Fun With WAR: Mike Trout vs Miguel Cabrera


Trout should win the MVP race (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE)I realize WAR (wins above replacement) isn’t for everybody and is widely considered a nerdy, sabermetric crutch. While most of the stat geeks will tell you WAR isn’t the be-all, end-all metric, it is a good reference point. Fangraphs defines WAR as “an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic.” It’s making it’s way to ESPN but is still way too scary for members of the BBWAA who still write for those things with words printed on actual paper about news. Don’t know what they’re called.

The AL MVP race is down to Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is awfully close to winning the Triple Crown which would all but guarantee him the MVP. Cabrera is leading the AL in RBI (wheeee!) by a healthy margin, first in average (.327 followed by Trout and Joe Mauer at .323) and second in home runs (42 to Josh Hamilton‘s 43). Oh and he’s going to lead baseball in grounded into double plays. Quadruple Crown? The Triple Crown is neat accomplishment, popularized in the ’30s and ’40s before we knew any better about BA and RBI. What Trout is doing, though, is unbelievably historic. Time for fun with WAR (the Baseball-Reference version).

WAR is an accumulating stat so, thanks to Vernon Wells, Cabrera got a three week jump on Trout while Trout was making Triple-A pitchers feel bad about themselves. Trout caught up some by leading off but is still trailing Cabrera by 66 plate appearances. It also makes what Trout is doing look even more impressive.

Trout currently has a 10.6 rWAR. In the history of baseball, a 10.6 or higher WAR has happened 24 times by 16 different players. Babe Ruth did it six times. Rogers Hornsby, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb and Willie Mays are the only players who have done it twice. Cabrera is sitting at a 6.6 rWAR. The 6.6 and higher WAR marks have been hit 644 times. Buster Posey has a 6.6 rWAR this season and is probably the front runner for the NL MVP. Carl Crawford had a 6.6 rWAR in 2010 and finished seventh in MVP voting, Adrian Gonzalez‘s 6.6 rWAR in 2009 was good for 12th and Hanley Ramirez took 11th in 2008 with his 6.6 rWAR.

Since they started handing out MVP hardware, six of the 10 players to hit for the Triple Crown won the MVP. The winners were Carl Yastrzemski, Frank Robinson, Mantle, Joe Medwick, Jimmy Foxx and Rogers Hornsby. Those failing to win the MVP were Ted Williams (twice), Lou Gehrig and Chuck Kline. After the Babe Ruth era, 11 players have posted a 10.5+ WAR starting in 1946 with Williams. Ten of those went on to win the MVP. Your winners were Williams, Stan Musial, Mantle (twice and back to back), Willie Mays, Yastrzemski, Joe Morgan, Cal Ripken, and Barry Bonds (twice and back to back). In 1964, Mays somehow finished a distant sixth to Ken Boyer and his 5.8 WAR. While that is gross, maybe it’s precedent for Cabrera. If you really want to reach for straws.

While Trout turned 21 in August, it still counts as his age 20-year-old season. The 20-year-olds who managed to WAR over 7.0 are Mel Ott (7.3), Al Kaline (8.0), Alex Rodriguez (9.2) and Trout. Trout has eight games left in the greatest season in baseball history by a 20-year-old. Not to be out done, Cabrera shares his 6.6 WAR season at age 29 with Solly Hemus and his career year in 1952. Okay, at 29, Shawn Green, Dwight Evans and Orlando Cepeda also posted 6.6 rWARs.

Here’s what ultimately brought this post to life. Trout’s four run lead over Cabrera in WAR is massive. We aren’t just talking about some questionable defensive metrics even though Trout is a plus center field defender and Cabrera has been, surprisingly, a slight upgrade over a traffic cone at third base. Four wins is a lot. I’m a big fan of context so let me help you out with a little WAR math. The following is a list of players you could add to Cabrera to equal Trout’s value for this season…

My favorite is Cabrera’s rWAR plus Prince Fielder‘s rWAR equals Trout’s rWAR. Part of it is because they’re the “feared 3-4 hitters” in the Tigers offense and part because they make a combined $44 million in 2012 compared to Trout and his $480,000 salary.

To sum up this edition of Fun with WAR, Mike Trout has been about Josh Hamilton more valuable than Miguel Cabrera.