Revisiting Trout vs. Cabrera MVP debate — with a twist


So, get ready for a bit of a shocker. I was on a panel with Farhan Zaidi of the Oakland A’s. He’s a great guy. A’s general manager Billy Beane often calls him “Emotional Stat Guy,” which he says will be the name of his fantasy baseball team (though I personally think it would be a better band name.*) Zaidi is utterly brilliant — economics degree from MIT, Ph.D from Cal Berkeley in economics — and a lot of fun to talk with about baseball.

*Zaidi told a great story about his interview with Billy Beane, who he idolized. It was 2003, and he was doing some consulting and fantasy sports work — basically, he was overqualified for whatever he was doing. He heard about an Oakland opening. He fished out an old resume and, without really reviewing it, sent it off to Billy Beane. One thing he had forgotten was that in the personal section of the resume, he had mentioned that he liked Britpop — you know, Suede, Sleeper, Oasis, a bunch of those Wonderwall bands that were cool in certain circles in the mid-to-late 1990s. Unfortunately, it was now 2003.

First thing Beane said to Zaidi was, “So, I understand you like Britpop.” Zaidi felt his face go white hot as he sunk into his chair. He started to hem and haw about how he had not updated his resume in a while and that, you know, er, well, it’s just kind of …

At which point, Billy Beane said: “I am the biggest Oasis fan.”

How that scene was left out of Moneyball, I’ll never know.

So before the panel began, we were talking about all sorts of things, when the 2012 American League MVP argument came up. Yes, we’re still talking about it. In very general terms, the argument seemed to split baseball fans between those who embrace the new baseball metrics and those who do not.

That’s a sweeping generalization and does not tell the full story — there were brilliant mathematicians in the Cabrera camp and staunch traditionalists in the Trout camp. But in general terms, the traditional statistics (Triple Crown!) and general principles pointed to Cabrera. And the advanced statistics seemed to show that Trout wasn’t just better than Cabrera but markedly better.

Baseball Reference WAR

Trout: 10.7 WAR
Cabrera: 6.9 WAR

Fangraphs WAR

Trout: 10.0 WAR
Cabrera: 7.1 WAR

That isn’t all that close. Basically WAR — and some other advances metrics — showed that whatever advantages Cabrera had in terms of power and batting average and timely hitting were swamped by Trout’s advantages as a fielder, base runner and player who gets on base. The argument made sense to many of us who champion the advanced statistics and their power to get closer to a player’s true value.

The Cabrera arguments, for the most part, were more about gut instinct, intangibles and the power of old statistics. Cabrera won the Triple Crown. Cabrera hit better down the stretch. Cabrera’s team made the playoffs. These arguments made sense to many baseball fans.

The two sides basically talked around each other for months. The gut arguments meant nothing at all to the sabermetric people, who feel like those gut arguments are shallow and often wildly off. The sabermetric arguments meant nothing at all to the people who do not trust a lot of these new statistics and feel like they are draining the fun out of the game. Back and forth it went, but neither side seemed to move any closer together.

Zaidi and I were talking about this when he told me something that I found utterly staggering. He said that Oakland’s objective model for measuring a player’s value — remember now, we are talking about the Oakland A’s, the Moneyball people, Jonah Hill and so on — found that Miguel Cabrera, NOT Mike Trout, was more valuable in 2012.

More from Sloan: Finding peace with WAR

Well, that’s not exactly right. He was quick to say that the difference between the two was so slight as to be almost invisible — they were, for an intents and purposes, in a virtual tie. But their system did have Cabrera ahead by the tiniest of margins.

I thought that was a pretty big deal. I know last year, a lot of people were spending a lot of energy trying to find a convincing statistical model that showed Cabrera was better than Trout. If there was one, I didn’t see it. Now, it turns out that Oakland (Oakland!) has such a statistical model.

We did not have time to get into details — and Zaidi might not have done that anyway since the A’s model for measuring players is proprietary — but I think the point comes through. Statistics are tools. People use tools differently. People see the world differently. Give someone a pen and paper, she or he might sketch out a breathtaking mathematical formula … or scribble a prescription … or write down the amazing story of a young boy who has discovered he is a wizard … or a sketch of a flying car … or draw a Calvin and Hobbes panel  … or a million other things.

Give a lot of different smart people the Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout data, you should get different ways of using that data. And you just might get different answers. It’s an important thing to remember, I think.

My sense, based on my reading of the numbers, Trout was better than Cabrera. I also readily concede Zaidi and the people in the Oakland front office are a lot smarter than I am.

Rob Manfred wants a new, unnecessary rule to protect middle infielders


Commissioner Rob Manfred is at the Cards-Cubs game this afternoon and the sporting press just spoke with him about the fallout from the Chase Utley/Ruben Tejada play from the other night. Not surprising.

Also not surprising? Manfred’s desire to implement a new rule in an effort to prevent such a play from happening again. Or, at the very least, to allow for clear-cut punishment for someone who breaks it:

Which is ridiculous, as we already have Rule 6.05(m) on the books. That rule — which is as clear as Crystal Pepsi — says a baserunner is out when . . .

