What the AL MVP Debate Means for Fantasy

Personally, I hold the old-school belief that the well-rounded player with speed and defense is the best selection for the MVP hardware, but that’s of no concern until I have a vote. In the meantime, I’m left wondering what this debate means for fantasy.

We fantasy-obsessed know that this debate foreshadows a more important one: who should be the number one pick next year. Maybe the things we know about the players now can help us make that decision a little easier, but the conversation can still tell us something about the things we value in the fantasy game.

Defense doesn’t matter in most fantasy leagues. But speed does. And Mike Trout‘s combination of 30 home runs and 48 steals, along with a plus batting average, is unmatched. Almost. Take a look at the top 35 in stolen bases, and there are three players that managed to hit more than 20 home runs along with their 30+ steals: Trout, B.J. Upton, Ryan Braun and Jimmy Rollins. If you want the nice batting average, you’re left with Braun and Trout. Defense doesn’t matter, but Trout still has a nigh-unique combination of skills.

Then again, in a mirror of the national conversation, there’s the fact that Miguel Cabrera moved to third base. And since defense doesn’t matter, fantasy owners next year get to reap the benefit of his move all year next year, even if the Tigers reboot the idea and move him again. Add in the fact that he plays third base, and then there’s nobody with the combination of elite power and batting average like Cabrera… sort of. Adrian Beltre does have 36 homers and a .319 batting average, so if Ryan Braun is Trout-like, then Beltre is Cabrera-like.

Add it all up, and Cabrera and Trout have put up an almost identical value so far this season. If you’re in a five-outfielder league, it’s probably Trout that’s a nose ahead, and if you played in a three-outfielder league, it’s probably Cabrera that’s worth more. After all, there were more than twice as many homers as stolen bases this year, and even though there were only two 40-homer hitters that played anything other than outfield or first base, there were also only two 30-30 players. These guys are in a league of their own in fantasy (almost, given each has a shadow).

So what does the old-school conversation happening right now tell us about this debate going forward?

One thing that keeps coming up is that Miguel Cabrera does this every year and Mike Trout is just starting out. (“He’ll get his MVP later” is a thing that’s said.)

That’s true. Cabrera’s batting average has been over .292 since his rookie season, and he’s managed 100+ RBI every year since, too. It is worth pointing out that he hit ‘only’ 30 home runs last season, though. And that this is the first year he’s crossed the 40-homer threshold. If we look at this year’s third basemen with the 30-homer threshhold instead, you’ll find Beltre, Chase Headley and Pedro Alvarez hanging out, with Aramis Ramirez just a sneeze away. If Ryan Zimmerman stays healthy for a year, and Mike Moustakas or Todd Frazier or Will Middlebrooks have a breakout season next year, then Cabrera might only be the best of a group of three or four elite power third baseman next season, instead of alone at the top.

But the flip side also holds true — Trout’s a 20-year-old that just put up an ISO that outstripped anything he showed in the minor leagues. He also benefited from a .380 BABIP this season. He had some high BABIPs in the minor leagues, and he has the skills (ground-ball heavy approach with line drives and speed) to do that again. His xBABIP is .355, for example. He has all the tools to put up a strong batting average again, even with some regression.

There’s still the matter of that power. Even as he put up a .218 ISO in Double-A last season, he had a 13.1% home run per fly ball rate, which is a number he approximated in his rookie stint. Let’s say he regresses to that number next season. He’ll still have above-average power and wheels, but he might only hit around 20 homers. Guess what. The number of players with a good batting average and 20+ homers and 25+ steals is still… two. And who could join the party? Starlin Castro or Jason Kipnis with a power boost, maybe, and then a group that would need to show more wheels to join Trout’s tier: Bryce Harper, Alex Rios, Ian Kinsler, Andrew McCutchen, Ian Desmond or Jason Heyward. If Trout goes .300/20/40 (in a step back), is there a name on here you’d put up against him even money?

So the current AL MVP debate does tell us a little about the choices we’ll make in drafts next season. And though the focus is different, and the reasons for the debate are different, you might find the same answer at the end of this discussion. Elite power from a third baseman is rare, and the triple crown is nice — but getting great power and speed from one roster spot, that’s even rarer. Score another one for the well-rounded player.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

23 Responses to “What the AL MVP Debate Means for Fantasy”

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  1. Eminor3rd says:

    Curious that this article makes no mention of Evan Longoria

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  2. mordecofe says:

    Also, Trout is even more valuable in leagues that differentiate OF slots, like LF-CF-RF, or just CF and 2 OF (I play in one of these).

