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November 19, 2015

Rubbing Mud

Overlooking Trout

by Matthew Trueblood

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You can’t get me terribly excited about any award other than the MVP anymore. I have dreams (Kevin Goldstein’s Hall of Fame-level crazy dreams) for the Rookie of the Year, but in its present form, I find it pretty boring. Manager of the Year is preposterous for reasons sufficiently documented elsewhere. The Cy Young Award has only gotten more interesting over the past few years, now that it tends not be about squabbles over win-loss records, but (maybe because of whatever traumatic experience with pitching in my childhood prevents me from appreciating it as much as so many of you do) it leaves me flat.

I still get up for the MVP, though, which is why it’s so strange to me to see no one having much of a conversation about the reveal of the MVPs on Thursday night. In particular, what strikes me is that there’s a hesitant consensus that Josh Donaldson is going to win the AL MVP, and there’s very little resistance or objection to that floating around. The throwaway line copied almost word-for-word from so many columnists’ blog posts and bloggers’ columns is: “There’s no wrong answer, but Donaldson will probably win.”

Well, I think there is a wrong answer, actually, and Donaldson is it. Mike Trout has been the rightful (and fairly clear) MVP of the American League in all four of his full big-league seasons, but he could find out, on Thursday night, that he must settle for one MVP trophy and three runner-up finishes. It’s getting a little ridiculous, and it’s thoroughly bizarre that Donaldson has so much more sabermetric support than Miguel Cabrera ever had. If anything, Cabrera was (especially in 2013) more deserving than Donaldson.

Of course, that’s not the story you’ll read if you pull up the WAR leaderboards on Baseball Reference or FanGraphs. They show Donaldson and Trout more or less neck-and-beefy neck, with less than a win separating them in each formulation of WAR. By Prospectus’ WARP, though, Trout leaves Donaldson in the dust. In fact, WARP pegs Trout for 10.0 wins, and Donaldson for only 7.6. Instead of seeing them as a two-man tier set apart from the league, WARP views Trout as a man alone on a pedestal and Donaldson as just a rounding error better than Manny Machado.

That’s not the only place where WARP zigs and the WARs zag, so instead of simply claiming the superiority of one system over the others, I decided to line up the top 50 players under each value metric and look for interesting cases. Trout and Donaldson are just one cross-section of this.

