Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera is statistically the best hitter in the American League. The man put up numbers this past season that only players such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig can say they’ve reached.
The best hitter, however, is not necessarily the best player.
Even though “Miggy” became the first Major League Baseball player to win the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, the best player statistically in the American League, and in all of baseball, is Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout.
Trout is special in every kind of way on a baseball field. With “tools” that rival the greatest players to have ever played and a smile and a swagger to boot, the kid is emotional and loves to play the game.
He is known for highlight reel catches, stealing bases, hitting home runs, taking an extra base, hustling on every play…the list goes on. Cabrera cannot do these things. He is a great hitter, but he is a slow runner. His defense is average at best, and he can tend to be lazy on the field.
The big debate going on is whether a Triple Crown should earn Cabrera the American League MVP over Trout. There are relatively new baseball stats, known commonly as “sabermetrics” that show the overall value of Trout to be much greater than Cabrera.
A stat known as WAR (Wins Above Replacement) shows the approximate number of wins a player accounts for above the league average at his position. Trout registered a WAR of 10.7, which was 2.5 above second place, Robinson Cano of the Yankees. Cabrera ranked sixth on this list.
The stat of WAR was created by the authors of Baseball Prospectus, a website with a slew of columnists devoted to the sabermetric analysis of baseball.
“WAR is a complicated statistic. On offense, WAR measures raw production. Walks, singles, doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases are all assigned values based on the number of runs each outcome has produced historically,” said Sean Gregory of TIME Entertainment. “The more home runs you hit, for example, the better your score. WAR tries to strip out statistics that depend on events beyond a player’s control.
“For example, RBI don’t figure into the formula: sure, Cabrera has 139 RBI, to Trout’s 83. But Trout is a leadoff hitter, so he has fewer opportunities to drive players home,” said Gregory.
“In WAR, a solo home run is worth as much as a grand-slam, since a player surrounded by good hitters might have more opportunities to hit grand slams than a players whose teammates stink at getting on base,” said Gregory.
WAR also consummates a player’s range factor and abilities on defense as well as a player’s speed and ability to steal bases.
It should be noted that in the Triple Crown categories – batting average, homeruns and runs batted in – Cabrera led Trout – (.330/44/139), Trout (.326/30/83). So Cabrera had a fairly significant lead in two categories, but keep in mind Trout was in the minor leagues until April 28, nearly a month into the season. If Trout were projected out over the amount of games Cabrera played in (162), Trout’s line would look like this: (.326/36/100).
This is still not what Cabrera had, but let’s look at other categories Trout excels in that Cabrera does not. Trout had 49 stolen bases, which projects to 59 in 162 games. Trout had a league-leading 129 runs scored, which projects to an unprecedented 155 in 162 games.
That mark would have obliterated baseball’s modern era record, which started in 1969. Former Oakland Athletic, Rickey Henderson with 130, holds the mark. Think about that: Trout was one run scored shy of the modern day record and he didn’t play essentially the first month of the season.
“Out of date” statistics favor Cabrera as the American League MVP, while “new school” statistics are definitely favoring Trout.
The vote will be conducted after the playoffs in late October/early November to determine who was the most valuable.