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Revisiting Trout vs. Cabrera MVP debate — with a twist

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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.

MLB, MLBA officially announce the terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 04:  A job seeker shakes hands with a recruiter during a HireLive career fair on June 4, 2015 in San Francisco, California. According to a report by payroll processor ADP,  201,000 jobs were added by businesses in May.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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In the past, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA have not issued official statements announcing a new Collective Bargaining Agreement until after it had been ratified by the players and clubs. The thinking was simple: there is no agreement until it is officially ratified. Which makes some sense.

A few moments ago, however, the league and the union issued a joint press release with a full summary of the new CBA terms, quotes from Tony Clark and Rob Manfred and the whole nine yards. You can see all of the detailed terms here.

The most likely explanation for doing it now: there are different people running MLB than were running it five years ago and they’re just doing things differently. My fun conspiracy theory, however, is that due to the division and acrimony in the player ranks about which we’re just hearing, the league and union wanted to make this appear to be a far more done deal than it technically is and thus be able to paint objectors who may pop up during the ratification process as Monday morning quarterbacks. Hey, crazier things have happened!

In the meantime, go check out some of the fun terms. There are a load of them there. In the meantime before you do that, here are the official statements from baseball’s honchos.

Rob Manfred:

“I am pleased that we completed an agreement prior to the deadline that will keep the focus on the field during this exciting time for the game.  There are great opportunities ahead to continue our growth and build upon the popularity that resonated throughout the Postseason and one of the most memorable World Series ever.  This agreement aims to further improve the game’s healthy foundation and to promote competitive balance for all fans.

“I thank Tony Clark, his colleagues and many Major League Players for their work throughout the collective bargaining process.  We appreciate their shared goals for the betterment of the sport.  I am grateful for the efforts of our Labor Policy Committee, led by Ron Fowler, as well as Dan Halem and our entire Labor Relations Department.”

Tony Clark:

“Every negotiation has its own challenges. The complexities of this agreement differ greatly from those in the past if for no other reason than how the industry has grown.  With that said, a fair and equitable deal is always the result you are working toward, and, once again, I believe we achieved that goal. I would like to thank our Players for their involvement, input and leadership throughout. Their desire to protect our history and defend and advance the rights and interests of their peers is something I am truly grateful for.

“I would also like to recognize Commissioner Rob Manfred, Dan Halem, MLB and the Labor Policy Committee for their hard work over the last year plus, and for staying committed to the process.  In coming to an agreement, this deal allows both sides to focus on the future growth and development of the sport. There is a lot of work to be done and we look forward to doing it.”

Peace in our time.

Breaking down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Ballot: John Schuerholz

ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 27: Atlanta Braves President John Schuerholz is shown before the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field on September 27, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: John Schuerholz 

The case for his induction:

He’s one of the greatest GMs of all time, having broken into baseball in what was then the best organization in baseball, the Balitmore Orioles, and then worked his way up to the GM chair in another fantastic organization, the 1970s and 80s Kansas City Royals. After a World Series win there he moved on to Atlanta and, with the help of his predecessor GM and future manager, Bobby Cox, helped bring the Braves back from oblivion and turned them into perpetual division title winners. His influence, in terms of his disciples and the weight he still throws around Major League Baseball, is incalculable. If there are any arguments about his place in the executive hierarchy in the past 50 years, they’re about where in the top two or three he places, not whether he’s worthy of the Hall of Fame, at least by historical standards.

The case against his induction:

You could make a strong case that executives have no business being in there, but that ship sailed a long dang time ago. You could also nitpick Schuerholz’s record — David Cone for Ed Hearn? Kevin Millwood for Johnny Estrada? — but show me a GM who doesn’t have some clunkers on his resume. You can lay resposibility for the manager challenge system in replay at his feet, but I don’t think that outweighs his accomplishments.

Schuerholz was part of turning a fledging organization into one of the best in baseball and, in his next job, turned a totally cratered, losing and barren organization into a perpetual winner. It’s hard to beat that.

Would I vote for him?

Sure. There are 33 executives in the Hall of Fame. Schuerholz had more success than most of ’em. I wish there were more, say, third basemen in the Hall than there are — there are only 16 of them — but if you’re going to judge Schuerholz by his peers, he comes out pretty well.

Will the Committee vote for him?

Yep. The Veterans Committees of the recent past have been loathe to induct a lot of players who are worthy, but they’ve always been good to put in noted executives. It’s almost as if these guys make the Veterans Committee by, you know, being tight with noted executives. I feel like he’ll glide in.