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2013 AL MVP: Oy, Here We Go Again

The below tirade on the 2013 American League Most Valuable Player Award will be short and (fairly) to the point. Many of you know where I stand based on the “Mike Trout for MVP” piece I authored some 13 months ago.

It has been a busy week and this gray Friday morning has sapped much of the energy that ought to be spent working on behalf of clients . . . and consuming another chapter of A Dance With Dragons.


Last night, Miguel Cabrera (.348 BA/.442 OBP/.636 SLG; 7.6 Fangraphs WAR, 7.2 Baseball Reference WAR) captured his second consecutive MVP award, again denying a deserving Mike Trout (.332/.432/.557;10.4 fWAR, 9.2 bWAR) the hardware and demonstrating that many of the writers from the Baseball Writers Association of America are as capable of analytical thought as prison inmates picking up trash on the side of the highway. Heck, some boob was so dismissive of quite possibly the next Mickey Mantle Trout that he gave him only a seventh-place vote. (Andrew McCutchen easily beat out Paul Goldschmidt and Yadier Molina for the National League honor.)

Lest there be any confusion, the award is not named “Most Valuable Hitter,” but, as was the case in 2012, way too many voters wanted us to believe that Cabrera’s lousy defense and baserunning do not figure into their calculations.

Others, while maintaining that the Tigers’ first-place finish somehow means Cabrera that was more “valuable” to his team than the Trout, ignore Josh Donaldson (.301/.384/.499; 7.7 fWAR, 8.0 bWAR), whose out-of-this-world September included a .337/.454/.596 slash line to help the A’s again overcome a challenge from the Rangers and notch their second consecutive division title, never mind that the ballot instructions say nothing about favoring players whose play helps propel their teams into the postseason.

In contrast, Cabrera posted a powerless line of .278/.395/.333 during that same period, whereas Trout’s numbers for the scuffling Angels was .281/.455/.494. (Not that I can recall injuries ever excusing poor performance in MVP voting, but if you must cite Miggy’s poor healthy as the reason for his lousy September, please be sure to devote equal time arguing that Matt Harvey’s season-ending elbow injury shouldn’t have hurt his chances for the NL Cy Young Award.)

In any event, I agree with Joe Posnanski of Hardball Talk that the “pressure” of a pennant chase is hardly more daunting than trying to perform in a loser’s environment.

Posnanski’s colleague, Matthew Puillot, raises another salient point:

But how about money? It’s pretty much indisputable that the guy hitting 30 homers making $500,000 is helping his team more than the guy hitting 30 homers while earning $20 million (let’s give them the same WAR, too). But it seems completely verboten to discuss money in MVP talks. Certainly, I’ve never seen a voter bring up a guy’s salary in defending his vote.

I think that’s silly. If we’re going with the idea that it’s the Most Valuable Player and not the Best Player, then money absolutely should factor in. I imagine there are a couple holdout major league general managers who would still rate Cabrera as a better player than Trout, but even they wouldn’t actually trade Trout for Cabrera given the difference in salaries. No sane person would. Cabrera made $21 million last season. Trout earned $510,000. . . .

The one area I am willing to cede to Miggy is his sizeable advantage over Trout in win-probability added (i.e., “clutch”), but Tom Tango issues a caveat emptor to those who rely on WPA:

You can make a legitimate case that WAR should include clutch, and to do that, you simply add his clutch score to his WAR, dropping Trout from 9.1 rWAR (WAR on Baseball-Reference) down to 6.7.  Miguel Cabrera goes down slightly to 6.8.  Suddenly, we have a race.  Except . . . well, Josh Donaldson goes up to 9.1, and Chris Davis, Mr Clutch goes up to 8.3. And there’s Cano at 8.4 including Clutch. The great thing about WAR is that it provides a FRAMEWORK, which allows anyone out there to have their own personal implementation.  And if you think that clutch should count, then you include it.

By no means am I denigrating Cabrera’s prowess in the batter’s box. For example, I enjoyed reading, on Gammons Daily Beyond the Boxscore last month, the post by Neil Weinberg — yes, a sabermetric author — on Cabrera’s “amazing year” at the plate.

But as Ryan Fagan of the Sporting News observed, “Cabrera is a one-trick pony; don’t be confused just because it’s such a good trick.”

Too late. Again. (Sigh.)

Jason Epstein is the president of Southfive Strategies, LLC. He was a public-relations consultant for the Turkish embassy in Washington from 2002 to 2007.


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