Mike Trout and the Stretch Run

Let us acknowledge, with the 2012 regular season drawing to a close, that there’s been a fun debate surrounding the American League Most Valuable Player award. If not fun, then — at the very least — interesting. Let us acknowledge that there was a time at which it looked like voters would really, deeply, have to think. Let us now acknowledge that, with the Tigers probably going to the playoffs and the Angels probably not going to the playoffs, there’s probably going to be a little less thought, at least for some. It looked like we were going to have a rare contest between two guys not playing extra baseball, but now it’s looking like no such luck.

It’s all about Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, with Adrian Beltre being the subject of the occasional whisper. Pretty much everybody I’ve read has an opinion one way or the other; I suppose without an opinion, one probably wouldn’t be writing. Trout has many of the overall season numbers on his side, and the Cabrera argument wouldn’t have so much steam if it weren’t for his torrid offense down the stretch when the Tigers have needed it most. Cabrera, they say, has stepped up while Trout has stepped back, and these have been the most meaningful games. And that’s why Cabrera is deserving of consideration, at the very least.

I’m not here to settle the argument, and in fact I’m not sure the argument could ever be settled with words. I’m just here to present a few little numbers that I happened across in the course of my afternoon. As I recorded a podcast with Carson Cistulli, I mentioned that I still needed to write another post, and that I’d probably find a fun fact around which I’d wrap a few hundred words. These are some of those few hundred words, and the fun fact is to follow shortly.

Much of what has been written about Cabrera’s MVP candidacy has emphasized his stretch-run performance against Trout’s stretch-run performance. As a matter of fact, between August 1 and September 22, Cabrera posted a 1.151 OPS, helping the Tigers to climb into the division race. A funny thing has happened since the end of that run, though; Cabrera has posted a .603 OPS in nine games. The Tigers won six of those games, but Cabrera was of little aid, and now September is over. Which allows us to reflect on the month of September.

And in the month of September, Miguel Cabrera posted a lower WAR than Mike Trout. In the month that was supposed to make Cabrera the favorite in some people’s minds, by at least one measure he still couldn’t out-perform the other contender. We can’t think of WAR as being accurate to a decimal place so we can’t declare that Cabrera was therefore less valuable in September than Trout was, but this is a thing. This is something a lot of people probably didn’t expect to hear.

This is my favorite table of the moment. This is each full month that Mike Trout has been in the majors in 2012, and his WAR rank among American League position players. Again, yes, issues with WAR. Again, it stands to reason that WAR is capturing something, if not most of everything, so this table cannot be dismissed outright.

MIKE TROUT
Month AL WAR Rank
May 1
June 1
July 1
August 1
September 2

By this measure, Mike Trout was the best player in May. He was the best player in June, July, and August, and he was the second-best player in September, behind Adrian Beltre. By WAR, Cabrera’s best month was August. By WAR, Trout’s August still beat Cabrera’s, and everyone else’s. Everybody has his or her own issues with some of the WAR inputs, but the strongest argument in Cabrera’s favor for the MVP is that Cabrera has been unquestionably the best player down the stretch, and that just isn’t clear. Cabrera hasn’t broken free of Trout down the stretch, and before the stretch, Trout was way better.

Perhaps the biggest lesson here is putting in perspective how different Trout is from Cabrera when they’re outside of the batter’s boxes. Cabrera posted a .452 wOBA in August and a .417 wOBA in September, while Trout posted wOBAs of .385 and .376, respectively. That’s a huge offensive advantage for Cabrera, and yet he still falls just short in WAR, because of everything else. In order for Cabrera and Trout to be similarly valuable, they have to be this different with the bat, and they just haven’t been, overall. They’ve only been this different with the bat for a little while.

Nobody’s mind is going to be made up by this post, and maybe that’s how it ought to be. Maybe nobody’s mind should ever be made up by one single thing. Maybe it doesn’t matter because none of us are voters and if you’re reading FanGraphs you’re probably already leaning strongly in Mike Trout’s direction. But it was Miguel Cabrera’s stretch run that was supposed to vault him in front of Mike Trout, because Cabrera has been a beast while Trout has been slumping, relative to himself. Trout’s still managed to post the higher WAR the whole time. I don’t know about you but that just strikes me as one hell of a fact.

We hoped you liked reading Mike Trout and the Stretch Run by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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the fume
Guest
the fume

How is it that Cabrera posted a 1.151 OPS over much of August and September, while Trout was around .850 for those months, and yet Trout has a higher WAR? There must be a huge defensive adjustment in there, which wouldn’t completely surprise me I suppose as Miggy was playing on 1 or 2 ankles for a while there at 3B, so he could have gotten graded as awful.

batpig
Member
batpig

so you didn’t finish reading the article eh?

I’ll give you a clue: read the next-to-last paragraph.

gobears
Member
gobears

You imply that the next-to-last paragraph actually gives details, when in fact all it says is that, “he falls short in WAR because of everything else.” Thanks Mr. Sullivan: you used enough words on your meta-talk that you didn’t need to meet your quota through actual analysis. Disappointing.

wilt
Guest
wilt

you’re about to be the most down-voted sucka in all of the land mr. gobears.

the fume
Guest
the fume

I did miss that. I swear it wasn’t in there when I read it but I was finishing up a long day at work so I did miss it.

It’s still pretty amazing that the current metrics can take a guy hitting like Babe Ruth and a guy hitting like Bobby Abreu and declare the latter better because of base running and defense. Although I’d have to imagine UZR sample size makes that uncertaintly creep up.

gobears
Member
gobears

Ok, sorry, everyone. I get it that’s it’s free, and all that. And I’m here because you guys do great work. I’m just anal enough to want the navel-gazing components posted on NotGraphs, so I can see those when I want them, and to have the tasty, meat-filled portion of my baseball analysis over here. I don’t know off the top of my head how much is just positional adjustment, and I don’t know how much is perceived ability at the position. Further, I’m aware of at least some controversy about whether Cabrera is competent or miserable, and I think the article could have been improved by investigating that issue a bit. Apparently stating that was out of line; sorry for having brought it up. Again, I am here every day because I love the site, and especially the analysis. Sorry for not communicating that well in my last comment.

DCN
Guest
DCN

I don’t understand why people think fielding and baserunning don’t matter. Do people not understand the value of outs and bases?

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter

fume, Cabrera has about 1 1/2 as much hitting WAR in August/September, but Trout has defense and baserunning WAR that put him ahead of Miguel.

Bret
Guest
Bret

Nice job, gobears – it only took you 3 comments in to bash the article. FanGraphs commenters quickly reached their quota of needlessly assholish comments right away! Hey, free awesome content about baseball… let’s talk shit about it!

bcp33bosox
Guest
bcp33bosox

Bret, your comment has poorly been judged… good sarcasm…made me laugh! Lol…

bcp33bosox
Guest
bcp33bosox

Bret, glad to see your comment got some + votes and is back to breaking even… that shit was great!