By Grant Larsen, AngelsWin.com Baseball Columnist -
For starters, sorry about the delay. My other obligations were a little too demanding over the last couple of weeks.
When trying to determine the MVP of each league there are many different possible scenarios to consider. Should we consider the best player on the best team? Maybe the player putting up huge numbers on a bad team? Do we focus on old school stats or put more emphasis on the new school thinking?
To me when we are talking about MVP, which is acronym for most valuable player, we are looking for the player that is the most valuable to their respective team. That’s just my take.
Furthermore, I understand how important it is to have an ace in a rotation, a player that can keep winning streaks going and put a stop to losing ones. There is no doubt that a player like this is important to a team.
That being said, I just have a hard justifying that a player that pitches every five days is more valuable that a player that takes the field every day. More importantly, pitchers have the Cy Young. Again, just my take.
This race seems to be much less interesting than the NL race. It’s really just a matter of Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout vs. Chris Davis. As impressed as I am with the season Chris Davis has had, the stats just don’t quite hold up compared to the other two. Or do they. I did try to go out and make a case for each of them. Each of these guys are nearly irreplaceable and are the most valuable piece to their respective teams.
I would have considered either Felix Hernandez and/or Max Scherzer into this argument until each of them were hammered this week raising each of their ERAs dramatically and displacing them realistically from this conversation.
The same argument that was made last year can be made for the talented outfielder this year. He has the ability to influence the game in many more ways than either Chris Davis or Miguel Cabrera. When determining the MVP we must seriously consider the all around play of the players on the field.
Why Mike Trout could win:
Encompassing all the things he does into one value is his best weapon. He’s near the top in base running, stolen bases, home runs, OPS, walks, RBI, XBH, and the list can go on forever. He does everything very well.
I think the biggest argument for Trout is his WAR, which is 8.8 at this point and leads baseball. I realize many people are very hesitant to accept this tool but it allows us to value one player against another in a way the takes into account all aspects of the game and year after year it's generally pretty accurate.
His BsR (base running value) remains in the top 3 and the amount of damage he has the ability to do once on the bases is electric. By taking an extra base, stealing a base, or distracting a pitcher, he can be a disturbance to opposing teams and a major benefit to his. 29 out of 33 attempts stealing bases is quite efficient but the number remains below that of last year.
Why it should be someone else:
His defense has not been the same exceptional defense from last year evidenced by his negative UZR and DRS, number of runs saved/allowed through defense and runs above or below average respectively, scores.
More importantly, he trails Miguel Cabrera and/or Chris Davis in almost all of the counting stats. He has fewer home runs, RBI, and runs scored (surprisingly). He also trails them in two of my favorite stats, wOBA and wRC+.
His season, albeit very very good, has been less spectacular than last year and last year he lost out to Cabrera. Meanwhile, Cabrera is having a year that will seemingly be an improvement over last year’s numbers. My guess is, based on this information and the fact that the Angels are less than irrelevant, it’s going to someone else.
Chris Davis is having an extraordinary season and I am truly happy for him given the direction his career seemed to be treading when he was traded away for peanuts a few years ago. He is doing it in the middle of a potent lineup and in the midst of a pennant race in a tough division.
Why Chris Davis could win:
For one he leads the MLB in home runs with 47 and right behind Cabrera in runs and RBI. Cabrera is banged up and was lifted during a game against Oakland, which may help Davis catch him in these two categories.
He also leads baseball in WPA, which values how much a player affects their team and the probability that they will win the game given events involving the player. It’s a complicated stat but what I like about it is the emphasis it puts on important circumstances in a game and plays that make a difference in the outcome. Fangraphs also has him listed as the number 1 clutch hitter in baseball.
He is only .001 behind Cabrera in SLG but his isolated power exceeds Cabrera by a ton lifted heavily by the amount of XBH's Davis has this year, which leads the league. To put it into perspective, Chris Davis has as many XBH's to this point in the season as Miguel Cabrera had all of last year, in his MVP season. He is on pace to hit 100 extra base hits for only 16th time in MLB history and the first since 2001 when the feat was accomplished 4 times (huh, I wonder why?).
