You know what's not very much fun? Jon Morosi's recent article on why Miguel Cabrera absolutely, positively, without a doubt, is this year's AL MVP. You can read the article here, but I advise you don't, because it's terrible. Basically, the salient points of the article (1) Cabrera has been a better hitter this year, as evidence by his closeness to winning the Triple Crown and (2) he's been okay defensively. I'm just assuming he's trying to troll Angels fans, or fans of sabermetrics, or people who WATCH BASEBALL GAMES, but whatever.
As a result of the Twitter outrage over the article, Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus used Twitter to make a very salient point here, in a response to Bill of The Platoon Advantage:
. @bill_tpa I just want people to make an actual argument, rather than assume it's so obvious that anyone who disagrees is beneath contempt— Colin Wyers (@cwyers) September 19, 2012
Colin, as usual, makes a pretty good point here. When we use WAR as a framework, we can default to "Trout's WAR is SO much better than Cabrera's, that he MUST be the MVP." WAR's a great metric, but it's just one metric. Home runs are a great metric too, but no one advocates it should be the sole decider of the MVP award.
Of course, Dave Cameron made a pretty compelling case for Mike Trout over at FanGraphs, without even really getting into WAR. He makes the argument that Trout and Cabrera are roughly similar in terms of overall offensive value, aside from a huge offensive boost given to Trout to to baserunning. In addition, Trout is a spectacular fielder at a premium defensive position, while Miguel Cabrera is a bad-to-awful fielder at a pretty important (but not premium) defensive position.
Let's examine the defensive stats a little further. Mike Trout is, by all objective and subjective measures, considered something of a good fielder. UZR and DRS, two important advanced statistics have Trout at 13 and 25 runs saved, respectively. Total Zone, as reported by Baseball-Reference, has Trout at 14 runs above average. Those are great numbers.
On the other side, Miguel Cabrera has measurements of being worth -4.2 runs by UZR, -5 runs by DRS and -10 runs by TZ. One of the most positive comments that I've heard from a baseball professional about Cabrera's defense is this one, from Prince Fielder, as part of Morosi's article:
"He ... worked extremely hard in spring on defense ... "
I don't want to slag Cabrera for being bad defensively, because by all accounts he's a hard worker who just isn't equipped with the skills to field his position at a high level. But I don't think anyone in their right mind would use scouting language to say that Cabrera is an above-average fielder at his position.
But given all of that, I'd like to point to one particular data point, one that relates directly to the question of fielding ability. Mike Trout, as far as I can tell, has robbed opposing hitters of four (4!) home runs on the season. Straight-up robbed them. Here's video proof.
This is unreal, like whoa-this-is-not-real. Four recorded robberies, right here. If you want to assign a run value to this, there are two ways to do so. The first is to record the actual value of runs saved by Trout snatching these HRs. Between Hardy's (would have been solo), Beckham's (solo), the one against the M's (two-run, plus extra credit for the double play), and Fielder's (solo) -- that comes out to five runs saved simply by stealing HRs away from hitters. If you were to assign the run value in a more general sense, the folks at The Fielding Bible estimate that a home run robbery is worth about 1.6 Runs Saved in DRS. But, for this exercise, let's stick with the "real" number of five runs saved, while also being responsible for six outs.
I'd say that there's an indisputable case that Mike Trout saved five runs, defensively, on four plays this year. That's a ton. Sure, there's probably some defensive misplays that Trout's made, but if you were to argue that he's an average defensive player aside from those plays (he's not), and that Cabrera were an average defensive player (he's not), you'd still have a full half-of-a-win of defensive value that Trout provided that Cabrera could not. When deciding which player is most valuable, isn't that kind of huge?
I'm convinced that Trout should be the MVP, given that in my estimation, Cabrera and Trout are roughly-equal overall hitters, while Trout has a massive advantage defensively and as a baserunner. And I believe that value to a team translates, roughly, to on-the-field performance. How could you possibly make the case for Cabrera, when the stats say that offense is similar, and Trout provides so much more value with his feet and glove?