By The Numbers: Trout vs. Cabrera

The debate over the AL MVP award shoots straight at the heart of the discussion about baseball statistics.

Miguel Cabrera could well win the Triple Crown which, you know, would tend to indicate that he’s the best player in the league. How could somebody lead the league in the traditionally important categories of batting average, home runs, and RBI and not be the best player in the league?

Mike Trout, on the other hand, leads the AL in all the new metrics. You know, things such as Wins Above Replacement that purport to more accurately measure the value of a player.

So, who’s the MVP? Cabrera leads the league in batting, RBI, slugging and OPS, and he’s a close second in home runs. He has scored 107 runs and driven in 133 for a team that’s in a tight race for a playoff spot.

Trout leads the AL in runs, stolen bases, and park-adjusted OPS. He has scored 125 runs and driven in 79 while batting leadoff for a team that’s clinging to faint playoff hopes.

It has been suggested, logically, that if one of their teams make the playoffs, that player will win the MVP award. That’s probably very true, but it’s also absolutely absurd. Trout’s Angels likely won’t make the playoffs, but they have a better record than Cabrera’s Tigers; the Tigers just happen to be in a weaker division, and they might win it.

And while reasonable arguments can be make for either player’s MVP candidacy, two important factors rarely get mentioned: Park effects, and outs. These are two of the mantras of modern baseball analysis, and they both play a role in this discussion.

Cabrera’s home park this season has increased runs by 5.1 percent; Trout’s has decreased runs by 18.2 percent. Cabrera plays in a park that slightly favors hitters, while Trout plays in one that drastically favors pitchers. That doesn’t mean that Cabrera hasn’t been productive on the road; it means that the runs he has produced are less valuable than those produced by Trout.

Park effects are like inflation. If you have $4 in your pocket, you can buy nearly a gallon of gas. But those same $4 aren’t as valuable if gas goes up to $5 a gallon. Trout’s runs are more valuable because they are produced in a more run-scarce environment.

As for outs, let’s start with Runs Created. The Runs Created formula tells us that Cabrera has created 134 runs, but he has used 442 outs. Part of that is because he has grounded into 28 double plays, the highest total in the majors.

Trout has created 129 runs in a more difficult environment while using up 384 outs. The math tells us that a lineup of nine Miguel Cabreras would score 8.2 runs per game, while a lineup of nine Mike Trouts would score 9.1.

Trout has been the better offensive player, even if Cabrera does win the Triple Crown. And we haven’t even touched upon defensive value, of which Cabrera has none. Trout, meanwhile, has played an outstanding center field.

As we pointed out the other day, winning the Triple Crown does not guarantee an MVP award. That might seem silly on the surface, but as the comparison between Cabrera and Trout indicates, there is some very sound reasoning behind it.

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