In a vote that went to the heart of how value is defined in baseball and that reignited the debate between the sport’s rising sabermetrics community and those who would dismiss it — call it pro-WAR vs. anti-WAR — Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers’ slugging third baseman, beat out Trout, the Los Angeles Angels’ electrifying rookie center fielder.
Cabrera, who became baseball’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, earned 22 of a possible 28 first-place votes, in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Trout, who earlier this week unanimously won AL rookie of the year, finished second.
To many who backed Cabrera’s candidacy, Thursday’s outcome was the only possible one that made any sense: If you lead your league in home runs, runs batted in and batting average — something no one had done since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 — while playing for a first-place team, you’re the MVP, period.
While Trout had “a good year,” according to former Baltimore Orioles slugger and Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson, a two-time MVP and the 1966 Triple Crown winner who spoke to reporters at Nationals Park last month, “I don’t see how an individual can play on a winning ballclub, and get his team into [the postseason], and win a Triple Crown — and not be the MVP of the league.”
But to a growing (and mostly younger) segment of the baseball community — not only fans, but media members, front-office types and uniformed personnel — Thursday’s vote was emblematic of an archaic definition of “value” that has been proven obsolete by more advanced metrics, even if the old guard refuses to accept it.
“When you look at it across all components of a player’s ability, Trout is the best player in the league,” said Sean Forman, the founder of one of the most influential stats Web sites in the industry, “and it’s not even particularly close this year.”
Forman’s site, Baseball-Reference.com, publishes a popular catch-all statistic to measure a player’s full value, known as wins above replacement, or WAR. And that is as good a place as any to start when it comes to the case for Trout — who is by virtually any measure a better defender and base runner than Cabrera.
Under the complex formula for WAR — which takes into account not only a player’s offensive contribution, but his defense and base running, while adjusting for certain league and ballpark effects — Trout was worth 10.7 additional wins to the Angels over what a low-cost, freely available “replacement” would have contributed, while Cabrera was worth only 6.9 additional wins to the Tigers.