Five Hundred Home Runs Dies In Darkness?

The ever-astute and hip Washington Post decided to celebrate Miguel Cabrera’s historic home run achievement by opining that Cabrera and Albert Pujols may be the last major leaguers to reach five hundred home runs and three thousand hits because apparently they tallied a lot of their numbers while opposing pitching was relatively bad and batters (but we’re not saying who!) artificially extended their careers with prohibited performance-enhancing drugs, and pitching is good now and PEDs are gone.

Rather than engage that cheerful take, let’s join the throngs of the genuinely happy and have yet another look at the rarity of Cabrera’s accomplishment from two big-picture perspectives.

Cabrera famously hit his first career MLB home run in his first career MLB game, a walk-off shot in the bottom of the eleventh inning. That day, June 20, 2003, Cabrera, then twenty years old, became the 18,306th person to play Major League Baseball. (A list of all 2003 debutants is available here.) As of this writing, 22,538 people have done so, meaning that Cabrera, the twenty-eighth player to five hundred homers, joined a group that represents barely a tenth of a percent of all MLB players ever. Whether we eventually will look back at this benchmark as– perhaps like Rickey Henderson’s 1,406 career stolen bases or maybe Denny McClain’s 31 wins in 1968– an irreplicable vestige of eras past is, for this moment, a matter for dour D.C. dilettantes to debate. We can celebrate and appreciate the extreme rarity and therefore special nature of Cabrera’s feat right now.

Also noteworthy in the present moment is the rarity of the observation of the achievement for current fans. The six seasons between Cabrera’s five-hundredth blast and David Ortiz’s was the longest such gap between such career landmark hits since the nine-year period between Mike Schmidt’s (1987) and Eddie Murray’s (1996).

That the combination of talent, consistency, and longevity required to hit five hundred major-league home runs always has been rare and appears likely to remain so does not in any way diminish the significance of the accomplishment. And although the Washington Post isn’t projected to produce any journalism on the level of Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate work in the foreseeable future and hasn’t since, neither has Cabrera taken time to comment on the Post’s weaker competition during the zenith of institutional print media. (Selections from today’s online front page for modern reference.)

Thus, a humble suggestion that the Washington Post aim its performative social criticism elsewhere. Cabrera, with his excellent resume and obvious love of the game, can handle it, but it doesn’t become them. Perhaps the editors just are embarrassed that their own team can’t hang onto this type of historic player and so responds by lashing out at other greats. Regardless, I look forward to not reading a Washington Post sportswriter’s forthcoming book on Stephen Strasburg’s career entitled The Final Days.

Cherry picking the 2021 Detroit Tigers All-Stars

The annual National Cherry Festival resumes this weekend in Traverse City and runs until the start of the 2021 MLB All-Star break begins after the following weekend. Let’s use that time to look at how the Detroit Tigers have been performing over an intraseason period selected solely to make them appear better than they have been if you do something foolish like take then entire season into account.

On May 7, the Tigers lost to the Minnesota Twins 7-3, dropping their record to 9-24, and leaving them as the only MLB team without a double-digit win total. Miguel Cabrera was running a career-worst .127/.225/.238 line, and the team had just one above-average hitter in Jeimer Candelario (115 wRC+, with his BABIP still hovering around .400).

On May 8, though, the Tigers reversed the scoreboard and beat the Twins 7-3. That started a 25-21 run, a .543 winning percentage that– holding all else constant– would bump Detroit up to third place in the AL Central (or first place in the NL East).* Sure they actually remain locked in a virtual tie for last place in the division, but let’s stick with this May 8 thing a little while longer.

Since May 8, Detroit quadrupled its tally of above-average hitters. Robbie Grossman and Eric Haase (both 107 wRC+) have come on strong and clutch. And Jonathan Schoop and breakout star Akil Baddoo are on fire. Their respective 167 wRC+ and 159 wRC+ marks would make each of them top-ten hitters if extended over the full season to date. (On the other hand, Candelario dropped 100 points of BABIP and flipped his wRC+ from 115 to 85.)

As he so often does, Miguel Cabrera deserves special mention. He’s pulled up his offensive rate numbers a good deal and continues to accumulate historic-level career achievements. He continues to close in on 3,000 hits (2,915), and at 493 homers, he now is tied with Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff on the all-time list.

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MLB’s Instant Replay Review is Neither Instant nor Review: Discuss

OT - Coffee Talk

It was another bad weekend for MLB officials, whose joint obsessions with speaking publicly about an alleged need to shorten the length of games and threatening their existing fans with rule changes they hate (while forcing official telecast commentators to praise the ill-conceived reforms) came to a sudden and startling head in Atlanta last night.

