“The Triple Crown is nonsense”

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Brian Kenny (or his headline writer) says it, and he’s absolutely right.  Not absolute nonsense, of course — it’s really cool and rare to win the Triple Crown and if Miguel Cabrera does it he deserves tons of huzzahs and kudos — but nonsense in terms of naming an MVP:

I like the Triple Crown. Really, I love its place in baseball history and how it’s one of the exclusive clubs of the immortals. I also like giving the Most Valuable Player Award to the best player in the league. Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers — Triple Crown or not — is just not that guy … if Miguel Cabrera wins the Triple Crown this year, he deserves to be put alongside Carl Yastrzemski, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. It just doesn’t mean, on its own, that he was the best player in the American League. He’s not. Mike Trout is.

It has been established wisdom in baseball for the better part of a decade — and much longer in some circles — that RBI is an extremely poor measure of an individual player’s worth, that batting average is far less important than many other metrics and that, while chicks dig the long ball, there is much more to baseball than power at the plate. In light of that, how can one say that the leader in those three categories is automatically the most valuable player in the game?

Granted, in most years that player probably is the best. But not when there’s another guy whose overall offense is almost as good, and who then laps the Triple Crown leader in every other aspect of the game. Aspects of the game which the very same people who get all mad at “sabermetrics” have argued for years that the sabermetricians were ignoring.

If you reject the notion that RBI and batting average tell you the most about a player’s overall value, you cannot slavishly look to the triple crown categories as the authority on who is the most valuable. To do so makes no sense at all.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.