Baseball advancing to futuristic stats

No triple crown? No problem. (AP Photo)

Lots of wins, a low ERA, a high batting average and a ton of home runs make a player good, right? We all have at some point, or still do, believe that these are the best indicators of a player’s true talent. Well, let me introduce you to the world of sabermetrics. As per Wikipedia, sabermetrics is defined as the specialized analysis of baseball through objective evidence, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity. The key word in Wikipedia’s definition is objective. Many are under the impression that sabermetrics believe that it’s just a bunch of complicated numbers for stat nerds who need to understand that baseball is played on the field.

When placed in context, sabermetrics is an extremely useful tool that is a great predictor and excellent indicator of how good the player actually is. Most of these statistics take into account luck, ballpark factors, defense and much more, eliminating things the player cannot control. Yes, it involves a lot of complicated formulas, numbers and statistics like xFIP, wOBA and UZR primer. However, when understood, the meaning of each there, really is a valid rationale behind most of the statistics. Again, there are some statistical measures that need to be placed in context.

I was once the casual fan, looking at only surface stats like wins, ERA and batting average. My interpretations of these stats changed when I was watching a Yankees game a few years back. While watching this game, I learned a valuable lesson: Wins are meaningless. I saw Mike Mussina let up five earned runs in a mere five innings, yet still credited with a win, which doesn’t happen often. This sparked my interest in a deeper understanding of baseball statistics, which ultimately has made my understanding of baseball all the more enjoyable and rational. For me, I’d like to see sabermetrics used more for the rational evaluations in media. I’m tired of hearing that Matt Harrison was awesome this season.

This shift in understanding baseball can all change with the 2012 AL MVP potential winner, which is between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. Looking solely on the three “important” statistics, batting average, homeruns and RBIs, it’s not even a close race. Miguel Cabrera should win the award by a landslide, by winning the Triple Crown. RBI is a meaningless stat to me, and batting average and homeruns needed to be adjusted slightly at face value. The Triple Crown is fun for fans, but really has no implications on how valuable the player was to his team. The award completely ignores other very important facets of the game, such as walks, doubles, triples, defensive value, positional value and park effects.

When comparing Trout and Cabrera from a more sabermetric approach, Trout is the clear winner. WAR is a statistic that measures a player’s total contribution to his team, taking into account both offense and defense. With that said, Trout has a 10.4 WAR compared to Cabrera’s 7.2 WAR. Trout’s WAR would place him 20th all time in single season WAR, higher than Barry Bonds’ 2004 season and Alex Rodriguez’s 2000 season. Talk about historic.

One might wonder where this huge discrepancy in WAR comes from. First off, many believe that Cabrera’s offensive output is so much better than Trout’s. This myth is debunked with the notion that, Trout’s wOBA is 0.06 higher than Cabrera’s, a more precise measure of OPS. The key difference, however, lies within Trout’s positional value and the fact that he plays it well, which can be assessed using UZR. UZR measures the runs saved on defense where a player is able to get to the ball and field it. Using this statistic, Trout saves 13 runs and Cabrera costs his team nine runs in a less demanding position at third base. Furthermore, value to a team is added through base running, which favors Trout. Trout has 46 stolen bases, compared to Cabrera’s mere four stolen bases.

Looking at these two players from a subjective point of view, Trout still wins. Even though WAR does not take into account the quality of competition, Trout wins by playing in a tougher division. The argument for Cabrera for subjective reasons is that he carried his team down the stretch in August and September. This is an arbitrary endpoint when considering the whole architect of a player’s true value. Cabrera did have a better September, but that completely ignores Trout’s contributions to his team in July. Games are of equal importance in September and July — a win is a win in the standings, regardless of the month.

With that, Trout deserves this MVP award. Trout winning the award would shift the way many view the game of baseball. Back in the day, ERA was a relatively new stat that determined how good a pitcher was. It wasn’t always accepted initially, but it did its part. Now, it’s time to accept a new generation and progress of advanced metrics that explain even more. It’s time for change.