The World Series wrapped up last night, which leaves baseball fans with one thing to look forward to in November- awards. The National League MVP Award has all but been handed over to Giants’ catcher Buster Posey, but there is still much debate around who deserves to win in the American League: Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout.
There are cases to be made for both Cabrera and Trout. The most glaringly obvious case for Cabrera is his Triple Crown (the first since 1967). For Trout, it is his WAR (Wins Above Replacement). As evidenced by Felix Hernandez’ 2010 Cy Young Award (a season in which he “only” won 13 games), the voters are making a decided move away from counting stats (such as wins) and towards more advanced metrics.
Over the past month, talking heads and fans alike have seemingly submitted to the “Cabrera won the triple crown, therefore he will win the MVP” argument. This argument, however, is historically inaccurate.
The Batting Triple Crown has been won 17 times in Major League Baseball history. Since 1931, the year the MVP award as it is known today (ie voted on by the Writer’s Association) came about, the Triple Crown has been won ten times.
Jimmie Foxx and Chuck Klein both brought home Triple Crowns in their respective leagues in 1933. While both men were MVPs in 1932, only Foxx repeated in 1933. Klein lost the award to Carl Hubbell who posted an impressive 23 wins. While WAR as we know it wasn’t a calculated statistic in 1933, it is interesting to note that Hubbell did have a higher WAR than Klein, and in fact, had the highest WAR of any of the 1933 National League MVP vote getters. While Foxx won the MVP award, he also had an impressive WAR of 9 that season.
Lou Gehrig earned the Triple Crown in 1934. Despite this, and an impressive WAR of 10.1 (the highest of any vote getters), he did not go on to win the MVP. In fact, he only came in fifth place in voting that season. The Triple Crown was won again shortly thereafter, by Joe Medwick in 1937. Medwick also boasted a vote receiver’s best 8.1 WAR, and went on to win the MVP Award.
The next two Triple Crowns were won by Ted Williams in 1942 and 1947. Ted Williams was a two time MVP. However, neither of Williams’ MVP seasons were in years he won the Triple Crown. Instead, in ’42 and ’47 Williams finished second in MVP voting. The 1942 award went to Joe Gordon, and the 1947 award went to DiMaggio, despite Williams besting them both in WAR.
In 1956 switch hitter Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown, posted an impressive 11 WAR, and was voted MVP of the American League. Similarly, in 1966 Frank Robinson won the Triple Crown, had a 7.3 WAR (the best of all NL vote recipients that year), and won the National League MVP award.
Prior to this season, Carl Yastrzemski’s 1967 performance was the most recent. And Yastrzemski did go on to win the MVP award that year (along with a Gold Glove). Yastrzemski,much like Mantle and Robinson before him boasted a 12 WAR that season, 5.6 games higher than any other American League vote recipient that year.
In the nine times prior to 2012 that the Triple Crown was won since 1931, only five players have gone on to win the MVP award. Perhaps more importantly for this argument, all five of those players also posted the highest WAR of the vote getters in their league. Although winning the Triple Crown and besting your competition in WAR does not guarantee one an MVP award as evidenced by Williams’ campaigns. As mentioned previously, WAR is a new stat, however, there may be more to winning the MVP in a Triple Crown year than meets the eye- especially in an era where the voters are acutely aware of this statistic.
While Cabrera’s season was impressive, it does not make him a sure fire MVP. Especially because his 6.9 WAR is pale in comparison to Trout’s 10.7.
Of the 9 previous Triple Crown winners being examined, only Mantle and Yaz’ teams went on to the postseason (although, it must be noted that Cabrera is the first Triple Crown winner since the introduction of the Championship Series, Division Series, or Wild Card). While Cabrera’s team did go to the playoffs, and made it to the World Series, his story is not analogous to Mantle’s or Yaz’ as he didn’t beat his competition’s WAR.
Cabrera is a fine MVP candidate, however is significantly lower WAR will likely hurt him when it comes to the Writers’ votes. At the end of the day, winning the Triple Crown, however novel an accomplishment it may be, does not guarantee an MVP award. And there is historical precedent to prove it.
All statistics can be found at baseball-reference, as of October 29, 2012.
Everyone is abuzz about last night’s crazy ending, and with good reason as the Braves and Red Sox showcased the two worst collapses in the history of the game, IN ONE NIGHT.
As I sat and watched Papelbon take his time getting the first two outs I could tell something wasn’t right. As he handed the winning run, the cherry on the monumental collapse that was the 2011 Red Sox season, I couldn’t help but let my jaw drop.