This catastrophe was not entirely without advance warning, thanks to a Thursday-afternoon prelude in Queens, where replay review affirmed a plainly incorrect, game-ending call at home plate. There, with game tied and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, officials awarded the Mets a walk-off victory when their batter, Michael Conforto, leaned into strike three from Miami Marlins pitcher Anthony Bass (good fish name), taking the ball off his elbow and forcing in the game-winning run. Replay review showed that Conforto not only failed to make any effort to avoid being hit but actually extended his elbow out toward the pitched ball. Even the home telecast crew on SNY acknowledged the rules violation. MLB officials did not, however, asserting that the scope of their review was limited to the simple question of whether the pitch hit Conforto, and the Mets had a win in their home opener.

Three days later, things became unimaginably worse and even less defensible for MLB. In the primetime Sunday night game, the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves had dueled to a six-all tie through eight innings. The Braves sent reliever Will Smith out to start the ninth. Smith allowed a leadoff double to Alec Bohm, who advanced to third on Jean Segura‘s groundout. Smith then induced Didi Gregorius to fly out to Marcell Ozuna in left field. Bohm tagged up and headed home. Ozuna’s throw to catcher Travis d’Arnaud looked good enough to end the inning, but the home-plate umpire called Bohm safe.

Instant replay showed anyone with eyes that Bohm was not safe, however. While there may be room for debate as to whether Ozuna’s throw beat Bohm to the plate, the fact that Bohm never actually touched home plate should have negated any other question on the call. Video replay clearly and unequivocally showed that Bohm missed the plate entirely. A lengthy video replay review shockingly resulted in a decision upholding the safe call, however, and angry Braves fans began littering the field with debris, causing further delay.

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The ongoing saga of Charlie Blackmon’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

1979 Trans Am- bought it new in April of 1979. It is an unrestored 400/4spd  car with a little… | Pontiac firebird trans am, Pontiac firebird, 1979  pontiac trans am

From MLB hot stove season to MLB hot rod season, the Superior Court of Cherokee County, Georgia brings us the tale of Colorado Rockies outfielder and four-time All-Star Charlie Blackmon‘s classic sports car. While the Sports Law Roundup is on hiatus, we’ll tackle this one in as much detail as the public record permits, because what else are we going to do during Pandemic Pro Bowl Weekend?

According to a complaint his legal team filed on Monday, Blackmon hired Michael Ramsey and Ramsey’s company, Ramsey Performance, to restore a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am in early 2015. Since then, Blackmon has paid Ramsey more than $50,000 and has nothing to show for it, and now he wants it back. Ramsey may have done some work on the project, but it is not complete. The allegations and written communications attached to Blackmon’s filing suggest that Ramsey even has refused to allow Blackmon to view the vehicle, much less take possession of it.

The filing includes written correspondence, mostly between Ramsey and Anna Domenech, one of Blackmon’s representatives at his sports agency, ACES. Domenech stepped in to try to retrieve her client’s vehicle. Her documented efforts over the course of most of 2020 proved unsuccessful, but they paint a picture of Ramsey as someone with other priorities and not particularly eager for real engagement with Blackmon’s people. Ramsey’s rare, often lengthy responses refer to his obligations to a software company undergoing post-merger downsizing, a matter he characterized as “my job which actually supports my family.” The emails also suggest that the restoration project became more expensive than Ramsey anticipated and required him to advance money for overruns that he wants to recover, at least in part, before surrendering the car to Blackmon.

Ramsey eventually offered a completion date of May 23, 2020. After he missed his own deadline, Blackmon hired a Georgia lawyer with experience representing sports and entertainment clients in the state to secure the vehicle’s return. In September, when Ramsey responded to the lawyer’s demand, the lawyer forwarded the response to Domenech, simply noting, “[a]t least he is alive.” Domenech replied to agree, further pointing out that the work still wasn’t done and writing, of Ramsey, “[i]f there is someone that can’t be trusted its [sic] him and he has proven that time and time again.”

Blackmon hired another Georgia lawyer who, in December, again demanded possession of the car. Ramsey responded by insisting that he be paid additional money before surrendering the vehicle:

I am more than happy to setup [sic] a review/inspection of the car, settle on what is owed based on that review, and ONLY THEN return the car to Charlie once we are both able to close this. It can only happen in that order and in that way, I will not release the car and settle later . . . . Anything owed on either side are [sic] agreed to and handled before the car leaves as once the car leaves everything is closed.

