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This past Sunday, Yahoo! Sports “expert”, Jeff Passan, published a piece about Angels OF Mike Trout and how he has come to embody a new meaning of “value” when it comes to voting for the AL MVP.
The argument made is that Trout gives you more bang for your buck than any other player in the American League and that is why he should be considered this season’s AL MVP. His salary for this season is $510,000 and yet he returns elite numbers. If a player can give you that quality of output while costing you nothing, it frees up your funds to address other needs that can help improve your team.
The idea is simple: If a team has a cost-controlled player who produces, it allows that team to use its resources elsewhere. There is inherent value in cheap players. It’s why prospects are such commodities even though they have proven nothing at the major league level.
It’s certainly not an absurd point to make. The article even gives a list of players who are costing pennies yet produce what they keep referring to as a “surplus value”. Guys like Mets SP Matt Harvey, Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt and Braves closer Craig Kimbrel all cost less than $1,000,000 each and yet their numbers are worthy of the best in the game.
So, naturally Mike Trout, with his numbers combined with this way of thinking is a no-brainer to be the 2013 AL MVP. Well, actually, no. Folks, we need to stop putting Mike Trout on a pedestal. Let’s take a trip down memory lane all the way to 2012.
Mike Trout was the uber-hyped prospect brought up to help the Angels struggling offense. You know, the one that had Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton? Trout made an immediate splash in the world of baseball with his power, speed and defense. In 139 games, he hit .326 with 30 HR, 83 RBI and he even snagged 49 bases. Pretty awesome stats.
Unfortunately, he just couldn’t catch Tigers 3B Miguel Cabrera. M-Cab became the first AL Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. Cabrera hit .330 with 44 HR and 139 RBI to not just become a Triple Crown winner, but he took home his first AL MVP award. I mean, with that kind of amazing feat, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind who should get that ultimate prize, right? Right?
To my astonishment, there was actually a heated debate going on. For some reason, Mike Trout, a rookie on a team that didn’t make the playoffs, was getting serious consideration over a Triple Crown winner. Maybe it was just how the youngster took the game by storm, seemingly out of nowhere. Hey, who doesn’t love a good story? However, one argument kept coming up and it was my first recollection of ever such evidence being used to justify a player being named MVP: Wins Above Replacement.
According to Wikipedia:
Wins Above Replacement or Wins Above Replacement Player, commonly known as WAR or WARP, is a non-standardized sabermetric baseball statistic developed to determine the value of “a player’s total contributions to their team”,derived from baserunning, batting, fielding, and pitching.It is claimed to show the number of additional wins a player would contribute to a team compared to a replacement level player at that position, usually a minor league player or bench player.The purpose of the WAR framework is to determine how much better a player is compared to a readily available substitute with minimum marginal acquisition costs. A team of replacement-level players would be expected to win a baseline minimum number of games, typically 40–50, per 162 game season.
Trout’s WAR rating was 10.9, good enough for best in the majors. Cabrera’s 7.3 was so mediocre that it overshadowed that whole pesky Triple Crown thing. The point was that when Trout’s offensive numbers couldn’t match Cabrera’s, this was the one thing Trout supporters had up their sleeve: an obscure sabermetric stat.
It boggled my mind, but it got serious consideration. You couldn’t read one article anywhere without hearing about WAR and how important WAR is and how WAR is the true way to determine a player’s value. I mean, Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist had the best WAR in baseball in 2011, but nobody wanted him to be MVP. Sure, anyone can win the Triple Crown, but to have a WAR above 10 is the true test of the elite.
You know what? I’d never heard WAR discussed in mainstream sports media before that and since the MVP race ended last fall, I haven’t heard anyone talk about it since. Clearly if Trout isn’t the king of that one particular category, then his fans need to come up with some other ridiculous reason to put him above all other players with better numbers. Now they’ve done it: Surplus Value!
We’re in the middle of August and the AL MVP debate is in full swing. Once again we are down to just two men: Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. Trout is making a hard push for a .330/30/100 season and Miguel Cabrera…is on another planet trying for, an unheard of in this day and age, 2nd consecutive Triple Crown. As of this writing, Cabrera leads the AL with a .362 avg. He is behind Baltimore’s Chris Davis in HR and RBI where “Crush” has 44 and 112 to Cabrera’s 37 and 111. Why Chris Davis isn’t getting mentioned ahead of Trout is a mystery to me.
