Trout? Cabrera? Doesn’t matter much. They both had MVP seasons

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A quick thought on the Miguel Cabrera-Mike Trout MVP race.

As you might know, I had a vote this year. And I voted for Trout. I suppose that won’t be a shocker for anyone on this site. I’ve never hidden my strong opinion that while Cabrera’s the best hitter in the game, Trout is the best player in the game. Last year, Trout had what is almost certainly the best season for a 20-year-old in baseball history. This year, he had one of the best for a 21-year-old.

Best seasons for a 21-year old in no particular order:

– Mike Trout, 2013, .323/.432/.557, 39 doubles, 27 homers, 33 SBs, led league in runs and walks.

– Rogers Hornsby, 1917, .327/.385/.484, led league in slugging and with 17 triples during Deadball Era.

– Rickey Henderson, 1980, .303/.420/.399 with 100 stolen bases and 111 runs scored.

– Cesar Cedeno, 1972, .320/.385/.537 with 39 doubles, 22 homers, 59 steals and 103 runs scored while playing in the hitter-unfriendly Astrodome.

– Eddie Mathews, 1952, hit .302 and led league 47 home runs. He also had 135 RBIs and 99 walks.

And so on — Jimmie Foxx in 1929, Ken Griffey in 1991, Andruw Jones in 1998, Ted Williams in 1939, Frank Robinson in 1957, Ty Cobb in 1908 and so on. Most of the great 21-year olds became Hall of Famers. Mike Trout really is a phenomenon.

In my view when you totaled up everything — power, getting on base, defense, speed, base-running — Trout was simply the more valuable player. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and talked to a lot of people. That was my call.

But that’s not the main point here. The main point here is this: I’ve come to believe with these awards that, sure, there are often players I believe deserve to win who do not. But that’s just about opinions. I think the larger question to ask is this: Did the person who won the MVP award have an MVP season? Did the person who won the Cy Young Award have a Cy Young season?

Sometimes they don’t. The Cy Young Award has been particularly shaky. Mark Davis, Steve Bedrosian, LaMarr Hoyt, Pete Vuckovich, Mike Flanagan, just as a starting point … I just don’t think any of them had Cy Young seasons. They had seasons that were illusions because of high win totals or high save totals.

And it’s true for MVP. I don’t think Dennis Eckersley had an MVP season when he won the MVP in 1992. I don’t think it was close to an MVP season. He pitched just 80 innings, and did not have a markedly better season than Jeff Montgomery, Duane Ward, Doug Jones, Jeff Russell or a half dozen other relievers. He pitched for a great team that won a lot of games, he had helped redefine that position, and voters liked him. The problem with 1992 was not that Roger Clemens or Kirby Puckett or Robbie Alomar or numerous other more deserving candidates did not win the award. The problem with 1992 is that Eckersley did not have an MVP season but won anyway.

I don’t think Andre Dawson had an MVP season in 1987 — he led the league in home runs and RBIs which impressed everybody. And it was impressive. But that was a reflection of his home park; and he was actually quite dreadful on the road (.234/.288/.480). His WAR that year was 15th among players who got votes. Tony Gwynn, who hit .370/.447/.511 or Eric Davis with his 37 homers and 50 stolen bases or Dale Murphy, who actually had a better season than either of his MVP seasons, were MUCH better candidates for MVP. But once again, my big issue is that Dawson simply did not have an MVP quality season.*

*Conversely in 1982, when Dawson had a fantastic season that was absolutely of MVP quality, he finished 21st in the MVP voting.

We can keep going with this. I don’t think Willie Hernandez had an MVP season in 1984 — it would be awfully tough for me to believe a reliever could pitch enough innings to be the most valuable player in the league (though Hernandez did throw 140, way more than the modern closer). Don Baylor did not have an MVP season in 1979 — he was a DH/lumbering outfielder who slugged more than 100 points less than his own future teammate Fred Lynn. Jim Konstanty certainly was not the most valuable player in 1950 — a year when Stan Musial had a Musial year and Eddie Stanky had a .460 on-base percentage and scored 115 runs and so on.

And the point: Miguel Cabrera this year had an MVP quality season, no question about that. He had an MVP quality season last year too. He’s a fantastic player in his prime. It’s easy, when you get caught up in the argument, to forget the greatness of Cabrera and the greatness of Trout. They both had legitimate MVP seasons and so did Josh Donaldson and Robbie Cano and throw in Chris Davis and Evan Longoria too. I voted Trout but it’s not like the BBWAA gave the award to Jim Johnson because he had 50 saves or Prince Fielder because he had 100-plus RBIs. They gave it to a great player who had a great season.

I will say that I wish there hadn’t been voters who put Adrian Beltre and Dustin Pedroia and (my head hurts) David Ortiz ahead of Trout. But that’s a different story and didn’t matter anyway.

A scout thinks the Astros strike out too much. The Astros have the lowest strikeout total in baseball.

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Great moments in scouting. MLB.com’s Richard Justice spoke to an unnamed scout about the Astros, currently holding the American League’s best record at 76-47. The scout said that the Astros strike out too much and it will catch up with them. Justice pointed out that the Astros have the lowest strikeout total in baseball. The scout responded, “I don’t believe that.”

Justice, of course, is correct. The average major league team has struck out 1,006 times entering Sunday’s action. The Astros have by far the lowest total at 827, followed by the Indians at 881 and the Pirates at 882.

This scout doesn’t represent all scouts, but this is one of the major problems that advocates of statistics were trying to highlight before Sabermetrics became popular a decade ago. It’s a pattern. Person believes thing. Person either cherry-picks evidence to defend belief or is shown evidence that belief is not factually true and ignores it. Person refuses to change belief, using one of many excuses.

The other problem this highlights is the fallacy of “the eye test,” which is shorthand for treating a scout’s observations as sacrosanct due to his or her experience and knowledge of the game. In this case, the scout ignored easily accessed information, went with his gut, and turned out to be completely wrong. Furthermore, if “the eye test” were legit, the scout would’ve known that, for example, Yulieski Gurriel and Jose Altuve hardly ever strike out (11.1 and 12.4 percent strikeout rates, respectively). In fact, no one on the Astros’ roster (min. 230 PA) has a strikeout rate above 21 percent; the league average is 21.5 percent.

This isn’t to impugn the practice of scouting as a whole. There are a lot of things scouts can tell you about a player that data cannot and that has value. But for easily-researched claims like “the Astros strike out too much,” there’s no reason to trust a scout over the stats.

Mets acquire Jacob Rhame from Dodgers

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The Mets acquired right-handed reliever Jacob Rhame from the Dodgers, the team announced on Sunday. Rhame is the player to be named later in the trade that sent outfielder Curtis Granderson to Los Angeles on Friday night. He’s expected to report to the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate.

Rhame, 24, pitched through his second Triple-A campaign with the Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2017, collecting two saves in 41 appearances and logging a 4.31 ERA, 1.9 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 48 innings. While his ERA saw a sharp spike from its modest 3.29 mark in 2016 (perhaps thanks in part to a midseason DL stint due to an undisclosed injury), he’s controlling the ball better than he has in several years and has drawn some attention with a fastball that occasionally touches 98 MPH on the radar gun.

The Mets’ bullpen hasn’t been at its finest over the last few weeks, ranking 16th among its major league competitors with a collective 4.50 ERA and 2.4 fWAR, but likely isn’t looking to add an extreme fly ball pitcher to its staff just yet. Until he gets his big league break, Rhame will beef up Triple-A Vegas’ relief corps alongside fellow right-handers Yaisel Sierra, Joe Broussard and Josh Ravin.