Papelbon, who had already expressed a strong desire to gauge his worth on the open market, to drive the price of the closer up, to leave Boston, had outstayed his welcome by one game. But the Red Sox still had hope.
Even with their nine game fall, the widest margin ever in September, a brand new record replacing the short-standing 8.5 games previously held by the… 2011 Braves… the Red Sox faithful and the team with the second highest payroll in all of Major League Baseball still had hope.
Theo Epstein and the rest of the Red Sox front office had spent John Henry’s money on a team with one purpose. Not to rebuild. Not to win the division. Not to win the league championship. To win the World Series.
Epstein managed to lure Carl Crawford and Adrain Gonzalez, the two biggest names in the 2011 free agent class to the Red Sox. Fans were all but guaranteed their third championship since 2004.
As I realized I couldn’t view the Yankees-Rays’ game on television I rushed to the nearest radio, which happened to be in my car. I frantically searched for a frequency with sports talk that wasn’t about the Red Sox, but instead about the Rays. After going through every sports station imaginable I finally heard “Evan Longoria hit a home run to tie the game.” Not since 2004, when the Red Sox came back from a three game deficit, had I been so shocked.
The Rays. The Rays with the second worst attendance in Major League Baseball. The Rays with the third smallest payroll in the league. The Rays would play spoiler to the Red Sox. The Rays would claim the American League Wild Card.
The Rays have proved just what Jonah Keri preached in “The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Team from Worst to First“, that working 2% harder than everyone else will ultimately get you where you want to be. That and working with what is possibly the most underrated front office in all of Major League Baseball, along with a manger who truly understands the inner workings of his young team.
This will be the third time in four years the Rays have made it to the playoffs. Each time with a payroll significantly less than that of the Red Sox or Yankees.
The question that begs to be asked: How does a team with such a small payroll, a lack of team history, and such low attendance numbers manage to stay in the hunt?
The answer was alluded to above, the brain trust that is Andrew Friedman, Stu Sternberg, and Matthew Silverman (ie the Rays’ front office). In the time since Sternberg purchased the team from his predecessor Vince Naimoli the Rays have done a complete 180-degree turn and made themselves into a truly competitive team.
The Rays have taken to drafting well. With a commitment to cutting payroll, the best way for the Rays to ensure a positive future is through what Keri defines as “baseball arbitrage”, or trading something for a positive value. Trades for future value ensure that the Rays have just that, a future. Instead of relying on veteran presences, the Rays have come to rely on guys like Evan Longoria who has, according to Fangraphs.com, the most team friendly contract in all of Major League Baseball. And when Longoria was hurt Matt Joyce and others learned to step-up. With the most picks in the first round of the draft ever, the Rays set themselves up for years to come in 2011.
Yes 2011 Red Sox, injuries are a reason good teams don’t make the playoffs, but they are not the only reason. A Team with seemingly less talent (though this may only be because their talent is not showcased in the media in the same way as larger markets), whose star player was injured for 29 games this season, managed to beat the Red Sox to the Wild Card. Longoria still boasted a 6.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement Player) despite his injury (for quick reference, anything above a 5 WAR is considered a All-Star caliber). Adrian Gonzalez, (who allegedly stated in an interview that “any team that doesn’t make the playoffs and is supposed to, it’s because of injuries” ) perhaps you should take a look at your new rivals down south and take note. Injuries are not the only reason good teams miss the playoffs. Good teams miss the playoffs because even good teams can play terribly in September.
And that is the beauty, and heartbreak, of Major League Baseball.
This year’s American League Wild Card race does present interesting questions, however. Namely about the restructuring of the leagues to create more equal divisions. The Red Sox or Rays (injuries or not) would have likely won either of the other divisions, instead of being forced to compete on the last day of the season. No amount of revenue sharing can ever equal out the competitive imbalance in payrolls.
And potentially punishing a team like the Rays, who can compete against teams like the Yankees and Red Sox with a fraction of the payroll simply for geographic reasons is uncalled for. Geographic rivalries can be fun, but in all honesty it is 2011 and virtual tourism (see watching a game on TV or on MLB.tv) is almost as popular as visiting a stadium itself. There is not need for long bus trips from city to city (unless you are the Durham Bulls), teams have charter jets.
Perhaps it is time to restructure the leagues. To create a competitive balance.
But, then again, if that were the case we wouldn’t have had the most memorable day 162 any of us will ever see.