WAR is stupid, people are stupid (Or, Trout vs. Cabrera)

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Well, as expected, Los Angeles’ Mike Trout is beginning to open up his WAR lead on Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, not that anyone really cares or should expect it to make much of a difference in the MVP race. I’ve been saying for a couple of months now that by the time the season ends, Trout will have a higher WAR than Cabrera. I would argue it’s because while Cabrera is the best HITTER in the game, Trout is the best PLAYER in the game, But you could certainly make the argument that it’s about the WAR stat itself.

First, the numbers right now:

Baseball Reference WAR
Mike Trout: 7.2 WAR
Miguel Cabrera: 6.3 WAR

Fangraphs WAR
Mike Trout: 8.2 WAR
Miguel Cabrera: 7.5 WAR

Baseball Prospectus WARP
Mike Trout: 8.2 WARP
Miguel Cabrera: 6.7 WARP

Basically every version of WAR I’ve seen has Trout ahead at the moment, and I suspect that the gap will widen before the year ends. The reason is simply this: Cabrera has only one way to add to his WAR — by hitting baseballs. Trout has multiple ways to add to his WAR — with his hitting, his fielding, his speed, etc. If you have two stores that are selling Diet Coke exclusively, and for the same price, the store that sells more always will make more money. But if one store also sells Diet Pepsi and Coke Zero while the other doesn’t, well, obviously, what you have is a strained analogy but I’ve got this caffeine headache and really need a Diet Coke right now.

Trout just puts more stuff into the WAR bucket. You might not like how WAR adds up such things, but that’s the simple fact here. WAR, in all its forms, tends to look past the context issues and anomalies of basic statistics like batting average and counting RBIs.

Here’s a quick example: You probably know that Cabrera is hitting a rather extraordinary .358 with a .450 on-base percentage. Trout is hitting a slightly less extraordinary .330 with a .428 on-base percentage. So, Trout is great … and Cabrera is better. Seems obvious, no?

Well, sure, except for this: Trout has reached base nine times on error. Cabrera has reached zero. Now, I don’t want to go off on a rant here about errors and their statistical absurdity — but let’s just say that as far as baseball value goes, reaching on error is just as good a reaching on a hit. In both cases, you hit the ball into the field of play and you reach base. Same thing. We can argue from now until forever how it should be figured statistically, but it is inarguable that they are of equal value when it comes to the actual game.

Batting average and on-base percentage count reach-on-error as OUTS. Everything I think about this, it drives me crazy. It’s one of the dumbest statistical tricks in all of sports, maybe the dumbest, it is not unlike not giving a shooter credit for a three-point shot because he made it off the backboard or taking away not giving a receiver credit for a catch and yardage because the defender slipped and fell down. If you hit the ball and reach base it should absolutely NOT be counted as an out. It’s not an out. No out was recorded. IT IS NOT AN OUT. Sorry, I am going off on a rant here.

If you give Trout credit for the times he reached base on error, his batting average jumps to .350 and his on-base percentage jumps to .444 — suddenly very close to Cabrera.

This, I think, is one of the benefits of speed. Here’s another one: Cabrera has come up in a double-play situation 118 times and hit into 16 of them. Trout has come up in 92 double-play situations and hit into just six. So that’s 10 fewer outs for Trout. That should be figured in somehow when considering a player’s value, no? Throw it into the WAR bucket.

Home field context should be considered. Trout plays in a brutal hitter’s park. Cabrera plays in a very good one. Speed should be considered. Trout has stolen 27 of 31 bases and he leads the American League with eight triples. Cabrera has three stolen bases (though he has not been caught) and one triple. Throw it into the WAR bucket.

Trout has, by the numbers, had a tough year defensively. Last year, the numbers showed him to be a defensive superstar, but this year Baseball Reference has him with a negative defensive WAR and the Dewan Plus/Minus shows him to be minus-7 — about seven plays worse than the average center fielder . But those numbers have climbed rapidly the last few weeks and I suspect they will keep going up, Trout is simply too fast, too hard-working and too talented to be a defensive liability. I fully believe he’s had some defensive issues, but class eventually rises.

Cabrera meanwhile — he fought third base to a draw last year through sheer stubbornness, but he has always been a defensive liability and from everything I can tell he’s been pretty terrible there this season. The numbers also indicate he has been pretty terrible this season.

So we are once again in a situation where Cabrera’s superior batting average and power numbers face off against Trout’s very good batting average and power numbers, great speed and better defense. Of course, Cabrera’s team leads the American League Central while Trout’s team is dreadful and has been all season. I think we know where this is going. Trout will once again win the hearts and minds of those who like the advanced stats. Cabrera will once again win the MVP.

Max Scherzer will not be ready for Opening Day

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Ten days ago Nationals ace Max Scherzer said he’d be ready for the start of the regular season. “I’m gonna do it,” Scherzer said.

[Ron Howard from “Arrested Development” voice] — No, he’s not:

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team’s opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation.

He’s still projected to make it to the opening rotation, taking the hill, most likely, on Thursday April 6 against the Marlins. At least if the schedule doesn’t slip any more.

Scherzer, as you probably know, has a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger, which has messed with his preparation and has caused him to alter his grip a bit. As of now Stephen Strasburg will get the Opening Day nod.

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.