Blackmon then sought the assistance of the Cherokee County Sheriff to retrieve the car. When that effort was unsuccessful, Blackmon finally filed suit this past week against Ramsey and his company. He’s asking the court to order Ramsey to return the car or pay Blackmon the value of the car plus all materials and services for which Blackmon paid. Blackmon also is asking the court to force Ramsey to pay Blackmon’s legal expenses incurred in the case.

Ramsey has not yet filed an answer to the complaint, and his response isn’t due until at least late February.

There has been no detectable media coverage of this case, and Blackmon presumably wants it to stay that way. Nevertheless, his lawyers’ decision to leave unredacted certain personal identifying information, including Blackmon’s email address and the addresses of two of his current or former residences (one of which looks like it might be incorrect), is a footnote of minor interest pertaining to the representation of a famous client.

Born in Texas, Blackmon attended high school and colleges in Georgia before signing with Colorado as a second-round pick in 2008. Now, he’s entering what might be his final season with the Rockies (he has player options in 2022 and 2023) and looking to rebound from a slight dip, by his standards, in his eleventh year in the majors.

2020 Campaign Promises: Did MLB pitchers fail to back up their bluster in Houston?

During this time of evaluating early returns on campaign promises (no, not those ones), retrospective data on the 2020 MLB season allows an assessment of whether opposing pitchers actually delivered on their commitments to punish Houston Astros batters for their revealed roles in an on-field cheating program perpetuated in prior seasons.

To be fair, I don’t think any pitchers actually promised, publicly, to plunk a Houston hitter, but the notion propagated readily and rapidly throughout the broader baseball discourse during the offseason. Video clips of Houston HBPs spread swiftly and to great general approval. Intentionality of individual encounters unknown and therefore aside, was this really happening, though?

The hit-by-pitch rate across all teams hit a historic high in 2020. Evidence of a spike in beaned batters in Houston? Not so. (A missed opportunity for a beaned, battered burrito? Absolutely.) Even though 2020 saw a record one hit hitter for every eighty-one plate appearances, pitchers only hit Houston batters once every ninety-seven plate appearances, well below average for this past season. In 2018 and 2019, pitchers hit Astros batters at almost exactly average rates relative to all other teams, indicating that what happened was the exact opposite of what many people expected to happen: Astros players were hit less frequently than they had been in past seasons and less frequently than most other teams’ players in 2020.

There’s no doubt that civic upheaval due to a global pandemic and policing tragedies contributed to dramatically differ the demeanor with which players and fans approached sports in the spring of this year. It would be little surprise if the zeal of those plotting revenge against the Astros diminished substantially as the season shortened and attentions diverted to more pressing matters.

Before those realities unavoidably presented themselves, though, the teams played relatively unencumbered spring training schedules. That would have been opposing pitchers’ first chances to leave their marks on this conversation, and perhaps their best ones, given the general insignificance of the outcomes of these games.

What do the spring numbers say? Across all games and teams, a batter was hit once every seventy-eight plate appearances, an even higher rate than the high water mark of the regular season. And this time, Houston was near the top, with a hit batsman once every sixty-five plate appearances. Of course, that only adds up to twelve total HBPs, but the relative rate supports the suggestion that opposing pitchers in fact took their best first chances to submit a statement on the record with signal clear and significant consequence low. Whether that would have satiated the opposition or exhibition attitudes would have sustained through the regular season absent the significant intervention of external circumstances is impossible to say.

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Related
Six Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the 2020 Season – Baseball Prospectus

Rob Manfred is failing, both objectively and on his own terms

Is Rob Manfred the worst commissioner in the history of professional baseball? That’s the message I’ve been hearing over the past few months, as his litany of missteps (and worse) have come under the national microscope amidst an unflagging global pandemic. What’s clear to me is that the echoes of the drum– one that frames Manfred’s acts, omissions, and pretextual capriciousness as causing deep mutations of the sport borne as a burden by its afficionados– I have been beating is unlikely to be intelligible to the ears of those in the position to unseat Manfred. Instead of bemoaning the substance of the Commissioner’s decisions, it may prove more efficacious to examine their effects. After all, the team owners didn’t hire Manfred to implement a pitch clock; they hired him to make them money.

Bosses evaluate their employees based on results, and an examination of results under Manfred’s tenure does not reflect success.

