Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to Tuesday’s steroid allegations and the writer believes the situation will likely not improve for him, even if it doesn’t get worse.
There was a time, not long ago, that it seemed inevitable that Alex Rodriguez would break Barry Bonds’ all-time homerun record of 762. Today, that certainty is slowly fading.
Ken Rosenthal and the rest of the crew on MLB Network’s Hot Stove yesterday considered the possibility that A-Rod might never make it back to a big league lineup, but at the very least is unlikely to play in 2013. With the loss of an entire season quite possible, A-Rod’s shot at hitting another 116 homeruns is dwindling.
He’ll be 38 in July, which means he’ll be 38/39 in 2014. If we assume 2013 is a lost cause, that gives him four seasons to get to the end of his contract and hit 116 homeruns. Given that he’ll be 42 when the deal is up and that his body is already breaking down, I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll play beyond 2017.
If these assumptions hold, does A-Rod have a shot at the record? He would need to average 29 HR a season to get to 763. He hasn’t hit that many since 2010. Granted, he hit 30 or more in every season before 2010, but still. He hasn’t even hit 20 in either of last two seasons. His batting average and walk rate are down from his peak. He’s no longer a great defender and his baserunning is not much to look at.
He’s an aging slugger who is breaking down and losing his athleticism. That doesn’t make for a good formula going into his late 30s and early 40s.
So while 116 more homeruns aren’t out of the question, it doesn’t look likely. Only Barry Bonds hit more homeruns as he got really old, but most don’t. This is a lesson in inevitability and prediction. In baseball, there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot can go wrong.
A-Rod, for all of his talent, is likely going to come up short of a mark he looked certain to achieve. And Bonds’ record will stand a little longer. Not that A-Rod breaking the record would make us feel better. He admitted to using PEDs during his Rangers days. He’s one of the least popular star athletes of our lifetime and is a constant source of ridicule.
So I’m not going to get nostalgic and upset about A-Rod’s demise, but I am going to get inquisitive. If not A-Rod, then who? Who among the active baseball world could get to 763 homeruns and unseat Bonds?
Here are five candidates who could get there if they place into their early 40s:
5) Mike Trout (Angels)
Trout is 21 and has 35 homers. He’s probably not going to hit 30 a year every season for 20 years, but even that wouldn’t be enough. He’s good enough to make a run at it, but it’s important to remember that young players have a disadvantage because they have a lot of ground to cover, even if they do have time to do so. Needs: 20 years of 37+HR
4. Bryce Harper (Nationals)
The same goes for the 19 year old Harper who already has 22 homeruns. He’s a generational talent and is very young. He could do it, but the odds are still long given how many he still has in front of him. Needs 22 years of 34+HR
3. Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)
Cabrera is a still under thirty for a couple of months and he’s already 321 homeruns into the race. He hit a career high 44 in 2012 and a few more years at that pace will give him a shot at Bonds’ record. But Cabs has always been more of a pure hitter than a power hitter, so 40 homer years might be the exception to a 30 homer pace. Needs 12 years of 37+HR
2. Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)
Stanton is only a couple years older than Trout and Harper but he’s 93 homers deep into the chase. Don’t get me wrong, a lot has to go right for him to make it to 763, but I like his odds better just because he’s already near 100. Needs 20 years of 34+ HR
1. Albert Pujols (Angels)
Pujols is easily the furthest along in the race at 475 homeruns, but he’s also the oldest. If we figure he’ll play out the final nine years of his deal in LA, he’ll need to hit 32 a year to make it happen. The task is easiest for him, but he’s also the only player on this list on the wrong side of 30. Needs 9 years of 32+HR
Preseason Prediction: Evan Longoria (3B –TB)
I won’t spend much time defending this one, except to say that Evan Longoria is an elite baseball player who played less than half his team’s games this season. He posted a 2.4 WAR and was limited on defense by injury even when he was in the lineup, so I don’t feel bad about my pick. Players get hurt.
He’s one of the best in the game and is just 27 years old. I’ll probably pick him again next year (I picked him in 2010 too).
And the award goes to…
So this is a pretty controversial topic among baseball people, writers, and fans. It really shouldn’t be, but it is. I’ll be upfront and clear throughout this whole thing.
1) I am a giant Tigers fan (see: name of this website)
2) Mike Trout should win the MVP award.
A couple of notes to start. First, I do not believe that the performance of your team should factor in to voting at all. Neither Trout nor Cabrera is responsible for the other 24 guys on his team. You can’t fault or reward someone for the play of others in this type of award.
Two, if I cared about that, Trout still wins. Trout’s team won more games in a better division than Cabrera’s. You cannot tell me that Cabrera’s team winning 88 games in a worse division makes him the MVP over Trout because the Angels won 89 games and did so in against superior competition.
Third, the Triple Crown (leading the league in AVG/HR/RBI) is cool, but it is not a reason to vote for Cabrera. Let’s consider a theoretical example to make this clear:
Player A: .330, 45 HR, 150 RBI.
Player B: .329, 44 HR, 149 RBI.
In this example, Player A wins the Triple Crown narrowly in every category.
Player C: .365, 50 HR, 150 RBI
Player D: .320, 31 HR, 151 RBI
In this example, Player C does not win the Triple Crown.
