ideal MVP stat, because what could be a better measure of value than the wins a player provides? Trout has a comfortable lead over Cabrera in WAR, 10.5 games to 6.5 games.
Most of the opposition to Trout winning because of WAR is based off rubbishing the WAR stat itself. Usually it is written off with some sort of dismissive statement smacking of anti-intellectualism that fails to actually address any of the points WAR makes. This is, obviously, misguided. WAR is actually quite a good stat and the mathematics behind it are quite rigourous. However, that does not mean that Trout should win the MVP; in fact it should go to Cabrera still and WAR shows why. Whilst ‘wins’ is a great metric, the fact is that not all wins are equal. The Angels are out of the AL West race and are just now out of the Wild Card race as well. They have not looked like a serious contender for over a month. If one takes Trout’s 10 wins away from them it only changes the timing of their elimination. But the Tigers lead the Chicago White Sox by three games and have just clinched the AL Central. If you take from them Cabrera’s six wins, however, they trail by three games and have just been eliminated. So whilst Trout may have been responsible for more wins, the wins for which Cabrera was responsible were more valuable and thus so is he.
I doubt my meagre contribution will sway any of the discussion, however, so in the meantime I am just going to enjoy Cabrera’s attempt at baseball history. I think he will succeed and I hope he will succeed as I have tickets to Wednesday’s game!