Awards Chatter Recap

It seems that baseball fans have spent so much time and energy arguing their player of choice’s case for the American League Most Valuable Player that they’ve neglected to get dizzy with rage over the other big awards that will be handed out after the season. One could easily argue that the competition for the National League MVP, the NL Cy Young and the AL Cy Young is even closer than it is for the award receiving most of our argumentative attention right now.

Let’s move the spotlight off of those myopic view points on behalf of Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout (don’t worry, we can go back to them later), and adjust our sights on a bit more civil discussion centered around who the candidates are for the other main awards.

The National League Cy Young Award

Considering that both of the front runners were in action on Thursday, we can start with the National League Cy Young Award, where R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets and Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals have emerged as the best pitchers in Major League Baseball’s Senior Circuit.

R.A. Dickey: 228 IP; 24.6 K%; 6.0 BB%; 62.4 AGS; 2.69 ERA; 3.25 FIP; 4.8 fWAR; 5.2 rWAR; 3.4 WARP.
Gio Gonzalez: 199 IP; 25.2 K%; 9.3 BB%; 59.5 AGS; 2.89 ERA; 2.84 FIP; 5.4 fWAR; 4.6 rWAR; 3.2 WARP.

It’s close. Maybe closer than many people seem to think, but Dickey gets the nod over Gonzalez from me based on two numbers: the larger amount of innings pitched and the higher average game score. Both of the pitchers have offered such a similar amount of value to their teams this season that the fact that Dickey has been able to offer it with a greater work load weighs heavy with me, as does the fact that game in/game out, he’s been averaging slightly better value, most likely due to his pitching close to an inning more than Gonzalez for each start. Of course, I also wouldn’t argue if more attention was paid to Clayton Kershaw, who is having another quietly dominant season, even if his win total isn’t as impressive as these two candidates.

The American League Cy Young

While Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox and Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers definitely deserve some Cy Young consideration, based on the amounts of their respective contributions, we can boil the true candidates down to three pitchers: Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners, David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays and Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers.

Felix Hernandez: 227 IP; 23.7 K%; 5.8 BB%; 60.7 AGS; 2.86 ERA; 2.87 FIP; 5.9 fWAR; 4.9 rWAR; 3.5 WARP.
David Price: 204 IP; 24.9 K%; 7.1 BB%; 61.5 AGS; 2.56 ERA; 3.06 FIP; 5.0 fWAR; 6.2 rWAR; 3.1 WARP.
Justin Verlander: 231 IP; 24.9 K%; 6.3 BB%; 61.2 AGS; 2.72 ERA; 3.00 FIP; 6.5 fWAR; 7.2 rWAR; 4.5 WARP.

As last year’s hands-down winner of the AL Cy Young and MVP awards, it’s amazing how closely Verlander’s 2012 season resembles his 2011. Throw in some weaker defense behind him and a little bit worse luck, and it’s almost identical. Those two factors are really outside of the pitcher’s control, and it’s why Verlander would be my AL Cy Young Award winner. My only fear is that Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels, who is currently tied with Price for the most wins in the AL, would receive trumping consideration due to this one number.

The National League Most Valuable Player

Typically, by the time 162 games have gone by, only two or three players will emerge as being the elite for a particular season. That’s not the case in 2012 for the NL MVP. This is an incredibly wide open race, with at least five players being completely viable candidates for the award: Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres, Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals and Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants.

Ryan Braun: .392 OBP; .602 SLG; .336 TAv; 167 wRC+; 9 DRS; 8.2 fWAR; 6.9 rWAR; 6.2 WARP.
Chase Headley: .371 OBP; .485 SLG; .317 TAv; 140 wRC+; -3 DRS; 7.0 fWAR; 5.2 rWAR; 4.7 WARP.
Andrew McCutchen: .403 OBP; .558 SLG; .333 TAv; 158 wRC+; -5 DRS; 7.6 fWAR; 6.9 rWAR; 5.4 WARP.
Yadier Molina: .377 OBP; .507 SLG; .317 TAv; 143 wRC+; 16 DRS; 6.5 fWAR; 6.7 rWAR; 5.7 WARP.
Buster Posey: .405 OBP; .539 SLG; .346 TAv; 157 wRC+; -1 DRS; 7.0 fWAR; 6.6 rWAR; 6.6 WARP.