Clearly, Player A and Player B are essentially the same player by these three statistics. Player C (who didn’t win the Crown) is clearly a superior player to Player D. Therefore, winning the Triple Crown is not a sufficient reason to be MVP, even if RBI wasn’t a terrible stat.
But none of those arguments explain why Trout is the MVP, they simply explain why certain arguments for Cabrera are invalid. Now let’s make the case for Trout.
Let’s start with Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Trout had a lot more. 10.0 to 7.1. If you trust WAR, this discussion is over, but if you’re still supporting Cabrera, I’ll go on. WAR, as we talked about a couple weeks ago, is essentially trying to measure offense, defense, and baserunning in one single number. You may not agree with its formula, but you can’t disagree with its logic. WAR measures value.
So let’s break down each component of these two players. Baserunning first because it’s easy. The advanced stats favor Trout in a big way. Trout stole 45 more bases. Every single scout, evaluator, and human being I’ve talked to says Trout is better on the bases than Cabrera. Point for Trout (we’ll talk how to weight these later).
Now let’s talk defense. Trout is better. UZR gives Trout an 11.4 to -10.0 advantage. In laymen’s terms, we’re talking about a 2.0 WAR difference just with the gloves. This stands up to the eye test.
Trout is an elite defender who made a ton of great plays this season and he did so at one of the most critical defensive positions on the field. Cabrera’s numbers on defense do not look great, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because I watched him play every day. Cabrera is better than a lot of his critics say, but he’s not great. If we agree he’s league average, he’s still well behind Trout and I think that is generous. Point Trout.
So let’s review by putting up a simple theoretical formula.
Value = O + D + B
If Trout wins a category, we make the value positive, if Cabrera wins it, we make it negative. If the final value is greater than 0, Trout is MVP. If it’s less than 0, Cabrera is. Simple.
So right now we have
Value = O + D(positive) + B(positive)
In order for Cabrera to be MVP, his value on offense has to exceed Trout’s by more than the sum of Trout’s Defense and Baserunning lead.
Let’s go stat by stat. Cabrera his 44 HR, Trout hit 30. Trout scored 129 runs, Cabrera 120. Cabrera drove in 139, Trout 89. Let’s dispense with RBI because that is a function of where you hit in the order. Trout hit first, so 20-25% of his ABs come with no one on base and the rest come with poor hitters ahead of him. Cabrera gets to hit with Austin Jackson ahead of him a lot. Cabrera had 119 more plate appearances with men on base than Trout in 2012 and while he hit for a higher average in those situations, he had a lower average with the bases empty where Trout topped him by around 80 PAs.
Runs work the same way in Trout’s favor, so I’ll dump those too. Let’s head for the slash lines.
You might notice Cabrera’s batting average is higher, but Trout more than makes up for it by walking more to lead to a higher OBP for Trout. Trout gets on base more. Cabrera does out slug him, however.
But here’s a key point. If we factor in their stolen bases (because singling and stealing second is virtually the same as doubling as far as SLG is concerned), Trout jumps to .651 over Cabrera’s .612
So far, Trout trails in homeruns, but leads in OBP and passes him in SLG if we allow Trout’s legs to play a role (I’ll even discount baserunning entirely from the final decision if we just factor in SB here).
So what we have here is a picture of Miguel Cabrera being less valuable than Trout on offense. Even if we concede that they are the same, which I would be willing to do for the sake of argument, Trout’s defensive value gives him the award.
Let’s look at wOBA for a minute, which is offense without the SB factor I just included. Cabrera .417, Trout .409. By wRC+, tied at 166. Make all the arguments you want, I can’t see any reasoning that tells me Cabrera is enough better on offense to discount Trout’s sizable defensive advantage.
To make that case, you would have to A) Value Defense so little that it is not even worth having one B) Make the case that Cabrera was more valuable on offense (which I’m not sure you can, certainly not by a lot)
Let’s revisit the equation:
Value = O + D + B
If all three are positive, Trout wins. The only way Cabrera can win is if O is more negative than the sum of D and B. I would argue that O is positive, so this is all moot, but even if you find a way to make O negative, it’s not by much.
Trout is the MVP.
Two final things. One, you could say that Trout missed April and should lose points for that. I would tell you that’s true, except that he still led Cabrera by 2.9 WAR (which factors in how much you play). Two, there is one way to argue for Cabrera.
To make the case for Cabrera, you have to make the case that while he wasn’t worth more on the field, he was worth more in the clubhouse. You could say that Cabrera made his teammates better by being around him and therefore is worth more than Trout because Trout did not do that. That is logically consistent, but I don’t believe it to be true. If you could show me evidence, or even circumstantial conjecture in that direction, I would consider it.
I don’t like that this debate became about stat geeks and purists. We aren’t watching a different game. Stat heads are just willing to look at more stats than AVG/HR/RBI/R/SB because there is more information out there. Those stats should not be the holy grail because they miss so much. Walks matter. Defense matters.
Cabrera had a great year, Trout had a better one.
10. Josh Hamilton (OF – TEX)
9. Ben Zobrist (All 9 Positions – TB)
8. Joe Mauer (C – MIN)
7. Felix Hernandez (SP – SEA)
6. Austin Jackson (OF – DET)
5. Justin Verlander (SP – DET)
4. Adrian Beltre (3B – TEX)
3. Robinson Cano (2B- NYY)
2. Cabrera (3B –DET)
1. Trout (OF – LAA)