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.