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While writers lament Trout missing on AL MVP award, no one talks about McCutchen's snub in the NL

Updated on November 16, 2012

One thing I can say about the American League MVP award – the voters got it right.

The thing you need to know about the above statement is that was going to be my opening line regardless if Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout won. To me, there was no way for the voters to get this wrong unless they didn’t vote for either Cabrera or Trout.

Trout and Cabrera both had MVP seasons

For weeks columnists have been lighting up billions of computer screen pixels with their arguments for or against one or the other. Their readers have posted vitriol or praise, depending on their point of view. Like with our elected officials, there seems to be no middle ground.

The people who favor the advanced stats of sabermetrics believe Trout was the clear winner because the Triple Crown stats have all the relevance in today’s society as a manual typewriter.

Meanwhile, traditionalists who believe new stats like WAR are no more trustworthy than a politician’s election-eve promises think Cabrera’s rare feat of the Triple Crown is an automatic stamp for MVP selection and possibly the Hall of Fame.

But I looked at it this way: Take Cabrera out of the league and Trout wins by a landslide. Take Trout out of the league and Cabrera wins in a landslide. In other words, both had MVP seasons, thus the voting can’t be wrong as long as one of them wins.

Arguments about AL vote will continue

There will now be much weeping and gnashing of teeth among the sabermetrics crowd, ruing the philistines who can’t see the value of advanced stats in determining a player’s true worth. They make it sound as if there is a vast conspiracy plotting to devalue these advance stats through the MVP voting, when in fact only 28 writers had a vote, and six of them voted for Trout. More about advanced stats in a future post.

(Side note: In the discussion posts in several blogs favoring Trout for MVP, I’ve seen the argument raised that the MVP voting is biased against Latino players. The argument usually is something like “You’re against Cabrera because of his name and nationality. If he were a pretty boy American like Derek Jeter you’d vote for him.”

This is a bizarre argument on several points. One, the voters obviously weren’t deterred by Cabrera’s national origin and gave him the award. Two, in the American League since 1994 award winners have been Juan Gonzalez (twice), Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, Vladimir Guerrero, Alex Rodriguez (three times) and now Cabrera. Three, Derek Jeter, despite his dashing good looks, has never won the MVP award even though he probably should have received it the year Ivan Rodriguez won.)

No real controversy in NL vote

While the AL voting will be discussed and dissected and vilified until we’re so sick of it that we’ll want to scrap the entire award, the NL voting seems to have been accepted quite calmly.

There is no question that Buster Posey had a great season with a pennant-winning team. He played well defensively and offensively. What little dissent there has been is whether Yadier Molina didn’t deserve it instead because of his superior defense.

But where is the outrage over Andrew McCutchen receiving only one first place vote and finishing third in the balloting? No where, as far as I can tell. Not even from the advanced stat mavens.

One reason is that if you look at WAR (Wins Above Replacement) Posey ranks a slight bit higher (7.2 to 7.0 in Baseball Reference) because catchers get an extra advantage for the value and difficulty of their position. In just offensive WAR, McCutchen ranked first in the NL, just ahead of Posey (7.5 to 7.1).

There are a lot of problems with WAR, freely admitted even by the sabermetricians. Chief among them is that the two major web sites that figure war, Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, use different formulas. Another issue is that defense figures highly in overall WAR, yet different methods of computing it yield different results and no one is quite sure if any method is exactly accurate. But again, more on that in a later post.

Comparing Trout and McCutchen

The point I want to raise is that, looking at the pure numbers, McCutchen had nearly the same season as Trout. Here are the raw numbers.

 
G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
OPS+
Trout
139
639
559
129
182
27
8
30
83
49
5
67
139
.326
.399
.564
.963
171
McCutchen
157
673
593
107
194
29
6
31
96
20
12
70
132
.327
.400
.553
.953
164
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Because Trout wasn’t called up until the end of April, McCutchen played in 18 more games. But because he batted third compared to Trout hitting leadoff, the number of plate appearances wasn’t that far off. McCutchen had just 34 more, not a huge statistical advantage.

As you can see, their numbers were virtually identical in most categories, with McCutchen having the slight advantage in hits, doubles, homers and walks that you’d expect with a few more plate appearances.

A few key differences

There are two glaring differences, of course. Trout scored 129 runs to just 107 for McCutchen, and stole 49 bases to a mere 20 for McCutchen.

McCutchen, though, finished just one run away from leading his league. And, based on the stats, I have to believe that if you’d have put McCutchen in the leadoff spot for the Angels he’d have scored in the neighborhood of 129 runs as well.

It’s also probable that his stolen base totals would have been quite a bit better with the Angels. Batting third with Pittsburgh, his opportunities to steal were no doubt limited and his caught stealing numbers were up because he often forced the issue, not to mention that he played in the same division as Yadier Molina and his cannon arm.

Trout probably is a better defensive player (he’s legendary according to some advanced stats but again, those should be taken with a grain of salt) but McCutchen, I believe, is generally considered to be a good fielder as well.

Where is the love for McCutchen?

Of course, McCutchen isn’t competing against Trout for the MVP. He’s competing in the National League. He’s almost as good as Trout in a different league.

So I’m surprised that not more people have raised the cry for McCutchen as the NL’s best. Trout, according to many, is far and away the best player in the American League, the best in the majors and one of the best in history. McCutchen is virtually the equal, at least offensively, as the player who is the greatest. Shouldn’t that have gained him as much support as Trout?

Team mattered in perception of McCutchen

I think what happened is that the sabermetrics crowd fell victim to the same thing that they decried in the American League. One reason people who supported Cabrera for MVP used to make their case, in addition to his Triple Crown, is that his team won its division, while Trout’s team didn’t make the playoffs. Trout supporters point out, rightly, that the Angels actually had a better record in a tougher division and besides, they say, team record should have no bearing on the MVP voting, which should be done by the numbers.

But I think when it came to McCutchen, it did matter to them that he played for Pittsburgh, and that the Pirates barely played above Little League level in the final month. I think if McCutchen had posted the exact same numbers on San Francisco or Washington or Cincinnati that the advance stats people would have been giving him the same kind of support they gave Trout.

It doesn’t really matter what I think or you think anyway. Only a handful of people have a voice in picking the MVPs and they’ve already done the deed. And when it’s all said and done, I don’t think picking Cabrera and Posey is any worse than choosing Trout and McCutchen.

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