Chances are that if you're reading this, you've likely spent some time around sabermetrics. If you haven't, welcome! This is Beyond The Box Score and we love using advanced stats to analyze the greatest game in the world. We invite you to stick around and get to know us and the funny looking acronyms we're always prattling on about. The whole endeavor is about understanding the game as completely as possible. That's all. Some of us write from our mother's basement, but most of us are functioning members of society who are interested in more thoughtful analysis. Below, we've voted decisively in favor of Mike Trout as the AL MVP. Here's why.
There's a reasonable case to be made for Josh Donaldson and Chris Davis, but it's going to get very complicated if we don't boil it down to two choices; Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. The award asks us to consider their actual value, offensively and defensively, to their team. We're asked to consider games played and effort, but there's nothing in the award that says anything about making the playoffs. In fact, it explicitly says the opposite:
The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
So Mike Trout and his below average Angels are allowed to compete. Let's start with offensive value. Mike Trout had 716 PA to Miguel Cabrera's 652. On the surface, that isn't very meaningful, but it tells us that we should read any rate statistics with the knowledge that Trout was in action more than Cabrera. Now we need to consider how we want to measure offensive value. Most of us think a context neutral measurement makes sense. You don't get to decide whether you come to the plate with men on base or not. We should only judge you by what you can control.
If we care about overall performance, then let's look to wRC+ as a measure of value. Mike Trout finished at 176 and Cabrera at 192. Cabrera was the better hitter when we adjust for park effects, but the distance isn't enormous. When we convert that into a run value based on the number of plate appearances Trout stands at 61.5 and Cabrera at 67.9. These offensive values are based on the actual value of each offensive action, which means walks count and each type of hit is weighted to its true run value and not an artificial value like we see in SLG.
When we look at BsR to evaluate baserunning, which considers stolen bases and extra bases taken in conjunction with outs made on the bases, Trout leads 8.1 to -4.4, which is enough to wipe away Cabrera's offensive lead. Trout now stands at 69.6 and Cabrera at 63.5. If you like context dependent numbers instead, Cabrera leads in RE24 by about three runs.
When you consider hitting and baserunning, Trout has a small lead in context neutral numbers and Cabrera has a small lead in context dependent numbers. It's essentially a tie. Offensively, they are equally as valuable even if they are differently valuable. That's important. Trout gets on base so his team can drive him in. Cabrera drives in his teammates. Those are both necessary parts of offensive production and hanging a "run producer" moniker on the RBI guy is extremely misguided considering he needs an R guy on base for that to even work.
If we move on to the tie breaker, it's not even close. Mike Trout is much better defensively than Miguel Cabrera. Some of the defensive stats thought Trout took a step back in 2013, but however you slice it he's the better player. UZR has Trout about four runs above average and Cabrera about 17 below average for a difference of more than 20 runs. Defensive Runs Saved has Trout at -9 and Cabrera at -18. Even if you take the worst case scenario, Trout is significantly better. We don't even have to factor in the slight positional edge for Trout to come to the clear conclusion that Trout was the better player in 2013. If you think defensive stats are fluky, the three year trend tells the same story. So does a simple comparison of turning batted balls into outs relative to positional average.
To assault Trout's candidacy, you have to twist the definition of "value" or you have to find some way to argue that Trout played a cakewalk schedule and Cabrera didn't. Neither argument works here. I didn't even use Wins Above Replacement to make the case, but fWAR has it at 10.4 to 7.6 in favor of Mike Trout.
It isn't really close and our writers agreed.
And our full balloting:
. . .
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Neil Weinberg is a writer and editor at Beyond The Box Score, contributor to Gammons Daily, and can also be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter at @NeilWeinberg44.