FanDuel - WFBC

November 15, 2012

The Statistical Case Against Miguel Cabrera for MVP: With no more election to forecast, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver turns his attention back to baseball, suggesting that the numbers favor Mike Trout over Miguel Cabrera as the AL MVP. "Perhaps 10 or 20 years ago, when evaluations of base running, defense and clutch hitting were murkier, stat geeks would have argued that Cabrera deserved the M.V.P. on the basis of the hard evidence," Silver writes. "Now that some of the 'intangibles' have become measurable, we know that Trout did more of the little things to help his team win.

posted by rcade to baseball at 05:55 PM - 30 comments

I think it should have gone to Trout, but I'm not able to build up enough righteous anger to complain about it too much.

This isn't "George Bell in 1987" or "Juan Gonzalez (either time)".

posted by grum@work at 09:05 PM on November 15

I was glad to see Trout and Cabrera were #1 and #2 on 27 of the 28 ballots...

posted by MeatSaber at 09:11 PM on November 15

Glad Cabrera won it. He's been one of the best offensive players in recent baseball history, and the Triple Crown was something I doubted I'd ever witness. As for defense, his glove work leaves something to be desired, but willingly switching positions again to accomodate Fielder, knowing he'd be ridiculed, but still being able to focus enough to put up those staggering numbers, is pretty impressive.

Trout is a great young talent, but I'm waiting to see him do it for several consecutive years to put him in Cabrera's category offensively.

posted by dyams at 10:26 PM on November 15

Trout was the best baseball player this year in either league.

posted by cixelsyd at 11:43 PM on November 15

Certainly Trout had the stats. But I'll take Cabrera for value to his team.

posted by roberts at 06:23 AM on November 16

But I'll take Cabrera for value to his team.

Did you read the article? Value to team seems like the most obvious area that Trout excelled. He does so many little things well, runs extremely efficiently and plays A+ defence.

posted by dfleming at 07:15 AM on November 16

I'm asking out of ignorance: is MVP solely based on value to team?

If it were based on an even fuzzier metric that included value to league, I would think any triple crown winner would be an obvious choice. How many disinterested or under-interested fans like myself tuned in because history was being made?

posted by Hugh Janus at 08:04 AM on November 16

Trout is a great young talent, but I'm waiting to see him do it for several consecutive years to put him in Cabrera's category offensively.

Definitely, but future value doesn't have anything to do with the 2012 MVP award, and there is more to "value" than just the bat.

Certainly Trout had the stats. But I'll take Cabrera for value to his team.

Angels record without Trout: 8-15 (.348) (including 6-14 before he was called up) Angels record with Trout: 81-58 (.583)

Cabrera played in all but one game, so the team's record with him is 87-74 (.540).

posted by grum@work at 08:22 AM on November 16

I'm asking out of ignorance: is MVP solely based on value to team?

Yes.

posted by grum@work at 08:22 AM on November 16

I don't believe statistics can measure everything that matters when it comes to the MVP, and I'm glad the voters didn't either. Cabrera moving from 1st to 3rd should not make him less worthy of the MVP.

posted by bperk at 10:01 AM on November 16

I don't believe statistics can measure everything that matters when it comes to the MVP,

Of course, Cabrera's entire claim to fame for this season is based on THREE SPECIFIC STATISTICS.

I find it funny that Cabrera might not have beaten Trout for the MVP if a third party (say, Granderson) hit a couple more home runs.

Cabrera moving from 1st to 3rd should not make him less worthy of the MVP.

Who says that?

Silver is pointing out that he wasn't a "plus" defender at 3B, not that he's being penalized for moving to 3B.

Third base is a harder position to play, so it is possible (maybe not in this case) to be below average at 3B and STILL be a better fielder than an average 1Bman.

posted by grum@work at 10:13 AM on November 16

Both Rhode Island voters went for Trout and I really appreciated the pieces they wrote about it. Here's Sean McAdam's explanation and Tim Britton's entire MVP ballot explained. I hate that this became a referendum on old-school versus new-school. Mainly because I just finished reading Idiot America and it feels like some of the celebration of Cabrera (not anyone here, mind you) isn't so much a celebration of his achievements as a chance to repudiate people who would try to bother with numbers instead of what they know, which squares with Pierce's Three Great Truths:

• Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
• Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
• Fact is that which enough people believe.

The clear winner in the clubhouse was WEEI's fascist morning host Gerry Callahan, who dropped this bon mot:

Congrats to MVP Miguel Cabrera and to all the scribes who had the courage to disagree with Saint Nate Silver
Of course, Silver said he thought Cabrera would win, so Callahan is both wrong and an asshole, but his fans will never notice and start remembering this vote as "The time that nerd Nate Silver totally screwed up and was no longer worth listening to".

posted by yerfatma at 11:04 AM on November 16

To be clear, I think Cabrera is an amazing hitter who had a fantastic year and I'd love to have him on the Red Sox. The debate frustrates me because the bias toward mashers like Cabrera is why my Red Sox sucked for most of my youth.

posted by yerfatma at 11:12 AM on November 16

Of course, Cabrera's entire claim to fame for this season is based on THREE SPECIFIC STATISTICS.