Top 50 Players by WAR(P), 2015

Baseball Prospectus WARP

Baseball Reference WAR

FanGraphs WAR

Bryce Harper – 11.0

Bryce Harper – 9.9

Bryce Harper – 9.5

Mike Trout – 10.0

Mike Trout – 9.4

Mike Trout – 9.0

Paul Goldschmidt – 9.3

Zack Greinke – 9.3

Josh Donaldson – 8.7

Buster Posey – 8.3

Josh Donaldson – 8.8

Clayton Kershaw – 8.6

Clayton Kershaw – 7.6

Paul Goldschmidt – 8.8

Paul Goldschmidt – 7.4

Joey Votto – 7.6

Jake Arrieta – 8.6

Joey Votto – 7.4

Zack Greinke – 7.6

Joey Votto – 7.6

Jake Arrieta – 7.3

Josh Donaldson – 7.6

Clayton Kershaw – 7.5

Manny Machado – 6.8

Jake Arrieta – 7.4

Kevin Kiermaier – 7.4

Yoenis Cespedes – 6.7

Nolan Arenado – 7.4

A.J. Pollock – 7.4

A.J. Pollock – 6.6

Manny Machado – 7.3

Dallas Keuchel – 7.2

Lorenzo Cain – 6.6

Lorenzo Cain – 6.8

Lorenzo Cain – 7.2

Kris Bryant – 6.5

Dallas Keuchel – 6.2

Manny Machado – 7.1

David Price – 6.4

Yoenis Cespedes – 6.2

Max Scherzer – 7.0

Max Scherzer – 6.4

Max Scherzer – 6.2

Jason Heyward – 6.5

Chris Sale – 6.2

Kris Bryant – 6.0

Yoenis Cespedes – 6.3

Dallas Keuchel – 6.1

A.J. Pollock – 5.7

Anthony Rizzo – 6.3

Jason Heyward – 6.0

David Price – 5.6

Buster Posey – 6.1

Zack Greinke – 5.9

Sonny Gray – 5.6

Mookie Betts – 6.0

Andrew McCutchen – 5.8

Jason Heyward – 5.5

David Price – 6.0

Buster Posey – 5.7

Curtis Granderson – 5.4

Ian Kinsler – 6.0

Chris Davis – 5.6

Nelson Cruz – 5.4

Sonny Gray – 5.8

Kevin Kiermaier – 5.5

Anthony Rizzo – 5.4

Adrian Beltre – 5.8

Corey Kluber – 5.5

Mookie Betts – 5.1

Nolan Arenado – 5.7

Anthony Rizzo – 5.5

Kevin Kiermaier – 5.0

Brandon Crawford – 5.6

Gerrit Cole – 5.4

David Peralta – 4.9

John Lackey – 5.6

Chris Archer – 5.3

Chris Archer – 4.9

Ender Inciarte – 5.3

Matt Carpenter – 5.2

Matt Carpenter – 4.9

Starling Marte – 5.3

Jacob deGrom – 5.2

Miguel Cabrera – 4.8

Miguel Cabrera – 5.2

Jason Kipnis – 5.2

Cole Hamels – 4.8

Nelson Cruz – 5.2

Madison Bumgarner – 5.1

Andrew McCutchen – 4.8

Chris Davis – 5.2

Curtis Granderson – 5.1

Todd Frazier – 4.7

Kevin Pillar – 5.2

J.D. Martinez – 5.0

Brandon Crawford – 4.7

Jose Bautista – 5.1

Jon Lester – 5.0

Brandon Belt – 4.7

Logan Forsythe – 5.1

Matt Duffy – 4.9

Kyle Seager – 4.7

Curtis Granderson – 5.1

Jose Quintana – 4.8

Edwin Encarnacion – 4.7

J.D. Martinez – 5.0

Nelson Cruz – 4.8

Adam Eaton – 4.7

Madison Bumgarner – 4.9

Carlos Carrasco – 4.8

Francisco Cervelli – 4.7

Matt Duffy – 4.9

Mookie Betts – 4.8

Shelby Miller – 4.6

Dee Gordon – 4.9

Brandon Crawford – 4.7

Mike Moustakas – 4.6

Andrew McCutchen – 4.8

Adrian Beltre – 4.6

Jose Bautista – 4.6

Jacob deGrom – 4.7

Dee Gordon – 4.6

Shin-Soo Choo – 4.6

Edwin Encarnacion – 4.7

Edwin Encarnacion – 4.5

Jacob deGrom – 4.5

Xander Bogaerts – 4.6

Nolan Arenado – 4.5

Yasmani Grandal – 4.5

Jason Kipnis – 4.6

Jose Bautista – 4.5

Corey Kluber – 4.5

Francisco Lindor – 4.6

Tyson Ross – 4.4

Adrian Gonzalez – 4.5

Jose Altuve – 4.5

Todd Frazier – 4.4

Dee Gordon – 4.3

Gerrit Cole – 4.5

Matt Harvey – 4.4

Gerrit Cole – 4.3

Felix Hernandez – 4.4

Miguel Cabrera – 4.3

Justin Turner – 4.3

Mike Moustakas – 4.4

Jose Altuve – 4.3

Giancarlo Stanton – 4.2

Cole Hamels – 4.4

Brandon Belt – 4.3

Tot. P: 13 Avg. WARP: 5.7

Tot. P: 13 Avg. WAR: 5.7

Tot. P: 17 Avg. WAR: 5.7

Tot. Pos.: 37 Avg. WARP: 5.6

Tot. Pos.: 37 Avg. WAR: 6.0

Tot. Pos.: 33 Avg. WAR: 5.7


There’s nothing terribly complicated about the discrepancy between the three models, where Trout and Donaldson are concerned. Here’s how the three systems valued their various skills.

Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson, 2015 Batting Runs

Player

BRAA (Prospectus)

Rbat (B-Ref)

wRAA (FanGraphs)

Mike Trout

62.1

59

55.4

Josh Donaldson

44.3

45

48.0


2015 Fielding Runs

Player

FRAA (Prospectus)

DRS (B-Ref)

UZR (FanGraphs)

Mike Trout

11.1

5

0.2

Josh Donaldson

4.4

11

9.2


2015 Baserunning Runs

Player

BRR (Prospectus)

Rbaser (B-Ref)

BsR (FanGraphs)

Mike Trout

1.6

-1

3.3

Josh Donaldson

4.0

1

4.0


There’s definitely a gap between the three metrics in the way they value these two players’ bats. Trout’s .353 True Average easily outstrips Donaldson’s .324. The gap there isn’t proportionate to the gap between them in the other offensive metrics. Trout played his games in tougher parks (his Batter Park Factor was 98; Donaldson’s was 103), and faced tougher opposing pitchers (his opponent RPA+ was 99; Donaldson’s was 101). Still, the jump-off-the-page difference is in the three evaluations of each player’s defense. Because FRAA operates somewhat differently than do UZR and DRS, it frequently diverges from them significantly. In this case, FRAA gives Trout a seven-run edge on Donaldson with the leather, whereas DRS sees Donaldson as six runs better, and UZR has him ahead by nine runs. That’s hard to reconcile, and it’s especially hard to say which model we should most trust.

I will say, though, that I trust TAv’s respective evaluations of the two players’ bats much more than the others sites’ metrics. More broadly, where WARP likes a player significantly better or worse than the other WAR models, it’s often because of some adjustment (like opponent quality and park factors) that Prospectus handles better than the others. For instance, and keep an eye on this when the NL MVP balloting comes out Thursday night: Buster Posey. Since Prospectus has folded catcher framing and blocking into WARP, there are some guys whose full value is now captured there, but not elsewhere. Posey is roughly a six-win player, per Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, and a fringe top-10 MVP candidate. WARP has him at 8.3 wins, though, and places only Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt above him in the NL. Posey will show up on some ballots, but probably won’t come close to claiming third in the balloting (in fact, we know that he won’t, since he’s not even among the finalists for the award).

Obviously, there are other differences worthy of your attention. Notice how FanGraphs’ choice to zero in on the outcomes pitchers can most control changes the makeup of their top-50 WAR list. Look at the number of outliers who leap onto the bWAR list on the strength of defense. (FRAA credited five players with at least 18 runs saved defensively this year. UZR only had three players at that level. DRS had 15.)

There are better and more scientific ways to capture those phenomena, though. Just remember, on Thursday night, that Trout is the rightful AL MVP, even if only one flavor of WAR can see it.

Matthew Trueblood is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

Related Content:  Mike Trout,  Josh Donaldson,  Al Mvp

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