With the emergence of sabermetics in baseball over the past decade, the term “value” has assumed a different definition. Before the implementation of advanced mathematics, the MVP award was almost always handed to a player with a combination of superb individual statistics and an inevitable playoff berth for his team. This shouldn’t be the case any more.
This discussion was brought up last year about the same pair of top AL MVP candidates as this season: Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera. The award could have been given to either player, but one can make the assumption that Cabrera was awarded the honor based on the Tigers’ World Series appearance.
Cabrera’s 2012 Triple Crown performance — the first player to accomplish the feat since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 — surely helped, too. Either way, this season will mark the fourth time in MLB history that the same two players will be the top vote-getters in the MVP poll two years in a row.
Thanks to sabermetics, there is one statistical category that helps distinguish exactly how valuable a player is to his team: wins above replacement (WAR). Trout towered over every player in baseball with 10.5 WAR in 2012, and he leads the category again with 9.1 WAR this year. Especially now that the phrase “Triple Crown” can’t be used for Cabrera’s MVP resume, this is Trout’s year to place the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Award on his mantle.
Comparisons to Cabrera aside, Trout has had a fantastic 2013 season — some say better than a year ago. In 2012, Trout hit .326/.399/.564 and this season, his line is .324/.431/.557. There’s no denying that Trout’s home run and RBI numbers don’t compare to those of Cabrera or even Baltimore Orioles‘ Chris Davis, who has an outside shot at the award.
But if there’s something sabermetrics have taught baseball enthusiasts, it’s this: accounting for a player’s worth isn’t all about driving in runs — it’s helping to produce them.
This is precisely why Trout leads the baseball universe in WAR for a second season in a row. He leads the AL in both on-base appearances with 301 and runs scored with 108 thus far in the 2013 baseball season. He was able to accomplish these numbers even with a struggling middle of the lineup behind him, something Cabrera supporters take for granted.
He was also able to put together this amazing season even after it was clear to him early on that his team would not be able to keep pace with the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers in the Western Division race. Trout never let off the pedal one bit, playing to his best ability despite the Angels’ place in the division standings.
A player as young as Trout could pump the brakes to prevent an injury that would affect his following season — but not him.
When it comes down to it, WAR is the ultimate statistical category to gauge a player’s worth and value. It shouldn’t be the sole statistic used in awarding an MVP, but it should weigh much more than power statistics such as home runs and RBIs. There’s no doubt that the Tigers wouldn’t be the same team without Cabrera, but with Fielder hitting behind him and the best rotation in baseball, the Tigers wouldn’t be so far off.
Without Trout, the star-studded squad in Anaheim would be an even greater disappointment.
Who is more valuable to his team? That is the quintessential question when determining an MVP. Take away Cabrera, and the Tigers would be much higher in the standings than a Trout-less Angels team. Both players are cornerstones of their respective franchises, but Trout has contributed much more to his team’s wins than Cabrera.