Manfred ascended to his current position in January of 2015. Since then, he has presented an obsession with reducing the temporal length of individual games and used that objective (one for which no one asked) as the basis for many of his most visible modifications, yet the games just keep getting longer:

gametime 7-29-20

Of course, Manfred admitted his changes wouldn’t actually change anything, so none of this should come as a surprise to him.

The problems are even more fundamental, though. If you’re in the entertainment business and people stop coming to see the show, is that bad?

gameattend 7-29-20Total attendance has dropped in each season since Manfred took the helm.

Sure, television viewership is up, but if that’s Manfred’s first line of defense, it presents serious questions about the tight restrictions on the availability of baseball media to fans and the league’s push for public funding for new stadiums. And while owners’ investments continue to accrue value, there is a rising tide of concern that that value could collapse and those owners will not be able to pass that value onto the next generation. Whatever positives Manfred counts in the state of the sport are not the result of his doing. There was so much momentum behind baseball’s profitability that it now appears, from a business perspective, to be succeeding in spite of itself and has been for some time.

Thanks to COVID-19 and America’s response thereto, the 2020 MLB season remains in danger, but the sport has survived shortened and truncated seasons before, and there are good reasons to believe it will do so again. Whether it can survive Commissioner Manfred, however, remains to be seen.

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Related
Tilde Talk: The Empty Ureña Suspension
Designated Sitter, or, Manfred Ado About Nothing
2018 MLB rule changes less drastic than anticipated
Rob Manfred’s Use Your Illusion Tour

The week in baseball: 5/29/20

From the Increasingly Nocturnal Department:

  • I haven’t found it productive to follow each new return-to-play proposal for the 2020 MLB season in any detail, but public comments this week, especially from players including Max Scherzer and Trevor Bauer, point to the very real possibility that the entire season will be lost due to the inability of the owners and players union to reach final agreement on compensation arrangements for the year in a timely fashion. Although the calendar has not yet turned to June, keep in mind that any start date will need to allow a few weeks of lead time for pitchers to stretch out, undoubtedly among other logistical considerations. The viability of opening the season on or around July 4 therefore depends on what the sides can accomplish over the next couple of days. Of all the things Rob Manfred has screwed up in his brief tenure as MLB commissioner, the complete absence of baseball in America should other professional sports leagues find a workable way to resume action would be one of the most memorable.
  • Meanwhile, the 2020 Minor League Baseball season effectively ended this week following the announcement that teams are expected to begin releasing large numbers of players shortly. Some big-league veterans, including  Shin-Soo Choo and David Price, have responded by personally paying all of the monthly stipends of all of the minor-league players in their respective teams’ farm systems.
  • The CPBL and KBO seasons are rolling on, though a recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases in South Korea has delayed the expected return of fans to KBO stadiums. ESPN is continuing live telecasts of KBO games, often with replays on ESPN2 later in the afternoon.
  • The KBO appears to have earned itself a celebrity fan in Adam Eget, trusty sidekick of Norm Macdonald and manager of the world-famous Comedy Store, who said as much on a recent episode of Joe Rogan’s podcast. He and Rogan also discussed cults and Charles Manson, so listen at your own risk.
  • Japan’s professional baseball league, NPB, announced it will begin an abridged season on June 19. The prevalent view among those who follow foreign baseball leagues is that the NPB is the league that comes closest to MLB in terms of talent and competition levels.
  • Facing the prospect of the complete absence of MLB games this year, I’ve begun posting daily baseball landmarks that occurred on that day on ALDLAND’s twitter account. Some from the past week in baseball history, courtesy of Baseball-Reference:
    • 1904 – Dan McGann steals 5 bases in a game, a feat not matched until 1974 (Davey Lopes) or bested until 1991 (Otis Nixon, 6)
    • 1922 – Supreme Court rules baseball not subject to antitrust laws, interstate commerce regulations
    • 1925 – Ty Cobb becomes 1st major leaguer with 1,000 career extra-base hits
    • 1946 – 1st night game at Yankee Stadium
    • 1951 – Willie Mays gets his first hit, a home run off Warren Spahn
    • 1952 – Hank Aaron, then of the Indianapolis Clowns, signs with the Boston Braves
    • 1959 – Harvey Haddix pitches 12 perfect innings before an error in the 13th (“there has been never been anything like it” = more from Tim Kurkjian here)
    • 1968 – NL announces expansion to Montreal, San Diego
    • 1969 – Aaron becomes the 3rd major leaguer with 500 HR + 500 2B
    • 1976 – Pitcher Joe Niekro, batting against his brother, Phil, hit his only career home run
    • 1990 – Rickey Henderson breaks Cobb’s AL stolen-base record
    • 2004 – Mariano Rivera earns his 300th save
    • 2006 – Barry Bonds hits 715th home run
    • 2008 – Pedro Martinez, making a Single-A rehab start for the St. Lucie Mets, faces off against then-recent top pick David Price, then of the Vero Beach Devil Rays. (Price and the Rays win 2-0.) Price would make his major-league debut that September and his World-Series debut the following month.
    • 2010 – Roy Halladay pitches perfect game (ESPN is airing a program on Halladay’s career and too-short life tonight at 7:00 pm)
  • Whatever happens with baseball this year, Jersey City brewery Departed Soles wants to make sure we don’t forget what happened in the recent past, and therefore has released its newest beer, Trash Can Banger, a session IPA with a can styled after the Houston Astros’ classic 1970s uniforms. For now, the beer only is available in New Jersey.
  • Did the Astros cheat? They did. Did their cheating help? Running counter both to fan intuition and the public statements on the subject by professional pitchers, the latest look at that question, like some others before it, concludes that it didn’t make much of a difference. This analysis also set out to test Commissioner Manfred’s assertion that the Astros didn’t cheat in 2019 but was unable to reach a conclusion on that question.

RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Payroll Ed.

For 2020, our season preview for the Detroit Tigers will proceed, like a rebuilding project, in piecemeal fashion. The machines have completed their work, and it’s time for the humans to step to the plate.

The first subject I’d like to cover for this year is payroll. When a team is in deep rebuild mode, it’s almost pointless to spend time thinking about payroll. We know that rebuilding teams, essentially as a rule, are trying to shed payroll– usually with a focus on reducing a small number of large commitments to aging players– while gearing up for the next round of competitive action. This accounting-department aspect of baseball isn’t exciting, and it isn’t something even close observers monitor on a regular basis. Particularly with resetting teams, like the Tigers, that are very unlikely to add a high-priced free agent or sign a current player to a pricey extension, the payroll landscape changes only at a relatively glacial pace as years tick off old contracts.

Team payrolls are back in the news these days, though, thanks to the Boston Red Sox’s [Yeah, I don’t know either, man. -ed.] much-maligned decision to trade Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers. However you cook it up or boil it down, Boston gave up two of its best players without receiving a commensurate return because the team wanted to cut payroll costs, apparently with the hope of creating the financial flexibility to maybe replace Betts or Price at an unspecified future time.

Detroit, on the other hand, has quite a bit of financial flexibility, and the team didn’t have to do anything to generate it but wait around. Safely assuming you haven’t checked in a while, how do the books look?

Barring drastic changes, the Tigers will open the season with a payroll of about $95 million, which places them on the high side of the bottom third of all teams this year. That’s a stark change from the days when Chris Ilitch’s father was holding the purse: Detroit had a top-five payroll as recently as 2017. In 2020, only two Tigers– Miguel Cabrera ($30 million) and Jordan Zimmermann ($25 million)– have salaries in the double-digit millions. Cabrera has three more seasons to go after this one, and he’s scheduled for a raise after next season. Zimmermann, on the other hand, is done (and maybe done done) after this year.

How quickly do things fall off after Cabrera and Zimmermann? Newcomers Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron and their matching one-year, $6.1 million contracts are next up. And if you thought that was a big drop, consider the fact that those four are, on an individual basis, the only players the Tigers are paying more in 2020 than Prince Fielder ($6 million).

Next in line is the only other notable mention in this conversation: Matthew Boyd ($5.3 million). The twenty-nine-year-old lefty probably is the team’s best player right now, and he still has two arbitration years remaining. Many people have said many things about whether the Tigers should trade or extend Boyd. The most-likely outcome probably is that they do neither and hope to avoid a repeat of the Michael Fulmer Experience.

What does this mean for you? Not much, really, except that we’re almost finished with our regimen of eating extra Little Caesars Hot-N-Readys to pay off the fun Prince Fielder days. Still worth it, in my opinion.

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Previously
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – PECOTA Ed.
RKB: How does new Detroit Tiger Austin Romine relate to his teammates?
RKB: An unprecedented offseason move?
RKB: Detroit’s long, municipal nightmare is over, as Al Avila has solved the Tigers’ bullpen woes
RKB: Brief 2019 Recapitulation

RKB: An unprecedented offsesaon move?

