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Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera? The next Willie Mays or the veteran slugger? WAR or Triple Crown?In the one corner you’ve got the statistics community that points to Trout’s all-around play: he’s hitting .327 with 27 home runs, 46 stolen bases, and gold glove defence. In the other corner, you’ve got the baseball traditionalists that note how Cabrera is leading the AL in hitting (.333) and has 41 home runs, just one behind the leader.
The Sabermetrics community will say RBI is a dumb stat (it is) and will point to Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a stat that measures a player’s all-around play, and note that Trout (10.2 WAR) is lapping Cabrera (6.5). But anybody that uses WAR as their only criteria for judging a baseball player’s contributions are just as silly as those that ignore the stat completely. While it may be the best stat available, it is not infallible, which means it should be the starting point, not the finish line.
So the questions become:
How much value do we place on defence? Even the stats community will recognise that Cabrera has been a better offensive player this season. And clearly Trout is the better defensive player, playing a much more important position (CF). WAR takes all of that into consideration. But defensive metrics are still in their infancy, and show questionable results at times. And is Trout’s superior defence valuable enough to overcome Cabrera’s superior bat? WAR says “yes.” But is WAR overvaluing defence in general? Maybe.
How much value do we place on games in September? WAR doesn’t care if you hit a home run in the 9th inning of a 12-0 game in April or in the 9th inning of a 3-3 game in September. And while many place too much emphasis on players being “clutch,” there is something to be said about a guy’s “value” if he is producing in September when a trip to the playoffs is on the line. And as we saw yesterday, Cabrera is trending up this month, while Trout is moving in the opposite direction.
So who is right? Just depends on your own criteria. If you think overall performance over the course of the season is the most important factor, Trout is probably your guy. But if you think that defence is a valuable, yet possibly overrated criteria, and think playing well when it matters most is important, then there is a legitimate argument to made for Cabrera.
In other words, both are viable candidates, and just because the other side uses different criteria, doesn’t necessarily make them wrong.
Data via Baseball-Reference.com
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