The Trout/Cabrera MVP debate became a flash point, hitting perfectly the divide between traditional baseball card stats and new wave metrics. The debate instantly became loud, unedifying and ugly.
Stat heads ridiculed with snark and numbers. Curmudgeons played up a false dialectic between “nerds with acronyms” and “people who like baseball.” No resolution was reached. Most voters fell into the latter camp. How was the common man supposed to make sense of this? Enter Mitch Albom.
Detroit’s favorite columnist infused his smug, yet folksy wisdom with ignorance and dashes of old-school baseball rhetoric. It was nonsensical and silly, but spoon-fed just the way his target audience likes it.
Today, every stat matters. There is no end to the appetite for categories — from OBP to OPS to WAR. I mean, OMG! The number of triples hit while wearing a certain-colored underwear is probably being measured as we speak.
So in areas such as “how many Cabrera home runs would have gone out in Angel Stadium of Anaheim” or “batting average when leading off an inning” or “Win Probability Added,” Trout had the edge. At least this is what we were told.
OMG! Indeed. Acronyms! Confusing right? Not really. This is not adding stats or adding superfluous stats. It is replacing stats that tell one little with stats that tell one a little bit more. Clarifying not obfuscating.
Batting average tells you how often a player hits. Since a walk accomplishes the task of a single, it’s more useful to know how often a player gets on base. Slugging percentage tells you what type of hits a player might get as opposed to just “hits.” Add the two together you get on base plus slugging. OPS. That’s more useful or prediction than batting average or underwear color.
That concept is simple. Moreover, it should not need to be explained, because that point has already diffused to the masses. Moneyball was published in 2003. Kevin Youkilis won two World Series with the Red Sox. It has been incorporated. Everyone who has watched baseball the 10 years grasps this. Those are no longer the acronyms that scare people. Where have you been, Mitch?
I mean, did you do the math? I didn’t. I like to actually see the sun once in a while.
Of course, why would you put that type of effort in? It’s not like you’re getting paid to write about this sport or anything…
Besides, if you live in Detroit, you didn’t need a slide rule. This was an easy choice. People here watched Cabrera, 29, tower above the game in 2012. Day after day, game after game, he was a Herculean force. Valuable? What other word was there? How many late-inning heroics? How many clutch hits? And he only missed one game all year.
Clutch hits are quantifiable. Make the argument. Herculean? We’re not sure. Towering above the game? He hit .004 higher than Mike Trout, he had one more home run than Josh Hamilton with 60 more at bats.
Why not also consider such intangibles as locker-room presence? Teammates love playing around — and around with — Miggy. He helps the room.
Because they are intangibles. They are not finite. We’ve found no way to value them for comparative purposes. They are imprecise and irrefutable. It’s not clear what they are and whether they have an effect. How many players liked playing with Michael Jordan on an every day basis? Would the Bulls have been better if they did?
Is Cabrera a better person than Trout? Is Mr. Clubhouse Presence of 2012 different from Mr. “Public Menace” in 2011 or Mr. Astoundingly Drunk During a Pennant Race in 2009?
How about his effect on pitchers? Nobody wanted the embarrassment of him slamming a pitch over the wall. The amount of effort pitchers expended on Cabrera or the guy batting ahead of him surely took its toll and affected the pitches other batters saw. Why not find a way to measure that?
The problem is “surely.” The notion of lineup protection makes sense. Evidence of it has not been found. It may not exist. It may exist in certain situations but be far less significant than the quality of player in the batters box. Just looking at the Tigers. By most measures, Cabrera hit worse in 2012 with Prince Fielder behind him than he did in 2010 and 2011 without him. The Tigers got league average production from the player in the No. 2 spot, hitting ahead of Cabrera and Fielder.
How about the value of a guy who could shift from first to third base — as Cabrera did this past season — to make room for Fielder? Ask manager Jim Leyland how valuable that is.
In the field, a below average third baseman is less valuable than someone who can play center field well. We can quantify that and translate into runs and win probability.
Those performing baseball Calculus should realize most are still struggling with the Algebra. Those paid to write about baseball should make some effort to learn about it. Everyone in Detroit will still think Miguel Cabrera should have won. Everyone passionate about this enjoys warm summer nights, beer and hot dogs. The award means very little. Let’s move on.