The sudden shock and anger among sabermetric gurus over Los Angeles Angels sensation Mike Trout being snubbed for the 2012 American League Most Valuable Player Award to Detroit Tiger Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera is not a surprise.
It does show, however, a basic misunderstanding of how these awards work.
Trout’s 171 OPS+ and oWAR of 8.6 are downright gaudy.
For a 21-year-old kid to have a season that saw him lead the league in runs scored, hit 30 homers and steal 49 bases is amazing. He certainly was a legitimate candidate to be the third player in AL history to pull the double of winning the MVP and Rookie of the Year Award.
Unlike Fred Lynn in 1975 with the Boston Red Sox and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 with the Seattle Mariners, Trout did not contribute these numbers to a playoff team. That right there is the basic crux of the argument.
The Angels did win one more game than the Tigers, but they finished four games out of a playoff spot many had thought they would take this year. They also finished 14 games ahead of Seattle for last place in the AL West.
For those who are outraged by this decision, are you seriously suggesting that without Trout, the Angels finish just above the Mariners or behind them? Seriously?
The MVP award—contrary to what you might read and hear—is not the equal of a pitcher’s Cy Young Award. They are not designed to honor the game’s best offensive player. It is intended, however, to credit the player whose contribution to his team reach a goal—making the playoffs.
The Tigers were a playoff team—barely—and they probably would have not caught the Chicago White Sox without Cabrera’s contribution, Triple Crown or not.
Cabrera posted an OPS+ of 165 and an oWAR of 7.4. That is a mighty fine season right there.
If you want to make the argument that Trout was a better hitter this year, then you would have a better case, though I would take Cabrera’s 98 strikeouts over Trout’s 130 in a heartbeat.
There is a reason why only two players in Major League Baseball history have won the MVP from a last-place team (Andre Dawson for the 1987 Chicago Cubs and Alex Rodriguez in 2003 for the Texas Rangers). One would be really hard-pressed to say that a team would still be a last-place team despite the efforts of player X.
Should the BBWAA establish a best hitter award?
The Baseball Writers' Association of America clearly has set a precedence spanning for decades on what they consider the criteria to be to establish the most valuable player, and Trout did not meet their standard by a healthy margin.
If you want to argue that we need the equal for hitters of a Cy Young, then bring it on. A Babe Ruth or Willie Mays Award would be a great idea.
With all these metrics that can break down numbers to say whatever we want them to, we tend to forget the only statistic that really matters is wins. The Tigers won enough to win their division and the Angels won enough to finish third.
*Statistics via Baseball Reference.