The closest any Mariner is going to come to the AL MVP this season is that he plays in the same league as the man who will soon be awarded the American League Most Valuable Player…Award. Stupid word choice.
So let’s break down the candidates. We have an Angel in the outfield and a Tiger in Detroit, though he’s not much of a Fielder. Stupid pun.
But seriously, the media is not talking nearly enough about a man who really should be Revered. Okay, I’ll stop.
Here are three statistics we can all wrap our minds around, which is good because I didn’t want to do much thinking or math anyway. They are stolen bases, strikeouts and errors. A stolen base is valuable to the ballclub, and the lack of errors and strikeouts could be deemed equally valuable. Glad we’re on the same page, because Minnesota’s Ben Revere is dangerously close to a very rare triple crown. That would be the SB/K%/Fielding% triple crown. Revere leads all qualified AL batsmen with a 9.1% strikeout rate; he leads all qualified AL fieldsmen with a 1.000 fielding percentage; and he is second only to Rainbow Mike Trout among all qualified AL runningmen in stolen bases. Though it’s difficult to gauge the rarity of this accomplishment, it is the estimation of this author that perhaps the triple crown of thievery, contact and errorless play has never been achieved. Ever.
Thus, based on the rarity of an arbitrary collection of three statistics—of which everyone would argue are valuable to a ballclub—my vote for AL MVP goes to Ben Revere.
Wait, you’re not satisfied? In the words of Disney’s Emperor of China, that doesn’t come along every dynasty!
It turns out another player, one that plays not too far from Minneapolis’ Target Field, is dangerously close to a different triple crown. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera—one of the few Miguels that has not graced a Mariners roster (unfortunately)—is having a fantastic baseball season by just about any measurement. He hits for average, he hits for power, he walks more often than the league average, he has a really cute smile (even in the face of DUI charges), etc. Cabrera could also become the first triple crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and the sixteenth overall.
The primary argument for Cabera’s MVP candidacy rests on his pursuit of the sixteenth triple crown season in baseball history. Just as we might say Ben Revere is one of the best baserunners, best contact hitters and best fielders according to one set of statistics, we can say Miguel Cabrera is one of the best hitters, best power hitters, and best run producers based on this other set of statistics (average, homeruns, and RBI).
But when we strip down average, homeruns and RBI, I don’t think I have to explain where they fall short in player valuation. We know they fall short, and there are better metrics to use. Just as we know that, while stolen bases, strikeout rates and fielding percentages are not worthless, there are better metrics than those for measuring value as well. So while I’m going to celebrate the rarity of Miguel Cabrera’s potential triple crown and Ben Revere’s quest for a triple crown* (that is about to fall short by only a few steals), I am also going to realize that those are just some arbitrary stats that only partially measure a player’s value to his team.
Miguel Cabrera can hit. He does it year after year, and no one doubts his hitting ability. Here are some things Miguel Cabrera can’t do: field any position well, or run the bases effectively, or, well, run at all. Mike Trout—the elephant in the room here—not only fields one of the most difficult positions on the diamond well, but he also produces runs with his legs. Baseball Reference estimates that once Trout gets on base, he scores 45% of the time. Cabrera? Just 29%. Of course, this could have everything to do the players that bat behind them. So let’s break it down further.
When a single was hit, and one of these two gentlemen was on first, Trout advanced to third 63.4% of the time and was never thrown out. Cabrera advanced to third 31.0% of the time and was thrown out twice.
When a single was hit, and one of these two gentlemen was on second, Trout scored 67.9% of the time and was never thrown out. Cabrera scored a respectable 63.6% of time and was also never thrown out. (Though who knows how many of these were “Prince Fielder Singles.”)
When a double was hit, and one of these two gentlemen was on first, Trout scored 63.6% of the time and was never thrown out. Cabrera scored a surprising 75% (6/8) of the time, but was also thrown out once.
Overall, then, it’s not hard to believe Baseball Reference’s estimation that Trout took extra bases 65% of the time to Cabrera’s 46%. It is also not hard to believe in Fangraphs’ estimation that Trout created 6 additional runs on the basepaths, while Cabrera lost his team 3.
Baserunning stats are not the make-or-break statistics for winning the AL MVP, but I hope they articulate key pieces of value that are lost in batting average, homeruns, and RBI. Yes, I think it’s cool that Cabrera could win the triple crown. But finishing at the top of the list in three arbitrary statistics that only partially correlate to baseball value just isn’t enough to guarantee an MVP award. The case for Miguel Cabrera is definitely stronger than the case for Ben Revere, but both cases represent major flaws in the valuation process. Trout produced runs this season with his bat, his feet, and his glove, and when you add them all up, the MVP race is no contest.