Saturday, July 31, 2010

When will the madness stop?

One of these years I will actually manage to disengage the MVP discussion. This is not that year.

During two broadcasts today, I heard the same sentiment expressed: that Miguel Cabrera was obviously the MVP so far this year. This is crazy. Let's run down the list of contenders using BPro's WARP and Fangraphs' WAR, both of which measure wins above replacement:*
  • Josh Hamilton, 5.7 WAR, 5.2 WARP
  • Justin Morneau, 5.2 WAR, 4.3 WARP
  • Robinson Cano, 5.1 WAR, 4.8 WARP
  • Carl Crawford, 5.0 WAR, 4.0 WARP
  • Adrian Beltre, 4.7 WAR, 4.8 WARP
  • Evan Longoria, 4.4 WAR, 4.8 WARP
  • Miguel Cabrera, 4.4 WAR, 4.5 WARP
Note that WARP and WAR vary a bit due to methodological differences. I prefer Fangraphs' WAR; whatever. The point is that Cabrera is not obviously the MVP by these objective measures.

Let's grant for a second that Cabrera is clearly the league's best hitter, though clearly Morneau and Hamilton have cases too. He still is not clearly the league's Most Valuable Player because there's more to playing than hitting. Cabrera plays first base and not particularly well. Morneau on the other hand is an excellent fielder at first base. Hamilton plays left field, a more important defensive position (though not much) and he plays it better than Cabrera plays first. Thus, even if Cabrera were clearly a better hitter than these guys, and he isn't, he still probably doesn't deserve the MVP over them. That's why they have higher WAR scores than he does.

And what about Robinson Cano? He plays a premium defensive position, plays it well, and has been raking all year. Sure, he's not a Cabrera/Hamilton/Morneau caliber hitter, but: second base. It matters, people.

So why are people talking about Cabrera with Bondsian reverence? The triple crown stats. Cabrera has a shot at the triple crown. And if he wins it, or is close, he's probably a lock for the award.

So where are all the sportswriters out there blowing a gasket, tripping over themselves to excoriate the numbskulls who don't get out and watch baseball, who just look at numbers in Mommy's basement, who compute their Chadwick Batting Average and their Runs Batted In and don't appreciate the little things? As of right now, they are nowhere. It's absolutely insane. Once again, the people who can't wait to congratulate themselves for watching every game and appreciating the ins and outs of the sport are simply going to be blinded by three of the stupidest statistics in baseball.

If you watch a lot of baseball here's what you know: defense matters, playing a premium position matters, that there's more to the game than AVG, HR, and RsBI. WAR and WARP actually help capture these things. You know why Crawford does so well? Because his insane speed puts his defensive numbers through the roof. You know why Cano does so well? Because he's a slick fielding, sweet swinging second baseman. Miguel Cabrera is a (ahem) rotund slugger who plays first just well enough not to have to DH. Why do our self-appointed guardians of the holy baseball not see this? I have no idea.

Look, there's still two months to go. Anything can happen. Cabrera could wind up passing all these guys on the strength of his hitting. And I've ranted and raved about the MVP before only to have the writers get it right. I probably shouldn't be lumping them all together just because Michael Kay and Mark Grace haven't thought this through. Sorry, sportswriters who are competent.

Still, I just want recognition from these guys that there's more to an MVP award than triple crown hitting stats even when a guy has a chance to win it.

* I'm limiting this to hitters. Yes, I know pitchers can win, but: who cares?

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