(m)A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play:

Rule 6.05(m) Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.

That rule totally and completely covers the Utley-Tejada situation. The umpires were wrong for not enforcing it both then and in the past, but that’s the rule, just as good as any other rule in that book and in no way in need of replacement.

Why not just enforce that rule? What rule would “better protect” infielders than that one? What would do so in a more straightforward a manner? What could baseball possibly add to it which would make plays at second base less confusing rather than more so?

I suspect what Manfred is interested in here is some means to change this from a judgment call to a clear-cut rule. It was that impulse that led to the implementation of clocks for pitchers and batters and innings breaks rather than giving umpires the discretion to enforce existing pace-of-play rules. It was that impulse which led to a tripartite (or is it quadpartite?) means of determining whether a catcher impermissibly blocks the plate or a runner barrels him over rather than simply enforce existing base-blocking rules.

But taking rules out of the subjective realm and into the objective is difficult or downright impossible in many cases, both in law and in baseball. It’s almost totally impossible when intent is an element of the thing, as it is here. It’s likewise the case that, were there a clear and easy bright line to be established in service of a judgment-free rule on this matter, someone may have stumbled upon it once in the past, oh, 150 years. And maybe even tried to implement it. They haven’t, of course. Probably because there was no need, what with Rule 6.05(m) sitting up there all nice and tidy and an army of judgment-armed umpires standing ready to enforce it should they be asked to.

Unfortunately, Major League Baseball has decided that eschewing set rules in favor of new ones is better. Rules about the time batters and pitchers should take. Rules about blocking bases. Rules about how long someone should be suspended for a first time drug offense. Late Selig and Manfred-era Major League Baseball has decided, it seems, that anything 150 years of baseball can do, it can do better. Or at least newer and without the input of people in the judgment-passing business like umpires and arbitrators and the like.

Why can’t baseball send a memo to the umpires and the players over the winter saying the following:

Listen up:

That rule about running into fielders that you all have already agreed to abide by in your respective Collective Bargaining Agreements? We’re serious about it now and WILL be enforcing it. If you break it, players, you’re going to be in trouble. If you refuse to enforce it, umpires, you’re going to be in trouble. Understood? Good.


Bobby M.

If players complain, they complain. They don’t have a say about established rules. If, on the other hand, your process of making new rules is easier than your process of simply enforcing rules you already have, your system is messed up and we should be having a whole other conversation.

Anti-Chase Utley signs at Citi Field were brutal and hilarious

Chase Utley sign

Obviously Chase Utley was not the most popular figure in Citi Field last night. The fans booed him like crazy and chanted for him to make an appearance after the game got underway.

They made signs too. Lots and lots of signs. The one at the top of this article is the only one the Associated Press saw fit to grab a photo of, it seems. But there were more and, unlike that one, they were less than tame.

My favorite one was this one, held by a girl about my daughter’s age. It’s direct. It’s totally unequivocal. It gets the point across:

There’s no arguing with that. Utley could show up with a team of lawyers and after five minutes in front of this girl he’d be forced to admit, both orally and in writing, that, yes, he Buttley.

The New York Post categorizes many more of them here. Including one that didn’t make it into the park which said “Chase Utley [hearts] ISIS.” It was confiscated by Citi Field personnel. Why?

The sign, which actually used a “heart” drawing for loves, was confiscated by Citi Field security after she got inside Monday night. Culpepper was annoyed but gave a frank explanation.

“My guess is Isis doesn’t want to be associated with Chase Utley,” she said, calling him, “my least favorite player ever.”

Somebody call the burn unit.

NLDS, Game 4: Dodgers vs. Mets lineups

Clayton Kershaw

Here are the Dodgers and Mets lineups for Game 4 of the NLDS in New York:

CF Kike Hernandez
2B Howie Kendrick
1B Adrian Gonzalez
3B Justin Turner
SS Corey Seager
RF Yasiel Puig
C A.J. Ellis
LF Justin Ruggiano
SP Clayton Kershaw

With a left-hander on the mound for New York the Dodgers are stacking the lineup with right-handed bats, using an outfield of Yasiel Puig, Justin Ruggiano, and Kike Hernandez rather than Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and Joc Pederson. Adrian Gonzalez and Corey Seager are the only lefty bats in the lineup. A.J. Ellis gets the start over Yasmani Grandal by virtue of being the personal catcher for Clayton Kershaw, who’s pitching on short rest.

RF Curtis Granderson
3B David Wright
2B Daniel Murphy
LF Yoenis Cespedes
C Travis d'Arnaud
1B Lucas Duda
SS Wilmer Flores
CF Juan Lagares
SP Steven Matz

Obviously facing Clayton Kershaw is much different than facing Brett Anderson, but they’re both lefties and manager Terry Collins is using the same lineup as Game 3 with one slight change: Travis d’Arnaud and Lucas Duda flipped in the batting order.