Thursday, October 18, 2012

Breakdown of the Stan Musial Award

So now that I’ve posted my End of the Year Award winners, I thought I’d take my readers through my thought process, see the others I considered for each award and explain why I chose who I chose.  I’m continuing with the Stan Musial Awards.

And now it’s time for my mea culpa.  I made a mistake.  I did my best, but I was wrong.  I’m coming out the changing my AL MVP pick after a rash decision on my part.  Miguel Cabrera was my initial pick.  He’s a Triple Crown winner, the first in 45 years, and had a fantastic year.  He’s not a bad pick for the award by any means.  But a re-examination of the stats and the award itself has led me to see the error in my ways.  Mike Trout is my MVP and I’m ready to back it up.

Here are Miguel Cabrera’s stats this year:  330 AVG, 44 HR, 139 RBI, 109 R and 4 SB

Here are Mike Trout’s stats this year:  326 AVG, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 149 R and 49 SB.

The stats are close.  Closer than most people want to believe.  Trout was only 4 points behind Cabrera in AVG.  He trailed Cabrera by 14 HR, but had 20 fewer games to hit his 30 HR, which is still impressive.  Trout also smoked Cabrera in R and SB while playing a Gold Glove caliber center field compared to Cabrera’s subpar defensive third base.  The award is not an offensive award.  Offense is a major component, but it’s not the only mitigating factor.  If it was, how could a PITCHER have won the award last year???

The award is called the most VALUABLE player.  Not the best hitting player.  That’s the Silver Slugger.  There is also an element of which player is the most outstanding that has to be considered when giving the award.  Taking both of those elements into consideration, both guys are very worthy of the award.  But I don’t think any player was more valuable to his team than Mike Trout.

I can break down the stats, but the fact is they are incredibly close.  Cabrera has those 14 extra HR, but again had 20 more games to do it in.  The big stat difference that breaks in Cabrera’s favor is RBI.  He had 139 to Trout’s 83.  But Trout was a leadoff hitter who only had 142 games to play in the majors this year.  Cabrera hit third for 162 games.  I’m not just saying that the third hitter has more RBI opportunities than the leadoff guy, though he does.  I’m saying that Cabrera had more opportunities than anyone in baseball to hit with men on base.  He led the league in at bats with runners in scoring position.  And, for the purposes of this debate, had 70 more at bats with runners on second or third than Trout did and over 120 more at bats with runners on base period.  Modern sabermetrics has taught us that RBIs, while important, are so heavily based on the team a player plays on that they shouldn’t be as important as we make them out to be.  Otherwise, how could Nick Swisher have led the Yankees in RBI for most of the first half while hitting 6th.  So when you consider that the AVG difference was miniscule, the HR and RBI were in Cabrera’s favor, but with some big caveats, and that Trout annihilated Cabrera in runs scored and stolen bases, all in 20 fewer games I strenuously point out, you can’t say that Cabrera ran away with this award offensively.  I’ll give him the edge in the offensive stats, because in 3 of the 5 stats I broke down he was better.  Just a little better, but better nonetheless.  However I bring your attention back to the fact that offense alone should not be considered in a vacuum.  Justin Verlander won without any offensive stats in his favor last year, and only playing in 20% of his team’s games.  Offense is important to consider, but it’s not the only thing.

The other elements to consider are base-running, where Trout led the league in steals and was only caught 4 times, and defense.  Mike Trout plays center field.  A premium position.  And he plays it incredibly well.  It’s Gold Glove caliber in fact.  Miguel Cabrera plays a subpar defensive third base.  He didn’t commit a ton of errors, though he did commit some, and his range is abysmal at the hot corner.  You can’t ignore that factor.  Defense isn’t as sexy as offense, but it’s what wins games.  Well pitching is what really wins championships, but a pitcher who isn’t going to K 200 guys a year needs a strong defense behind him.  And Mike Trout’s defense in center field in LA was superb.  Possibly the best.  Miguel Cabrera’s defense at third was not even average.

The last point I hear in favor of Cabrera winning the award over Trout is that his team made the playoffs while Trout’s is at home.  That’s true.  But I think it’s important to point out that Trout’s team had the best record in baseball after he came up to the major leagues.  The Angels started out 6-14.  Then they called up Trout and he turned their season around.  The Tigers had Cabrera all year.  And while they stumbled along in the first half, they were able to put it together in the last few weeks of the season, and move up to take over their rightful place atop the weak AL Central winning 88 games.  The Angels fought all season long in the tougher AL West and won…89 games.  They won more games than the Tigers.  If they were in the same division, they would have been in first.  I don’t think that playoff argument can hold any water when the team that didn’t make it won more games than the team that did make it and only missed out on playoff baseball because they had to face tougher competition.  It’s not the player’s faults that the teams they played were better than other teams.  You can only effect what’s in your control.  And being in a better division hurt the Angels, despite the masterful season Mike Trout put together. 

Miguel Cabrera had a great season.  He won the Triple Crown.  That’s no easy feat.  But it also doesn’t guarantee him the MVP award.  Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in 1947 and 1942, only to see the MVP go to Joe DiMaggio and Joe Gordon respectively.  Chuck Klein and Rogers Hornsby both won Triple Crowns and lost the MVP to others (Carl Hubble and George Sisler respectively).  And Lou Gehrig finished 5th in MVP voting when he won the Triple Crown in 1935.  In the past the Triple Crown has not automatically meant an MVP.  And despite the excitement we feel over this one (the last one was in 1967…45 years ago) it shouldn’t cause us to overlook the facts.  And the fact that I see is that Mike Trout is the most valuable player in the American League this year.  He turned his team around proving that he was the most valuable piece of that team.  He had outstanding statistics, the other requisite for this award.  And he was the best player all around, excelling at the plate, on the field and on the base paths.