What does this mean?

Don't you think is matters that Trout had the benefit of hitting against pitchers that had never seem him before?

posted by bperk at 12:36 PM on November 16

Of course, Cabrera's entire claim to fame for this season is based on THREE SPECIFIC STATISTICS.

What does this mean?

Cabrera's MVP is almost entirely based on the fact that he led the league in HR/RBI/AVG.
If Granderson hits a few more dingers, then Cabrera doesn't have the magical "Triple Crown", and he probably doesn't win the MVP.

Don't you think is matters that Trout had the benefit of hitting against pitchers that had never seem him before?

Don't you think it matters that Trout overcame the problem of hitting against pitchers that he had never seen before?

posted by grum@work at 12:59 PM on November 16

I truly believe our baseball fans write the longest posts.

Which is excellent for those of us that don't follow baseball closely but like to keep current with what's going on.

now back to your regularly scheduled thread

posted by Folkways at 03:10 PM on November 16

Don't you think is matters that Trout had the benefit of hitting against pitchers that had never seem him before?

Don't you think if this was truly an advantage you could point us at numbers showing rookies tend to hit better their first year than their second (or third or fourth)? Every night in baseball there are players hitting against pitchers who they've never faced before. I would think the effect on a player's overall season is negligible. And it's not like Trout popped out of Zeus' head fully-formed; he played against some of those pitchers in the minors.

posted by yerfatma at 03:15 PM on November 16

Small sample size alert!

The four starting pitchers Trout faced most in 2011 and 2012, combined:

Felix Hernandez
Derek Holland
Blake Beavan
Matt Harrison

Trout's OPS in 2011 vs these pitchers: .500 (15 PA)
Trout's OPS in 2012 vs these pitchers: 1.122 (53 PA)

posted by grum@work at 04:05 PM on November 16

The name of the award is "Most Valuable Player". What is left unsaid is whether that means most valuable to his team or most valuable in the league. No matter what the meaning, has anyone sat down, looked through the summaries - not merely the box scores, but the actual detailed play-by-play summaries - of all of the games played by Cabrera and Trout this past season? Can anyone say with any authority, without quoting statistics that support one or the other opinion, which of the two players actually contributed more to his team's success? I doubt that many, if any, of the members of the BBWAA who vote on the award have done so. Until such research is done, there will be argument. Let the war continue!

posted by Howard_T at 05:23 PM on November 16

Until such research is done, there will be argument. Let the war continue!

Spoken like an ammunition salesman!

posted by yerfatma at 08:20 PM on November 16

Can anyone say with any authority, without quoting statistics that support one or the other opinion, which of the two players actually contributed more to his team's success?

How do you determine contribution if you can't using counting or measuring? If you count something or measure something, you have a "statistic".

posted by grum@work at 09:38 PM on November 16

How do you determine contribution if you can't using counting or measuring?

grum, I very much respect the work you do to provide us with very accurate analysis of statistics, trends, and such. It adds a lot to our discussions, and truly tends to silence those like me who tend to let our emotions and lack of understanding get in the way of these silly, useless things called facts. My concern with the argument of Trout vs Cabrera is that too many of the voters looked only at the final numbers without looking at what the numbers really represented or the circumstances in which they were achieved.

I probably didn't phrase "without quoting statistics" as accurately as I should have. What I meant was rather than just taking the season-long statistics of each player, look more closely at what he did at critical times in his games. This allows you to see what contributions were made when the outcome of a game was in doubt, not when a game had been decided and it was the baseball equivalent of "garbage time". How many of Cabrera's home runs or RBIs became the runs that put Detroit ahead, extended a lead to the point of being unbeatable, tied a game, or brought the Tigers within reach of a win? How many were done in the late innings of a game the Tigers already were winning by 4 or 5 runs? How many of Trout's steals resulted in his scoring a run that made a difference in the outcome for the Angels? How many resulted only in being left on base at second instead of first, or also were done when the game had been decided? These may be statistics, but only in the very broad sense of the word. I'm thinking more in terms of meaningful performance, not just numbers.

The beat writers who cover these players on a day-to-day basis should be well-equipped to perform such an analysis and publish their results to promote the chances of the player they cover. Those BBWAA voters who do not have the daily exposure can take the word of the beat writers (with the appropriate grain of salt), or they can research the game play-by-play summaries that appear on MLB.com. I know that these ladies and gentlemen of the press will claim a lack of time or resources, but isn't this sort of thing what interns were designed for? I'm not casting aspersions on those who vote for the awards, but if you are given a responsibility to perform a task, you owe it to baseball and particularly to yourself to give it your best effort.

posted by Howard_T at 12:19 AM on November 17

You can count and measure to assess value without saying that these advanced statistics should be your only source when deciding value.

posted by bperk at 09:16 AM on November 17

What I meant was rather than just taking the season-long statistics of each player, look more closely at what he did at critical times in his games. This allows you to see what contributions were made when the outcome of a game was in doubt, not when a game had been decided and it was the baseball equivalent of "garbage time".

