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2013 Preseason Awards: AL MVP

So this is where I wonder about how consistent I have to be. In my divisional season previews and The Nine best lists, I boxed myself in.

I listed MVP’s of each division which included Evan Longoria, Justin Verlander, and Mike Trout. Logic dictates that I have to pick one of those three players for the league-wide award. I, however, ranked Miguel Cabrera over Longoria in my third base rankings, meaning I can’t logically pick Longoria. So I have to choose between Verlander and Trout.

Those are my only two choices. But, darn it all, I want to pick Longoria. Perhaps my caution earlier in the winter will protect me from the potential Longoria injury. I’ll spare you my inner dialogue and get on with it.

And the award will go to…


Mike Trout (LF – Angels)

Am I bitter about last season? Nah. Awards don’t really matter, so all of the ink we spilled over Trout vs Cabrera last fall was a little much and the cool sobering winter has hopefully dampened the flames of the baseball Civil WAR (get it?!).

That said, Trout is just an amazing all-around player. He had an all-time great season at age 20 and was a full two wins better than anyone else in the sport in 2012. There’s no way he posts another 10 WAR season in 2013, but even if he regresses 25% he’ll still be among the best two or three players in the game.

He is among the best baserunners and defenders in the sport and tied with Cabrera as the best offensive player in the game in 2012 with a wRC+ of 166. Let’s not forget he did everything that he did last season while missing April trudging around AAA.

In a just world, Trout would have won the award last season, but Cabrera won the Triple Crown and the sway of the writers who can’t handle basic math and/or watching defense. But let’s not worry about what happened before and focus on this.

Players who perform like Trout did at age 20 almost always have great careers. Mike Trout is a legitimate five tool player. Mike Trout plays on a good team. Mike Trout is no longer a rookie, so the bias should be gone. The world always leans toward progress.

My awards picks are rarely bold and this one is no different. Trout was the best player last year and I think he will be again, but what are the odds he’s the best player again while someone else wins a Triple Crown? Probably lower. I mean, when has that ever happened?

Can Mike Trout follow up his 2012 runner up with an MVP award? Or will a big slugger take the crown? Sound off.


The Nine Best Left Fielders for 2013

Compiling a list of The Nine best left fielders proved interesting this season because so many of the players on this list were not full time left fielders last season. By my count, three or four of the top nine spent time at a different position in 2012 and as of this publication, they are not all 100% locks to play left field. If you’re reading this during the season and are like, “Hey, #1 plays centerfield!” you might be right. Please take the positionality of the outfielders with a grain of salt.

That said, this was a very deep list. Apologies to many who didn’t make the cut. Prove me wrong and end up on next year’s list.

9. Curtis Granderson/Brett Gardner (Yankees)

Now it may seem strange to have the ninth spot go to two players, but I’m just not sure which Yankee is going to be in left field this season and either one would fit right here on my list, so it’s both of them. Whichever plays there, lands here. Granderson hits for power, but Gardner is much better at getting on base and plays a much better defense. Both players have great aspects of their games and both have weaknesses.

8. Yoenis Cespedes (Athletics)

Cespedes hit nicely in 2012, but missed 33 games and played below average defense. It’s hard to be sure about those flaws because we don’t have any great data from his time playing in Cuba, but he has all the necessary tools to excel in the majors. My hesitation with him is merely that I don’t have nearly as much information about him as I do for everyone else on the list. If he repeats his 2012, he’ll move up the list quickly.

7. Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies)

CarGo’s place on this list is really a testament to his contemporaries rather than a knock on him. He’s on base a lot and hits for power to go along with some good baserunning chops. His defense is something of an open question because certain people love it and certain people hate it. Gonzalez gets help from his park to some degree, so that will cost him just a spot or so on the list. Great player, but not a top five left fielder for 2013.

6. Justin Upton (Braves)

Upton still has his prime ahead of him and is moving to the Braves and left field to play with his brother, but he also had a rough season in 2012 compared to a great 2011. Most people see the talent and expect great things, but he also seems to have developed the reputation as an underperformer. The change of scenery should be good for him because his coaching staff and front office won’t be looking to trade him every day. A good season for Upton is ahead, but not a great one.

5. Matt Holliday (Cardinals)

Holliday is a great and consistent offensive performer and is just starting to slow down defensively at 33. He’s the centerpiece of a great lineup and hasn’t been worth fewer than 4 WAR since 2006. The ceiling might be lower than Upton, but the floor is higher.

4. Alex Gordon (Royals)

Gordon took a while to arrive relative to expectations, but he finally did in 2011 and followed it with a great 2012. He’s a gold glove defender in left and does everything well. Power, speed, and discipline mix nicely in Gordon and for my money, after Ben Zobrist, is probably baseball’s most underrated player. The Royals might not have enough to contend this year, but they have a star in left.

3. Bryce Harper (Nationals)

Harper is another player moving to left this season, and he’s doing it on baseball’s best team. He had a great season for a teenager at 19 and another year under his belt should only make him better. Harper is often referred to as a generational talent, but even if he isn’t Mantle or Mays, a single step forward from last season should be enough to put him near the top of this list. Harper does everything well and should be at the top of this list for years to come.

2. Ryan Braun (Brewers)

Ryan Braun is arguably baseball’s best all-around player. He is an MVP at the plate, runs the bases well, and is consistently improving his defense in left. He’s entering his prime despite having a collection of elite seasons already under his belt and has never missed more than twelve games in a season in five and a half big league seasons. The fact that Braun is second on this list despite that resume tells you something about the man ahead of him.

