Finding the true meaning of MVP: Analyzing the 2012 AL MVP

English: Miguel Cabrera

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A hotly debated topic among my baseball friends has been the discussion of whether or not Miguel Cabrera is the AL MVP. Interestingly, it almost seems like an overwhelming majority of the public thinks that Cabrera MUST win if he wins the triple crown. I saw a poll on ESPN this morning that shows just how brainwashed the general public is about the stats that they’ve known their whole lives. Am I surprised? Not really.

Even when I have had individual discussions with people regarding the facts behind why Mike Trout is the clear and overwhelming favorite, I face a ton of resistance with one underlying theme: “He HAS to be the MVP, he’s going to win the triple crown!” Believe it or not, we once thought the earth was flat. We even used to be able to live without Facebook. I know, shocking! All sarcasm aside, what people need to consider is the actual award and what it stands for.


[val-yoo-uh-buhl, -yuh-buhl]


1. having considerable monetary worth; costing or bringing ahigh price: a valuable painting; a valuable crop.

Something that needs to be considered when looking at the MVP discussion is how much that player is being paid vs. what his actual performance is for that particular season. MLB salaries haven’t been a secret for many years, so much like sabermetrics tell us about performance, lets start to use all of the available information to us. I work in advertising in my day job. A big proponent of what advertising vehicle you choose to use is by the value it has to your business. You assess that value by determining the cost to reach X% of your target market. If a certain medium reaches a large portion of your target market, you’re creating value and ROI for  your business by using that instead of something that misses your demo entirely.
You may be saying “hey, the player doesn’t control how much money he makes! That’s the agent’s job!” You’d be right in that, but front offices are determining a players value at all times. The Red Sox determined that Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford were not performing up to their relative cost, and likely will not perform at a level that’s consistent with what they are getting paid. Once you make that decision, it’s your job to find value in other ways to create a better product on the field. With that said, the point is that when a player outperforms his compensation, he’s created value for his team.
ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 08:  Centerfielder Mike Tro...

Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife

Now the actual $/WAR equation is incredibly complicated and still being worked on. It’s likely we will never find a true “solved” version of this because we are still dealing with human beings. After all, baseball isn’t played on a spreadsheet. When looking at value in a business sense, you wouldn’t find anyone more truly valuable in the game compared to Mike Trout. Looking at pure $/WAR, Trout is at $480,000/9.5WAR (Fangraphs). Cabrera rings in at $21,000,000/6.7.

Trout: $50,526 per win above replacement level.
Cabrera: $3,134,328 per win above replacement level.
Trout’s salary is going to skyrocket when he hits arbitration, there’s no doubt about that. Is it fair to look at it this way? Probably not to the player. However that’s pretty irrelevant because we’re looking at value. Even if you look at it from a pure production standpoint, you’re still going with the better player if you pick Trout. RBI’s don’t matter people, because neither Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera are responsible for the players getting on base. They’re also not able to somehow “raise their game” when players are on base either. Don’t believe me? It’s okay because the numbers tell the story over plenty big enough of a sample size.
In the end, it’s the writers who decide who wins the award. All I can hope is they learn along with us and relay that information to the masses in a way they can understand. I’ve come to enjoy the game in a totally new perspective through a more honest evaluation. Hopefully the rest of the world will too some day.
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  1. @bobbleheadguru

    September 28, 2012 at 10:36 am

    1. According to the defensive component of WAR:

    – Derek Jeter is the worst SS by far in baseball.
    – Jhonny Peralta is the 2nd best at SS.
    – Omar Infante is the 4th best at 2B.

    Does this make any sense? Jeter has a knack for “intangibles” and is likely to be a top vote getter for MVP, despite his horrid defensive WAR.

    Anyone who has actually watched Peralta and Infante play would say that at best, they are both average defenders.

    WAR… What is it good for?

    2. Also by your computation, the Rookie of the Year most years should also win MVP. ROY is likely to have a much lower salary than the best player in the league so the ratio is likely to always favor the ROY. The only exception I can think of is Ichiro.

    Why not just eliminate the MVP and just make the ROY the MVP?

    3. There are only three stats in baseball that measure players crossing the plate… HRs, Runs and RBIs. OBP, Hits, doubles, triples, steals are all superfluous if a run is not scored.

    In the AL, Cabrera is 1st in RBI, 2nd in HRs and 2nd in Runs. Trout is 1st in Runs….15th in HRs and 25th in RBI (behind, among others, Kyle Seager).

    • Bill King

      September 28, 2012 at 12:31 pm

      Thanks for responding! I have some thoughts on your comments, let me know what you think.

      1. Jeter being a terrible fielder isn’t a secret and hasn’t been for some time. He has always led in Fielding%, but that’s a stat that tells only part of the story. Jeter has well below average range at his position. If you can’t get to the balls other SS can, then your fielding% isn’t very useful.

      Jeter’s intangibles on the field are an inaccurate observation made by the media. Jeter’s off-field intangibles aren’t part of the MVP discussion, nor should they be.

      You actually hit on something that isn’t talked about often, because Jhonny Peralta has really amp’d up his defensive value since 2010, compiling a 13.8 UZR/150 in 2012. Jeter has compiled a -15.9 UZR/150 in 2012. Not much of an argument there since that’s a landslide victory on defense for Peralta.

      The thing with WAR that you always need to consider is that it’s a compilation of several parts. If you want to find the true answer and dig deeper, you need to take this into account and look at the individual components.

      2. I didn’t say the best player with the lowest payroll should win MVP. I said salary compared to production should be a part of the consideration. If a player is being paid to produce X value on the field and accomplishes that, then what has he really accomplished for his team/organization? Furthermore, when a player performs significantly worse than his salary (not considering his marketing value), that should also be considered.

      A good example of this is a guy like Buster Posey, who has still yet to hit arbitration (he will in 2013), who makes only $615,000 in 2012 but has produced 7 WAR in 2012. Still a good figure, and he plays a tough position.

      3. You’re completely wrong on this one and I’ll tell you why. Run production happens when you accomplish your goal as a hitter. Your goal as a hitter is to not make an out. Whether that comes from a hit, a walk or hit by pitch. You net RBI’s when the players before you accomplished that goal and are currently on base. Hitting for extra bases is an important factor for hitters, and it’s taken into account by that players OPS (OBP + Slugging %), a major component of a players offensive WAR/production. Only Cabrera controls HR’s, he doesn’t control runs or RBI, so why take it into account?

      Regardless, Cabrera’s edge in OPS is far and away nulled by Trout’s defensive, base running and stolen base production. Simply enough, Cabrera has to be that much better on offense to make up for the value he costs the Tigers on defense.

      If you have an ESPN Insider account, I suggest you take a moment to read Keith Law’s article. It’s a fantastic article for those looking to understand why sabermetrics tell the whole story, using the AL MVP discussion as a case study.

      Thanks for reading!

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