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  3. LuckyStrikes says:

    I love Trout, and own him for cheap in a long term dynasty, but you’d be hard pressed to convince me he’s going to repeat (let alone exceed) his 2012 stats. They are just insane, and I don’t see it happening again…for awhile. Great point that even if he goes .300/20/40 he’s still worthy of top 5 draft pick, but for those in auction leagues watch out – the risk of overbidding for something less than what you’re seeing now is sky high. That’s where the stability of guys like Braun, Miggy, and probably now McCutchen win out.

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    • James says:

      I’m not sure you can really put McCutchen in the “stable” category yet. His numbers this year are very inflated compared to what he’s done in the past. Even if you argue that he has a good couple of “base” seasons I wouldn’t expect his next several seasons to look like this one. I think Braun and Miggy are more legitimate “stable” guys

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  4. batpig says:

    I think Ryan Braun also has a legit argument for #1 pick considering the overall package of skills. He’s got a .314 career AVG and has reeled off two straight seasons of .320+/100/30/110/30. His AVERAGE season over the last 4 years is .319/107/33/110/24.

    He doesn’t have the SB upside of Trout but if you are going to go with an OF (in a non-keeper league especially) there is a good argument that he is the “safer” choice. Mike Trout could reasonably put up “only” a season of .300/115/25/75/45, which is a slightly worse overall package than a .320/105/35/110/25 Braun season.

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  5. sausagemcbiscuit says:

    I’m not seeing it. Harper won’t hit for trout’s average or come close to him in terms of SB. Could hit more HR’s than him, though

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  6. Sam says:

    2011 Ellsbury could have those .300/20/40 numbers.

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  7. GUI says:

    2009 Mauer, 2011 Ellsbury, 2012 Trout

    ^ list of people that will never top their career years =)

    That being said, I always draft proven goods early on. I don’t want to be the guy buying a great rookie campaign and would take either Braun / Miggy if I had the 1st overall pick in a standard format league.

    Call me a skeptic I guess.

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    • James says:

      I don’t think Trout will top his WAR per game from this season, but in terms of fantasy he could very well have a better season than this one simply by playing 162 games. Do we really think his ceiling is 50 steals over 162 games? Or that he couldn’t hit 30 HR again with an extra 25 games played next season? If you assume this guy has another 7-8 “prime” years, then he’s probably likely to match or exceed his counting (fantasy) stats from this season in at least one of them.

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  8. Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

    And MAYBE the talk of Trout’s defensive prowess will draw more people to defense-inclusive fantasy leagues, like Ottoneu?

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  9. Radar says:

    Funny how the debate changes when you compare fantasy baseball to real baseball. In real baseball, Trout’s superb defense added to his bat and speed makes him the most valuable player in all of baseball this year. His WAR is through the roof! Meanwhile, Miggy is something of a burden defensively at third, so when he is not on the offensive side of the game he is a weak link for his team.

    In fantasy sports, we love Cabrera’s 3B eligibility and it might make sense to name him MVP. Among sportswriters, Miggy’s likely Triple Crown will likely put him over the top as MVP. Among general managers and managers, I would find it hard to believe that Trout would not win easily, because is is a better all-around player. 10.7 wins above replacement is amazing, the highest number produced by a non-roid player since Cal Ripken in 1991!

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  10. Radar says:

    Just reminding folks that Frank Robinson hit 38 HR in his rookie (20 yo) year back in 1956 and some people thought he had had his best year first. He beat his WAR for that year in six other years, reaping two MVP awards and also winning the Triple Crown in 1966. Trout began this year as his 20 yo season. This is Bryce Harper’s 19 yo season. When kids are good and in the majors at age 19-20, they are likely to become stars. Injuries, life-style and attitudes can get in the way but for healthy and dedicated kids who make it early? They are good bets for superstardom.

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  11. Bill Andrews says:

    Anybody that doesn’t take Cabrera and/or Braun #1 and #2 is nuts and I hope they’re in my league.

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