Actually, there is a stat that attempts to capture exactly that: WPA (win probability added).

Let's see who led the AL in that this year:

Mike Trout 5.32
Prince Fielder 4.93
Miguel Cabrera 4.82
Josh Willlingham 4.79
Edwin Encarnacion 4.75

posted by keylimeguy at 09:36 AM on November 17

You can count and measure to assess value without saying that these advanced statistics should be your only source when deciding value.

You don't need to use "advanced statistics" to prove the case for Trout.

If you just want to use the basic ones (batting, fielding, base running), and "team contribution" (however you want to measure that), it's still going to point to Trout.

The only reason Cabrera won is that there was a mystical idea that three statistical categories in baseball (two of which are intricately linked) were some magic indication of overall greatness. The fact that the categories completely ignore the most important skill (getting on base) or what you do when you don't hit a home run (base running) seems to me to be a weak indication of "greatness".

Because no one had led these troika of categories in a single season in a long time, the writers became enthralled that it was something much more important than it really was.

I've said before I'm not terribly upset that Cabrera won the MVP. I'm just annoyed that people are trying to rationalize it as more than "Triple Crown" excitement.

In the last 15 years, two other players (Todd Helton and Manny Ramirez) had numbers that were better than Cabrera in all three categories in one season. They did not win the MVPs those years.

posted by grum@work at 11:22 AM on November 17

Howard, keylimeguy beat me to pointing out that leverage is something that's measured. And you will all have to pardon me as these were once a coherent stream of thoughts generated while cleaning the house, but now they'll seem disjointed most likely.

You can count and measure to assess value without saying that these advanced statistics should be your only source when deciding value.

My frustration with this debate is Cabrera is being used to defend the sort of magical thinking from Idiot America, the sort of thing that doesn't need to be right or wrong, it just needs to generate debate and we have to respect both sides even if the other side doesn't really have any clothes. Howard, if when you were working on missile technology someone had said, "These were developed doing math on paper, there's no reason to start using computers", would everyone have stopped and debated that?

No one is saying WAR or xFIP or whatever you like is The One True statistic. People who do are just as guilty of blind, trial defense as anyone suggesting RBI totals end every argument. People who work on things like WAR are constantly trying to refine and improve them. The desire to truly know how things work goes back well before Virgil and "Felix qui potuit rerum cognscere causas" (Happy is the one who knows the causes of things). We demand constant improvement from the things we buy, but because sport is supposed to be some throwback to a Golden Age When Things Were Great there's a resistance to improving our knowledge, as if there's a Tree of Forbidden Statistics that will reveal all and ruin the game.

RBIs exist because some guy in Buffalo decided to start tracking them. No other reason. No particular design behind it except "I think we should count this". The person might have been a madman for all we know. But because RBIs have been around forever, they must be important. It's the Noah Cross Rule: "Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough." That's the reason people respect RBIs. It's a second-order statistic, an echo of actual production.

posted by yerfatma at 11:38 AM on November 17

Miguel Cabrera Is Mitt Romney: The Tigers slugger was the candidate of old white men. Lucky for him, that's who decides baseball's MVP awards.

posted by justgary at 03:29 PM on November 17

I hate to think of it that way because it's yet another weird tribal culture war where we have to define an Us and a Them and it turns sports debates here personal. Of course, Slate profits from doing so, and I await their article explaining how the demise of Hostess is also a Obama/ Romney proxy war.

posted by yerfatma at 05:07 PM on November 17

I would interject that the award is Most Valuable Player, not Most Statistically Significant Season. Value is tricky to define in this setting.

Take the much maligned RBI and the oh so loved SB. How many games are won by a team with zero RBI's? How many are won with zero SB? From a pure winning game standpoint, RBI's are perhaps the most significant thing you see and a decent predictor of how a team will perform while SB isn't.

Looking at team totals for this season the three teams that led MLB in steals were in order, Milwaukee, San Diego, and Miami. The three leaders in RBI were Texas, New York Yankees, and Milwaukee. This tells me two things, stealing bases doesn't make a team a winner and Milwaukee really needs some more arms.

As far as the specifics of Cabrera's season, the argument that Ramirez and and Helton had seasons that were better in each category without winning an MVP is meaningless. The question is what the winners seasons looked like.

Personally I could see either Trout or Cabrera winning and would have been fine with it. Trout didn't do much in September as he cooled off while Cabrera was playing very well. On the whole I think it came down to more that just the triple crown, and Trout would have garnered more votes if he'd been hot down the stretch and gotten the Angels into the playoffs.

posted by Mothball at 03:23 PM on November 18

How many games are won by a team with zero RBI's?

Any number of them. It's not like it's impossible to score runs without RBIs. By that logic, the most important statistic is Plate Appearances since it is truly impossible to win without those. Should we start awarding MVPs to lead-off hitters just for showing up?

posted by yerfatma at 09:58 AM on November 19

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