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September 13, 2013

Baseball Therapy

My MVP Case for Miguel Cabrera

by Russell A. Carleton


It’s getting to be time for the AL MVP argument. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Mike Trout is on his way to putting up a 10-win season, while Miguel Cabrera is without a doubt the best hitter in the league and leading in batting average and RBIs. If only Chris Davis hadn’t ruined everything by hitting all those home runs. And like last time, this is shaping up to be an argument (dare I say, a WAR) between new-school and old-school understandings of baseball value.

Generally, the line from the traditionalist view is that WARP is a questionable stat. Sure, it’s nice, but it doesn’t have any tradition behind it and it takes a few minutes to explain and a couple hours to do the gory math. I think we need to resign ourselves to the fact that the writers who vote on these awards aren’t looking at WARP. I know that there will be guffaws, but many of the writers will be looking at (and voting by) the “traditional” numbers, along with some additional “intangibles.”

Maybe instead of fighting over this again, we should instead take some time to appreciate how good Miguel Cabrera has been in 2013, starting with the phrase “even better than last year.” Yes, some of these criteria are silly, but below I’ve taken some of the commonly used arguments for why Miguel Cabrera should be MVP and assembled some mind-blowing numbers. After looking them over, I can’t honestly fault any writer who looks at these and says, “Yeah, that’s an MVP. He gets my vote.”

The WARP smell test
I said I wasn’t going to use WARP, but I think even the traditionalists would allow that WARP (and its cousins at other sites) can serve as a good filter for who should be in the conversation. And yes, while WARP loves Trout, it consistently has Cabrera near the top of the list as well. Cabrera doesn’t make a silly choice for MVP.

Performance in key situations
There’s no doubt that Cabrera has turned it up a notch in key situations this year. In situations ranked as very high leverage by our friends at FanGraphs, Miguel Cabrera leads the league in batting average (.468), OBP (.559), slugging percentage (.894). He’s second in hits in these situations (22 to Eric Hosmer’s 23), but then again, he’s been walked intentionally seven times (the most) in these situations to Hosmer’s once. Those seven IBBs in key situations would put Cabrera behind a few National Leaguers (Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen, Joey Votto, Andre Ethier), but none of them is eligible for AL MVP. It’s clear that people fear Miguel Cabrera in key situations. Speaking of which…

Fear
Miguel Cabrera trails David Ortiz (23) overall in intentional passes, but not by much. In fact, Cabrera is only one of six guys in double digits in IBBs. It is true that pitchers, whether they should or not, circle certain names to avoid on the lineup card. Cabrera’s 16 intentional passes leads his team. The next closest number on that list is four. Whose name do you think gets circled when teams come to Comerica Park?

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Related Content:  MVP,  Robinson Cano,  Mike Trout,  Miguel Cabrera,  Al Mvp

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