Why it should be someone else:
For starters, his WAR is below that of Trout and Cabrera. He is striking out far more than either of the other two players eliminating opportunities for teammates to make play by balls that could otherwise be put in play (e.g. sacrifices or errors). His batting average pales in comparison to the other two and his patience at the plate needs improvement.
His defense is below average at first base based on statistics but his manager claims that he deserves a gold glove for the work he does digging out balls. Statistics can certainly lie but based on what I have seen his defense is working against him.
I like what he has done, and I think subconsciously I hope he wins. Every interview I see he says all the right things, and he's clearly a big fan of the game. He has a great story to accompany this season after struggling early in his career and I think his performance this year makes a great case for him deserving the MVP award. I believe he is currently behind Cabrera in the race but I certainly wouldn't sleep on him. If he catches fire in the process of pushing his team to a playoff berth while Cabrera nurses injuries the award could quickly switch hands.
Look, the bottom line is that we may witness the first hitter in the history of major league baseball to put together back-to-back Triple Crowns; and would become one of only three players to have two. I understand there is the argument from the stat people around baseball that the Triple Crown is useless, and I find that ridiculous.
Once upon a time this game was a little simpler and it became America’s national pastime with simple stats like these. There’s a certain level of historic appreciation that should be given to someone that collects a Triple Crown when it has been done so infrequently. I believe its rarity creates value and will forever be worshipped as a great achievement.
Why Cabrera deserves the MVP:
Well, it’s simple really he leads the league in runs, RBI, AVG, OPS, wOBA, and runs created plus. He’s also has the most amount of walks in the AL and his walk rate is nearly equal to his K%, which to me is absolutely amazing. I appreciate guys that get on base and give teammates the opportunity to make plays on the base path by putting the baseball in play. Strikeouts take away any chance of that.
I want to focus on wRC+ because I think this is a compelling argument for his claim on the MVP award. wRC+ measures the percentage of runs created for a player above the league average, which is an artificially created value. Cabrera leads baseball with a 204 wRC+. That tells us that he creates 104% more runs than the average player. That is an extremely large and impressive stat. The next closes player is Chris Davis with a 182 wRC+. He is the first player, if you don’t count a few steroid filled McGwire and Bonds seasons, in nearly 20 years to post a wRC+ north of 200.
Why someone else deserves it:
Surprisingly, I found a few reasons to consider a more deserving player. His fielding percentage this year is at one of the worst points in his career at a disappointing .952. His UZR score of -14.6, the second lowest of his career, places him far below the average third baseman. He doesn’t have the excuse of switching positions this year and his fielding numbers have fallen well below last year’s numbers. I believe there should have been improvement.
From an offensive standpoint it really comes down to base running. It is a major weakness. I watch him consistently hit the ball into the gaps in left center and right center and hustle out singles that would have been doubles by many other players including Davis and Trout. To me those could turn into lost runs. My theory was backed up by his BsR stat of -1.5. His clutch value from Fangraphs is also negative telling us many of his big hits come at irrelevant points in the game (e.g. blowouts).
I seriously believe that Cabrera is a once in a generation player and his demeanor and joy on the field make me wish I was there with him. He has a passion for the game and leaves it all out on the field. I think it would be great for baseball if he could land the Triple Crown again and I sincerely hope he does.
My concern rests with his health. He’s beat up and trying to play through it but at some point the Tigers are going to have to allow him to rest, particularly if they maintain a comfortable lead in the Central. If that happens, he’s not catching Davis in the Home Run sweepstakes and may lose the MVP in the process. Davis is in the middle of a heated pennant race and will be leaned on heavily down the stretch. If he delivers, we will have a major MVP debate on our hands. For now, Cabrera is the MVP.
I think Cabrera is having a magical season and if he continues to put up the gaudy numbers the MVP award is his. If injuries persist I think Chris Davis will develop a big time case for his claim. If you take either of these guys out of their lineups the playoff picture is dramatically affected. If you take Trout out of the Angels lineup my guess is they are still battling for third or fourth in the West. I think Trout is the most talented player in the world and his time will come. The scariest thing for the rest of the league is I believe he is just warming up. For now, I believe it's between Davis and Cabrera.
The NL column will follow shortly....