The Detroit Tigers may not have won the World Series, and they may be coming off their most recent in a string of disappointing postseason appearances, but they do have a now two-time MVP Award winner in Miguel Cabrera.
Even with a groin injury which he has since had surgically repaired, Cabrera was able to post a staggering .348/.442/.636 slash line with 44 home runs and 137 RBIs. Cabrera also was able to post a fifth consecutive season where he batted above .300, something which he has done in eight of his 11 seasons in the majors. Cabrera also posted a second straight 40-plus home run season, and a 10th straight 100-plus RBI season.
Needless to say, Cabrera is far and away the best right-handed hitter in baseball right now, if not the best right-handed hitter in baseball history.
Ever since the Moneyball era in the early 2000s, sabermetrics have been on the rise everywhere. Because of this, there is now a seemingly endless debate over what the award Cabrera won actually means. MVP, as we know, stands for Most Valuable Player, and is given to the player perceived as the best in the sport that year. Some may also argue that the award is also given to a player who puts up the gaudiest stat lines, which are sometimes the spoils of having really good players around them.
Of course, many do not believe that Cabrera is benefiting from players around him, but many do believe that the Most Valuable Player Award is not actually being given to the player who provides the most value.
Mike Trout is considered to be the best all-around player in baseball. Trout has played stellar defense for the Los Angeles Angels in center field and has put together back to back .300-plus batting average seasons and finished 2013 with a .323/.432/.557 slash line with 27 home runs, less than his rookie of the year 2012, but also finished with 14 more RBIs at 97.
Of course, these numbers do not hold a candle to Cabrera’s and at first glance, this does not even look like a fair fight. But, with the sabermetric revolution, the debate goes far deeper than first glance in today’s game.
Trout is more or less the poster boy for the sabermetricians, who call for the MVP award to go to the player who provides the most value to their team. Trout finished with a 9.2 WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, the amount of wins he is believed to have provided the Angels over a replacement-level player.
Going with the above replacement concept, Trout’s RAR, or Runs Above Replacement, was 89 in 2013, which states that Trout actually is worth 89 more runs to the Angels over that same player that he is worth nine more wins than. What’s more, if Trout’s defense is ignored, which is what oWar, or Offensive Wins Above Replacement does, he is actually worth 10 wins.
Now, let’s take a look at Cabrera, whose stat line is all but a precursor to being superior in all the categories that were listed for Trout, right? Wrong. Cabrera’s MVP 2013 season was only good for a 7.2 WAR and a 69 RAR. Cabrera’s oWar is actually markedly higher than his WAR at 8.9. The difference in Trout’s was much closer than we see here as Cabrera is worth almost two more wins if he DH’d every day.
Now, numbers can be crunched in all different ways, and sabermetricians can yell from the rooftops about Trout’s value as a player, but this is an award that, throughout its entire existence, has been about wins and losses.
There have been very few times this fact has been refuted. If Trout is taken off of the Angels, they probably are a similar looking team: bloated contracts, no pitching, and they still finish with less than 70 or 80 wins. For the layman, the Angels are bad regardless of Trout’s presence. If Cabrera is off the Tigers, they are probably a fringe playoff team, but Cabrera pushes them over the top, and his bat gets them to the World Series.
The MVP award is about wins and losses, not how much value a player provides to their team.