Now I fully expect Cabrera to win the MVP.  As far as the BBA goes, my vote is officially a Cabrera vote.  And people want to see him rewarded for his Triple Crown effort, an effort that I think is outstanding.  But I just don’t think he’s more deserving than Trout.  I actually did research to support my Cabrera pick, but a closer look at the stats ended up changing my mind.  I didn’t want to see Trout as better, but it still happened.  I’m not alone.  Check out Jeff Passan of Yahoosports’ take on it here.  And listen to the video he attached at the top of the article to hear Tim Brown give his thoughts on Mike Trout too.  Some say there is a changing of the guard.  Modern sabermetricians are using complex mathematical formulas and algorithms change the way we look at baseball.  They’ve already de-valued pitchers’ win statistics.  And they were right.  They are starting to move towards considering other offensive categories as more important than the big three, the very same three that make up the Triple Crown.  Older baseball fans do not like that.  But I tend to agree with math more often that what old men say they see based on their years of experience.  There’s no way to quantify, measure or prove that.  Anyone read Moneyball?  See the movie?  I don’t think ignoring those with a ton of experience is the right thing to do either, but you have to be willing to see all points of view.  I in no way consider myself a sabermetrician, or even an ardent supporter of them.  But I recognize the importance of their findings and think they should be considered.  And in considering all the data available, I am officially changing my Stan Musial Award winner for the AL from Miguel Cabrera, to Mike Trout.  It’s too late and technically my vote is still Cabrera as far as the BBA goes, but I’d rather admit that I was wrong and go on the record with my mistake and my new pick, rather than sit back and accept the pick the I originally chose that will likely win and is the most popular pick.  Think of it as a dissenting opinion.  Mike Trout is the AL MVP.  I only wish I’d have realized it sooner.

In the NL, I went with Ryan Braun as my Stan Musial Award winner and don’t think I’ll be retracting it.  Braun had a fantastic year.  He hit 319 with 41 HR, 112 RBI and 108 R.  There were others to consider as well, including Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen.  But the numbers just ended up falling towards Braun, in my opinion.  His AVG was third in the league, behind Posey and McCutchen.  But he led the league in HR, was second in RBI (behind only Chase Headley) and first in R scored.  In addition to that, he had 30 SBs, making him the only 30/30 guy in the league.  He was one of only three guys that were near the top in all the major statistical categories that I considered.  He also was a menace on the base paths in a way that Posey was not while hitting more HR, driving in more RBI and scoring more R than McCutchen did.  His team didn’t make the playoffs, but neither did McCutchen’s, or Trout’s (and we know how I feel about that).  I always thought that should be what puts a player over the top if it’s really close, not a requirement for consideration of the award itself. 

In the end, I think Braun just has superior numbers.  He was arguably the best offensive player in the NL this season and also threw in great numbers on the bases while playing an excellent left field.  McCutchen may be better defensively, but he didn’t steal as many bases.  Posey may have had a higher AVG, but didn’t come close to Braun’s HR, RBI, and R totals.  And Yadier Molina may be in the postseason, but his numbers pale in comparison to Braun’s.  You can still think he’s a cheater who got out of a suspension on a technicality, but you can be certain that with the extra tests he had to take this season, that he was not on any PEDs in 2012.  Say what you will about his past, for me, he was the NL MVP and my Stan Musial Award winner for the National League.    


  1. Not going to argue with the numbers... in most years, I'd agree with you (Trout's play on the field and at the dish was arguably better than Cabrera's) but Cabrera did something that hasn't been done in 45 years by winning the Triple Crown. He also selflessly agreed to switch positions without argument to help his team - allowing his team to win the division. Like I said, Trout's play warrants acclaim but numbers don't tell the whole story. To give Trout the award to validate Sabermetrics as the new norm would be a travesty, in my opinion, to what the award really is about. There has been a shift, no doubt, towards Sabermetrics - that's why Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke have been able to win Cy Young awards without the win totals - but you have to step back and look at the big picture... he won the first Triple Crown in 45 years, his play vaulted his team to a pennant and his selflessness allowed the team to add the piece that it needed to get there. That's an MVP... and Miguel has been doing it for years. He's not a flash in the pan - he is a proven commodity and has arguably been the best player in baseball over the past five years. The fact that he hasn't already won an MVP is sort of an endorsement that he deserves it. Trout will have plenty of time to earn his... let him play a full season at that level. Let him prove that he's not a one-year phenom (give him something to play for). I picked Miguel and I'm sticking by it... I know that's not the popular choice right now but I think that he deserves it.

    1. Tough to argue with a Miguel Cabrera choice. And I couldn't be more impressed with his Triple Crown. It's an incredible achievement that few people ever reach. He certainly one of the best hitters in baseball. But it's still Mike Trout for me. I think he also sacrificed for his club. At the beginning of the season they asked him to go to Triple A. And he did. Then they called him up to play right field, and he did. Then they rotated him between center and left. Then they left him in center because he was so good there they realized that that was where he needed to be. I like Cabrera. And I think that he's had a ton of incredible seasons that could have also been MVP worthy. But I can't consider past excellence when giving my MVP out. That's a dangerous precedent. As far as this year goes, I think there were two players in baseball who had out of this world seasons at the plate. But, unfortunately for Miguel Cabrera, Trout was also excellent on the bases and in the outfield. I don't think that can be overlooked. I like the Cabrera pick. I can't fault it. But for me Trout is the winner.

      Thanks for the comment though. I love having these discussions with people. I think it's an important debate to have in baseball this season. And, frankly, I don't think Cabrera is a bad pick by any means. I'm a huge fan of his.