The biggest case against Mike Trout's AL MVP candidacy could be summed up in two words: Hanley Ramirez.
Not the Hanley Ramirez right now but the Hanley Ramirez of 2007 in his sophomore season. He went batted .332 29 homers, 51 stolen base, .948 OPS, which are very similar to Trout's number this year. He wasn't even a serious MVP candidate that year. Sure the Marlins stunk it up and missed the playoff, but he had a far inferior supporting cast than the Angels team this year that also missed the playoff. Hanley Ramirez played shortstop full-time while Trout played a less gruelling position at centerfield. Hanley Ramirez played 154 games. Trout played only 139 games.
I repeat: Hanley Ramirez was 10th in the voting in 2007. He was not a serious candidate in 2007, 2008 or 2009.
“I think on-base percentage is an overrated stat,” Dwayne Murphy said flatly. “Those guys getting on base, most of them aren’t getting them in. Give me somebody who drives them in after that. I need guys who can drive the ball.”
A couple of years ago, I read this account of Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy's philosophy. He told his guys to forget about OBP (the Billy Beane moneyball obsession) and just rake away at hittable fastballs. He understood not everyone could be as disciplined as Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds, and unleashed the full potential of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
“There’s no defense,” manager Cito Gaston said, “against the trot.”
Who should win this year's AL MVP?
Former manager and Blue Jays legend Cito Gaston fully endorsed Murphy's anti-sabermetric anti-Moneyball philosophy. The takeaway is clear: you could be dead last in walks, OBP and batting average, yet among the first in runs (the only offensive stats that really matters) just by raking at hittable fastballs (often resulting in home runs or extra base hits).
Ask yourself this, would you rather have Daric Barton or Edwin Encarnacion?
I don't have a lot of friends over at sabermetrics enthusiasts sites such as Fangraph and Baseball Prospectus due to my low opinion of defensive metrics such as UZR and sabermetric stats like WAR and on-base percentage. Both sites are major Miguel Cabrera bashers. I read Yahoo's Jeff Passan's passionate case for Mike Trout and quite frankly, it just does not quite apply to real baseball.
Longtime baseball fans all know that just because you put the most guys on base, it doesn't mean you would score the most runs. Longtime baseball fans know that just because you have the biggest run differential, it doesn't mean you would have the best record in baseball. Plenty of teams that have the biggest run differential didn't even make the playoffs.
Teams that made it to the World Series in recent years often scoff at UZR and WAR. Exhibit A was the 2010 champion San Francisco Giants bringing in two DHs (Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen) from the AL to play left and right field during the stretch run to sneak into the playoff. This blog criticized GM Brian Sabean's decision to put "a water buffalo in Pat Burrell over in left and a human snail in Jose Guillen over in right." Yet it turns out defense did not matter all that much.
When the Cardinals signed Lance Berkman in 2011 after he DH-ed for the Yankees during the second half in 2010, UZR and WAR enthusiasts said no way. He hadn't played outfield in four years. Once again, the Cardinals won the World Series with Berkman being a major contributor that season.
Exhibit C is this year's Tigers. The Tigers have been criticized for years for not giving a damn about the "run prevention" trend. Jhnonny Peralta became their starting shortstop after he had been moved to third base in Cleveland.; Magglio Ordonez was still roaming the outfield last year; Ryan Raburn usually gets a lot of playing time at second base post All-Star break; Victor Martinez caught a lot of games before Alex Avila's rise to prominence.
All of them are considered "butchers in the field." This year they inexplicably signed the 275-pound Prince Fielder to play first base while moving Miguel Cabrera, widely considered another "butcher," back to his old position at third. He last played the position five years ago.
Time and again, results have demonstrated that team success is not correlated to defense/fielding. That good starting pitching (an amazing staff led by Justin Verlander) is the best defense, that run prevention is a myth, that run-producing is not necessarily correlated with on-base percentage or any "Moneyball" stats, that WAR is a joke that overrates the defense's impact on winning.
Over the course of a season, the difference between a good fielder and a bad fielder is minuscule. Sure, it is always dejecting to watch someone botch a routine play, but they matter little in the big picture of 162 regular-season games.
Guys on Fangraphs have been trying to push perfectly adequate fielders to full-time DH roles. In their world, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez should all be DH, bench bats or out of the league altogether.
In their world, Brendan Ryan is more valuable than Derek Jeter. Hell, they don't even think Derek Jeter, five championships and 3,304 hits (10th all time) should be in the Hall of Fame.
Don't get me wrong, I love Mike Trout. I live in Southern California and watched him play this past year. He will get his shot sometime. It's just not this year. We used the same playoff argument when Ryan Braun beat Matt Kemp last year despite the failed drug test. The bottom line is this: How bad would the Tigers be without Cabrera?
The Angels would be fine without Trout since they have Albert Pujols, Torii Hunter, Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo in their everyday lineup. The Angels were pegged as contender in March before Trout had been called up. The rookie outfielder simply did not make such a big winning impact to be named AL MVP.
Cabrera was more clutch. Cabrera played more games. Just like Alfonso Soriano did not win when he joined the 40-40 club back in 2006 with the Nationals, Trout's stats (even though stolen bases are overrated, defense doesn't matter) won't lift him to MVP status. They simply don't trump traditional stats such as winning the Triple Crown.
I don't care what WAR says how bad a player Miguel Cabrera is. He is the AL MVP this year whether sabermetricians like it or not.
And it shouldn't even be close.