The concept of value is taking a pretty severe beating this week. Reaching a working definition of “valuable” means parsing its use in an “awards” sense versus its use in statistical abstractions, making for muddy waters indeed. A given player’s role on a winning team, the weight given to defense, base running, and everything else not done in the batters box is suddenly up in the air.
Does defense and base running matter? Are positional differences not worth considering? Allow me the indulgence of a simple thought experiment.
If we are to believe base running and defense don’t matter, and that Miguel Cabrera carried the Tigers, let’s use our imagination to put that thinking to the test.
Travel back to January of 2012. For reasons we cannot know, it is Austin Jackson who tears his ACL during offseason training, not Victor Martinez. Jackson will miss the entire season – a huge blow to the Tigers World Series chances.
Without an orthodox solution, the Tigers throw conventional wisdom out the window. Instead of a replacement from outside the organization, Detroit’s front office realize, hey – defense and base running aren’t really that important. Let’s keep V-Mart at DH and move Delmon Young to centerfield.
Delmon Young then plays the entire season in center field and hitting in the leadoff spot (that is where the center fielder hit before and Jim Leyland will be damned before he shuffles that lineup). Even with a vaunted pitching staff, how many more runs score with Young patrolling the vast expanses of Comerica Field?
How many fewer runs to the Tigers score with Delmon 1) making so, so many more outs in the leadoff spot and 2) dragging his carcass around the bases when he does conspire to reach base? As it relates to Miguel Cabrera – what would his RBI total look like without Jackson gliding around the bases, accounting for 38 of Cabrera’s 139 ribbies?
The biggest question of all : would his team still make the playoffs?
Not a fair or likely scenario in any way. The Tigers would never, ever put Young in center field nor would they ever hit him leadoff – it would kill the team to do so, obviously. No contribution of Miguel Cabrera could overcome the insanity of all responsible for allowing Delmon Young to play a single inning as the Tigers’ center fielder.
Why would this never, ever happen? Because defense and base running matters and the number of runners you drive in depends greatly on runners being in position for a hitter to drive them in.
As it was, Cabrera’s 27 solo shots ranked second in baseball, thanks to Jim Leyland’s insistence on all but ignoring the importance of the second spot in the batting order.
It wasn’t that Miguel Cabrera isn’t a worthy candidate – it is just the specious arguments in his name do Cabrera’s own greatness a disservice. There is more than enough to back Cabrera without trying to discredit crucial aspects of the great game of baseball.