As it would any time that these levels of offensive output come from that particular position, this argument comes down to the two catchers. While Posey’s defensive contributions may pale in comparison to Molina’s, the offensive numbers he puts up as a catcher in San Francisco are staggeringly good. By looking at the True Average from Baseball Prospectus, we get an idea of just how much his home stadium affects his already impressive offensive numbers. As for the other position players, I’d name Braun as the biggest competitor who is having a very comparable season to the one he had last year as NL MVP. If only David Wright of the New York Mets had managed to not be below average for two months after the All-Star break, he might have run away with this, and made for not much discussion at all on the topic.

The American League MVP

The debate has really elevated the level of discourse across Major League Baseball:

Baseball Fan #1: It’s Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, you idiot.

Baseball Fan #2: No, you’re an idiot. It’s Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers.

The numbers on this have been done to death, and you probably don’t need to see them again. Trout is better than Cabrera according to all of the WAR measurements because of his proximity to the Tigers star in terms of offensive output combined with his vastly superior contributions from base running and defense. Cabrera might win the Triple Crown with the highest tally of home runs and runs batted in, while also maintaining the league’s best batting average.

What bothers me about this entire argument is that one side seems to be saying that if we take into effect all of the ways in which we measure contributions, Trout emerges as the better player. Meanwhile, the other side takes this to mean that people are arguing in favor of Trout over Cabrera simply because the Angels center fielder has a higher WAR, which they dismiss as not being a full enough measurement before essentially arguing that the Triple Crown is all the evidence needed to anoint Cabrera.

Such arguments literally translate into: “Your numbers are wrong, while mine are right.” However, they’re dressed as: “Numbers? There’s so much more to consider.” This of course is humorous because the costuming of such arguments often includes accusations that the other party is doing the exact thing that they themselves are actually doing. They’re the ones listing the numbers that fit their own narrative, while dismissing others that do not.

Wins above replacement don’t have to be brought up in any argument to prove that Trout is the more valuable of the two players this season. All that needs to be asked is if the difference between Trout’s massive superiority in defense and base running combined is decidedly better than Cabrera’s slight advantage in terms of offensive numbers. No honest analysis could possibly suggest otherwise, and that’s why Trout is my American League Most Valuable Player.

Comments (23)

  1. keith law has been making an argument that basically runs something like: it sucks when rookie of the year goes to bums that had a good year, and the award should honour “future stars” and should signal to fans that “this is a guy to look out for” instead of “here’s a guy that came into the league at 26″.

    of course, there’s nothing in the ballot that says this is how people should vote.

    it seems no different than the people who have invented their own criteria as to why MVP should go to someone on a playoff contender…or maybe someone who the GM, manager, etc. were expecting to deliver an MVP-calibre year this year, rather than the player who has posted the most WAR effectively out of nowhere. i can see how you could argue that Cabrera’s “value” lies not just in his production, but in stuff like: moving to third, producing at a high level for several years so that the team can more accurately project his, and therefore the team’s production….

    you could turn around an argue that this makes trout even move valuable because he came out of a rough 2011 to give roughly the same defense boujos would have, but added league-best offensive stats on top of that.

    if i were trying to choose which of these “combos” i thought was better “value” at my local fast food chain, there is no choice. cabrera is the double big mac meal – it costs more, it has more meat; but trout is like discovering you’ve ordered a whopper combo on whopper wednesday – you’re going to get just as, if not more full, and at a fraction of the cost.