1. Mike Trout (Angels)

Mike Trout had an all-time great season at 20. The guys who do that, tend to be all-time greats. He hit for power and average, ran the bases as well as anyone in the game, and was among the very best defensive centerfielders in the sport. He was, by far, the best player in the league in 2012. That performance is not something you can easily duplicate, but even 75% of what he was last season would be enough to challenge Braun for first on this list. If Trout was half as good as he was last season, he would still be a perennial all-star. Mike Trout might not be the best player in the league for years to come, but it’s hard not to dream on his talent and get caught up in his 2012 season. Lost in this love letter to Trout is that there is a player on the Angels who is good enough on defense that he is pushing Trout to left in 2013; Peter Bourjos. Trout is the best left fielder for 2013 only because there is someone on his team who is a better defensive centerfielder than he is. Pretty amazing.

Like this list? Hate this list? Have a more nuanced feeling about this list? Join the discussion in the comments section or on Facebook and Twitter. 

If Not A-Rod, Who?: Five Players Who Could Get to 763

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

2012 Awards Series: AL MVP

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.

Trout: .326/.399/.564

Cabrera: .330/.393/.606

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.

Full Ballot

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)

2012 Awards Series: Rookies of the Year

With the 2012 season behind us, it’s time for some housekeeping here at SABR Toothed Tigers. Shortly before the World Series, we published my 2012 predictions as heard on The Guy Show for how the divisions and awards would play out.

Now it’s time to hand out some hardware.

Rookies of the Year:

American League

Preseason Prediction: Matt Moore (LHP-Tampa Bay Rays)

Moore was one of the top prospects in baseball in 2011 no matter who you asked and burst onto the scene in grand fashion in the postseason last year. He was a popular pick heading into the season and I certainly thought he’d be a top contender for the award. Moore had some growing pains in 2012, but he actually did have a respectable season.

Moore made 31 starts and posted an 11-11 record in 177.1 innings with a K/9 of 8.88. He walked too many (4.11 per 9IP), but a 3.81 ERA and 3.91 FIP is a strong season for a young rookie lefthander. He posted a 2.3 WAR which was 5th among AL rookie pitchers (4th if you don’t count the seasoned Yu Darvish).

Moore’s season was nothing to sneeze at, but it was a far cry from earning him AL Rookie of the Year honors.

The Award Goes To…

Mike Trout. Obviously. Other rookies had good seasons. Darvish, Jarrod Parker, and  Tommy Milone from the mound. Yoenis Cespedes from the batter’s box. But, seriously, Mike Trout ran circles around everyone in this year’s award.

Trout posted an historic 10.0 WAR in 2012 which not only put him atop all American League rookies, it put him above every single player in Major League Baseball. Only three rookies have ever top 8.0 WAR, and none have ever exceeded Trout’s 10.0. The voting will be unanimous when the BBWAA hands out the award, but let’s just hit some numbers quickly just for good measure.

Trout led AL rookies in the following categories (these are just the ones I felt like looking up): hits, homeruns, runs, runs batted in, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, weighted on base average (wOBA), weighted runs created plus (wRC+), UZR, BSR (baserunning metric), and WAR. Pretty open and shut if you ask me.

The full ballot looks like this:

3. Yoenis Cespedes (OF-Oak)

2. Yu Darvish (SP-TEX)

1. Mike Trout (OF-LAA)

National League:

Preseason Prediction: Devin Mesoraco (C-Cincinnati Reds)

Mesoraco was another popular pick in 2012, so I was not the only one to miss wildly. Mesoraco played in 54 games and posted a pretty terrible 0.1 WAR. The .212/.288/.352 slash line doesn’t help either. The defense was unremarkable and the offense didn’t do anything to make up for it.

I wouldn’t call Mesoraco a bust by any means, but the 24 year old backstop will need to find his form if he wants to catch 120+ games next season. His minor league numbers certainly speak to his talent, so there’s plenty still to like about the Reds catcher.

The Award Goes To…

This one was a little tougher. Okay, a lot tougher. Two clear candidates emerged in my book: Bryce Harper and Wade Miley. Todd Frazier was an option as well, but he’ll have to settle for 3rd place.

Rookie of the Year can be a difficult award to hand out because you’re often comparing players who have totally different jobs. Harper hits second for a contending team and Miley is a starter on a middle of the pack club.

Their WARs were nearly identical at 4.9 for Harper and 4.8 for Miley. Harper played 139 games, got 597 plate appearances and turned those into the following statistical profile:

22 HR, 59 RBI, 98 R, 18 SB, .270/.340/.477, .352 wOBA, 121 wRC+, 9.9 UZR.

Miley made 29 starts and 3 relief appearance totaling 194.2 innings. His line looks something like this:

16-11, 6.66 K/9, 1.71 BB/9, 3.33 ERA, 3.15 FIP

Again, their WARs are almost identical and they have a totally different role. Statistically, it’s hard to really separate the two. I’m going to throw my support to Wade Miley for the following reason, but a vote for Harper is absolutely warranted.

Harper excelled amid a good team having a great year, while Miley picked up the slack for a decent rotation. Miley was the Dbacks best starter by a good margin. Harper was the Nats second best bat, but they also had such a great staff to back them up.

There’s nothing particularly objective about that reasoning, but it’s hard to make an objective case for either of them. I feel pretty confident that Harper and Miley should be 1st and 2nd on the NL ROY ballot, but I really don’t know what order they should be in.

The full ballot looks like this:

3. Todd Frazier (3B, 1B, OF – CIN)

2. Bryce Harper (OF- WSH)

1. Wade Miley (SP-ARZ)

Check back Wednesday for Cy Young winners.

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