We can see that Trout can’t compete with Cabrera’s numbers. Well, what about WAR? Trout was the king of WAR last season. This is true, but it is 2013 and Trout does not lead the AL in WAR. Actually, that honor goes to Miguel Cabrera! Yes, M-Cab’s WAR rating stands at 6.9 while Trout is 2nd with 6.5. Now, according to last year’s logic, Cabrera should be MVP without debate because WAR is the single most important factor to a player’s true value. Case closed?
Well, since Trout lovers can’t use the WAR argument when the numbers aren’t in their favor, they have now resorted to “Surplus Value”. As the article I linked to at the start says: since Trout makes less money, he deserves the hardware. Now, is it Miguel’s Cabrera fault that he is arguably the best player in baseball and gets paid $21 million per season? I guess so. He should probably take a pay cut to be taken seriously. Let’s flip the argument around. If Trout was making more than $20 million a year, then he wouldn’t be in the running for the MVP? Do you see how stupid that sounds? I didn’t realize the MVP award needed a salary cap.
Most Valuable Player means the player who carries the most value to your team. If a player is so good as to influence each game with his performance, then he has the highest value. Now, shouldn’t your team’s record reflect that?
As I type this, the Angles are 53-65 and 4th in the AL West. If Houston hadn’t switched to the AL this season, then Trout and the Angles would be in dead last. It’s good to see that Trout saving the team on salary has helped them address other issues.
Let’s go back to Chris Davis. The man is smoking Trout in HR and RBI while hitting .300 and his team is 65-53 which puts them 2.0 games out of the Wild Card. Again, where is his name in the MVP debate? Davis is only making $3.3 million this season. I would think he belongs in the surplus value argument. When you think about it, surplus value is just referring to one man’s output compared to his salary. It measures the value of one man and his stats. When did we change the “V” in MVP to reflect a player’s value only to himself? Only when it benefits Mike Trout. It’s disturbingly selfish.
You might guess by my tone that I don’t like Mike Trout. You would be dead wrong. He is one of the future stars of baseball for the foreseeable future. So who do I resent? His supporters. The man is great, but he isn’t the best. As long as Miguel Cabrera stays healthy, Trout will always be a step behind. Why all the hype? We’re talking about a guy who will average .325/30 HR/95 RBI. Those are really good, but not exactly the best of the best. There will always be someone who will outdo Trout in one or more categories (his own teammates already do!), so I really don’t understand the justification for putting him in the Hall of Fame so quickly.
If his fan club can’t win an argument with stats, they go to WAR. If they can’t win with WAR, they go to Surplus Value. Next season it will be batting average and line drive percentage on balls hit outside the strike zone. When that doesn’t work, and Cabrera is on his 4th Triple Crown, we will be comparing SAT scores because Trout will not only have 30 home runs, but also a 720 Verbal score.
If I may use a reference from my generation. Trout supporters are like the spoiled brat rich kid you had to play with next door. You’d go over to his house and play Mario Kart and you would wipe the floor with him. You’d play every Cup race and every track 3 or 4 times and he would always lose and complain every time. He wouldn’t let you leave until he won a race. So, he made you be Princess Peach while he got to be Bowser. He’d then make you stay one lap behind while he got a head start and finally he would win a race. But the score is still 99-1 in your favor, right? Yeah, but that race he won counted as 100 points, so he declares himself the winner by a score of 100-99.
That’s what Mike Trout fans have been doing in his short time in the majors. They skew the facts in any way, shape or form in order to win a debate they know they can’t possibly back up. It’s like deciding as a kid which was better: Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo. The SNES (Cabrera) is better and more successful in every way with better graphics, sound, library of games and sales. However, the Sega Genesis (Trout) has a slightly faster processor and that’s the one point Sega will argue to prove it’s superiority in the gaming world. This guy can explain it better than I can.
Congratulations, Mike Trout. You are officially the Blast Processing of baseball.