    • Keith Law must be a moron then…

      It is the same stupid arguement that college football voters make. I voted for the team I think is the best (even if that team has multiple losses) instead of who is having the best season.

      Also, how many “future stars” flame out and everyone has a different opinion on who is a future star?

  2. Hooray for Mississippi!!

  3. Also, you can’t give the MVP to Mike Trout. He’s just a kid who hasn’t paid his dues yet. Do you want him to get a big head? The MVP should go to (paraphrasing Duke Snider) a veteran with hair on his butt who can drive in clutch runs.

    • Then Edwin and Alfonso Soriano should have a shot at MVP this year. I’m just thinking of how a writer would sound if he said “oh he clearly had the best year, and was the most valuable player by far, but he hasn’t paid enough dues, so I voted for the older less deserving guy”.

  4. Good post. I agree with your most of your picks. The NL MVP is certainly going to be a real interesting result as there’s so many guys that are close in terms of stats. I do think Braun’s numbers will be discounted by certain writers as a result of what went on this past winter. Fair or not, I think that many of the same writers that will vote for Cabrera and the triple crown crap won’t even entertain a second look at Braun.

    I also think it’s nice to see you include multiple WAR type stats. As you know, I am not a huge fan of FIP for measuring what’s already taken place.

  5. Regarding Wright, I don’t think there’s any chance he could have run away with the award (I assume we’re talking the actual award, not who us internet people think *should* win). Even if you prorate his first half over 162 games, he would end up at .351/22/117 in the triple crown categories. When you take into account his team’s status (which voters unfortunately still do for the MVP), I’m not sure that would stand up against Posey’s numbers as a catcher or Braun’s beastly power.

    Typing that reminded me how Wade Boggs never won an MVP despite hitting .350 regularly as a 3B. Most people expect power from their third basemen. Yeah, Boggs was almost always in the single-digits in HR, but in 1987 he hit .363 with 24 HR and finished 9th in the MVP race!! (Ok, he also only had 89 RBI, but still!)

    Just wanted to get that out about David Wright, who I love and want to see win an MVP some day. Sigh, he would have won in 2007 if his team didn’t collapse around him.

    The rest of the article was great. I didn’t realize how amazing Verlander had been this year. Again.

  6. What about Johnny Cueto?

    210 IP; 19.1 K%; 5.6 BB%; 2.83 ERA; 3.27 FIP; 4.7 fWAR.

  7. Travis Snider, hands down.

  8. Slight advantage offensively? I don’t think you are giving enough credit to Cabrera’s season. Right now he has an OPS that is .053 points higher than Trout’s and has played 22 more games than Trout. Yes Trout may be more valuable and I’m not disagreeing about whether he should win the MVP, but I think there is a bigger gap in the offensive value between the two than you are suggesting.

    • But Trout is ahead in wOBA and wRC+, which corrects for his pitcher friendly home park. That ain`t nothing.

      • SB and CS are also incorporated into wOBA (at least Fangraphs’ version). That explains some of the difference, too.

      • Yes, I when I was referring to offensive value, I was excluding the SB aspect of the game, which I admit once you factor that puts them fairly close.

        However, even if they have approximately the same value on an average basis per AB offensively once you factor SB’s, that would mean Cabrera was 16.5% more valuable than Trout based on the number of games they played for their teams.

  9. Tigers with Cabrera – probably sitting about .500 looking forward to next season
    Angels without Trout – still finishing 3rd in the west – probably not too far from their current record

    Tigers don’t have a shot with Miguel – clearly he is the most VALUABLE player

    • Prove it.

      Miguel Cabrera last year: .344/.448/.586 with 30 home runs. The team adds PRINCE FIELDER and Miggy goes .326/.391/.602 with 42 home runs. Is DEMONSTRABLY worse in 2012. Who’s valuable now?

    • I meant without on both comments about Miguel….

  10. Trout

  11. Wright’s still put up 7.2 fWAR this year, I wonder if he should still be in the conversation.

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