Mike Trout is the best baseball player in the world, and should have won the MVP over Miguel Cabrera in 2012 regardless of the fact that Cabrera won the triple crown. Before you chastise me, allow me to attempt to illustrate my point using statistical analysis, but before I do so, let me also state that I believe the triple crown is grossly overrated.
The case for Mike Trout is simple: He had the greatest impact on his team’s success of any player in Major League Baseball. The word impact, in the form I chose to use here, entails every aspect of the game of baseball. In reality, the MVP award should be called the MVH award, for Most Valuable Hitter, because for the most part, that is how it’s been treated by baseball writers since its inception in 1931. Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball, few if any would be foolish enough to debate that. However, Mike Trout is not that far behind and, after you factor in the other aspects of the game such as fielding and base running (those things do still matter), the case for Mike Trout becomes increasingly clear. Let’s examine their 2012 statistical campaigns.
Miguel Cabrera had 205 hits, batted .330, and hit 44 home runs.
Mike Trout had 182 hits, batted .326, and hit 30 home runs.
Miguel Cabrera had 139 RBI, a .606 slugging percentage, and a .999 OPS. (These were all best in MLB)
Mike Trout had 83 RBI, a .564 slugging percentage, and a .963 OPS.
So far, Miguel Cabrera is clearly the better offensive player based on these numbers, right? Keep in mind though, Mike Trout played in 22 less games and had 63 fewer at-bats thanks to being called up in late April. Is it Mike Trout’s fault he was not on the opening day roster? Of course not. Should it hurt his MVP candidacy? That’s your decision.
Now let’s look a bit deeper at some of the offensive numbers between the two players.
Mike Trout had a .399 OBP, stole 49 of 54 bases, and grounded into 7 double plays.
Miguel Cabrera had a .393 OBP, stole 4 of 5 bases, and grounded into 28 double plays.
Miguel Cabrera had 377 total bases. (Singles + 2 x Doubles + 3 x Triples + 4 x Home Runs)
Mike Trout had 315.
Because grounding into a double play is essentially taking away a base from your team, let’s factor it in as such, and add 3 net steals into Miguel Cabrera’s total bases.
377 + 3 – 28 = 352
Now let’s do the same for Trout.
315 + 44 – 7 = 352
And what do you know, we arrive at the same number. Now, let’s call this ‘net total bases.’ Baseball is fundamentally a game that revolves around getting from base to base in order to score runs. How you do so, for the most part, is irrelevant. Therefore, total bases is a great way to determine an offensive players overall value into one rudimentary number. Because Cabrera and Trout had the same ‘net total bases’, one could argue that in 2012, they were both equal in terms of offensive production.
Now let’s look even further into this.
Miguel Cabrera had 622 at bats last year. Mike Trout had 559.
Let’s factor this into the equation to determine ‘net total bases per at bats.’
Miguel Cabrera: 622 ÷ 352 = 1.77 ‘net total bases per at bats,’ meaning it takes him 1.77 at bats to produce one base for his team.
Mike Trout: 559 ÷ 352 = 1.59, meaning it takes him 1.59 at bats to produce one base for his team.
Once again, it’s not Mike Trout’s fault he wasn’t called up earlier.
But wait, let’s add one more number to make an even better case for Mike Trout: Extra Bases Taken, or XBT. A player earns an XBT each time he advances to third or scores from first on a single, scores from first on a double, or scores from second on a single. Mike Trout did this 55 times last year. Miguel Cabrera did it 34. That’s an extra 21 bases Mike Trout created for his team, quite a sizable difference. Factor in also that Trout scored 139 runs to Cabrera’s 109, in 22 less games, and the numbers begin to sway, even in the eyes of a true purist.
What’s most compelling is that this analysis completely disregards the defense of the two players, which, not surprisingly, lands clearly in favor of Mike Trout, who played an elite center field compared to an average at best third base from Cabrera. According to Bill James’ runs saved, Mike Trout saved 25 runs last year for the Angels. Miguel Cabrera, on the other hand, lost 5, yielding a difference of 30 between the two players. When you add it all up, the case becomes clear, the MVP last year was Mike Trout, and it actually wasn’t even that close.
Baseball is a very interesting and unique game, not only because of its simultaneous complexity and simplicity, but also because of its history, tradition, and purity. While other sports have undergone drastic rule changes over the years, baseball has remained relatively the same since it first started being played professionally in 1857. Baseball writers, historians, coaches, players, and fans have developed a kinship over the years with statistics such as batting average, home runs, and RBI. It is understandable, therefore, that they would feel misled when someone labels these measures inferior for determining the statistical value of a baseball player. This is precisely the reason why the triple crown remains so highly coveted, why Miguel Cabrera won the MVP last year, and why many baseball fans scoff at those who opt to use sabermetrics to objectively analyze any baseball conversation.
Unfortunately for those purists, baseball is a numbers game, and sabermetrics are here to stay. Not only is baseball a numbers game, it is by far the easiest and most comprehensive sport measurable using statistics. What purists don’t like is usually what they are afraid of, what they don’t understand, and sabermetrics, to many, is exactly that. Their stubbornness is rooted in years of tradition and upbringing that suddenly has been challenged by progressive thinking and unconventional wisdom. The great thing, however, is that numbers don’t lie.
There also is a love affair with power-hitting sluggers who smash long majestic home runs and get to trot around the bases while fans cheer incessantly and marvel at their gifts. Conversely, those who get on base, play great defense, use their speed to advance base-to-base and eventually score, receive considerably less credit, yet many times, yield exactly the same overall results. This is precisely what happened last year between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, only Trout didn’t yield the same results, his were better.