The 2019 Detroit Tigers struggled on offense. Readers of this website know that the team finished last in the American League in a variety of statistical categories, including home runs and slugging percentage, this past season.

It therefore comes as some surprise today that the team decided to outright Brandon Dixon to Toledo. The surprise arises not because Dixon– a second-year, sub-replacement-level player– is especially good, but because he finished the 2019 season as the Tigers’ leader in home runs (fifteen) and, among qualified batters, slugging percentage (.435). Again, Dixon’s overall performance was unremarkable, and it makes sense for the twenty-seven-year-old to spend more time at Triple-A. But immediate demotions of teams’ home-run leaders cannot be a common occurrence. Indeed, I suspected such an event never before had occurred.

Thankfully, before publishing this post, I checked with BP’s Rob Mains, who reminded me that it had happened once before. In a situation in some ways more extreme than Dixon’s, Chris Carter found himself without a major-league job after a 2016 season in which he paced the National League with forty-one homers as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called the team’s decision to non-tender him “unprecedented.” Carter caught on with the New York Yankees for almost half of the 2017 season, but that was it for him in the bigs. After spending the rest of 2017 and 2018 with three different Triple-A teams, Carter’s 2019 found him hitting the lights out for the Mexican League’s Monclova Acereros (alongside Erick Aybar, obviously).

What does the future hold for Dixon? Carter’s path may be his best hope, and there are plenty of reasons to think that’s a reach.

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Previously
RKB: Brief 2019 Recapitulation
RKB: At deadline, Tigers move their best player*

The current argument against Mike Trout, MVP

Mike Trout has been an All Star in each of his seven full MLB seasons. He led the American League in fWAR in five of those seven seasons (four of seven by bWAR; led AL hitters in WARP in three of seven). During that period, he finished in the top two in AL MVP voting every season save his injury-shortened 2017 and won the award twice.

So far, 2019 looks like another MVP year for Trout, who received his eighth-consecutive All Star nod and has a commanding (roughly two-win) advantage atop all AL WAR(P) leaderboards. That Trout will win the award feels like a foregone conclusion, and it has for some time. Early in his career, though, Trout’s MVP candidacy was a contentious flashpoint for the battle between the respective adherents of “new” performance-valuation metrics and “traditionalists.” That conflict came to a head in 2013, when Miguel Cabrera repeated as AL MVP and Trout again finished second. Cabrera’s .348/.442/.636 line led the majors and represented an across-the-board improvement over his line in 2012, when he became baseball’s first triple crown winner in over forty years. On the other hand, Trout’s WAR mark clearly bested Cabrera in 2013 (10.2 versus 8.6 fWAR; 9.0 versus 7.3 bWAR), just as it had in 2012 (10.1 versus 7.3 fWAR; 10.5 versus 7.1 bWAR).

Ironically, Baseball Prospectus, long a leading publisher of work by adherents to “new” performance-valuation metrics, recently reversed course on the 2012 and 2013 AL MVP races after it incorporated changes made to its batting metric into its WAR model (i.e., WARP), acknowledging now that Cabrera really was a more valuable player than Trout in ’12 and ’13. Of course, these days, the fight between “traditionalists” and “sabermetricians” is over. In 2019, no one is arguing that Michael Brantley or Rafel Devers, the current respective AL leaders in batting average and RBI, deserve the league’s MVP award, for example. Part of that comes from the broader appreciation of the usefulness of advanced metrics, and part of that is because Trout is leading many of the traditional categories– at the moment, homers (42), OBP (.435), and SLG (.649)– too. Even if the analytical environment around baseball hadn’t changed, old-fashioned voters would have a hard time denying Trout his due in 2019. Does that mean that Trout has every vote locked up this year?

Stated otherwise, the question is whether there’s a good reason why someone would not vote for Trout as this year’s AL MVP. WAR isn’t everything, of course, but the current difference, by fWAR, between Trout and second-place Alex Bregman is Tim Anderson, or Whit Merrifield, if you prefer, or Blake Snell, last year’s Cy Young winner, all of whom currently have 2.5 fWAR. And Trout’s leads in homers and OPS fortify his position, with his positive contributions on defense and the basepaths rounding out a seemingly unassailable case. What more could he do?

The traditional MVP consideration never was just about individual numbers like batting average and RBI; voters also seemed to care about team-level winning. After all, baseball is a team sport in which the goal is for teams to win games and championships, and there is a conceptual sensibility to the notion that a player deemed “most valuable” would be one who translated his individual value into some significant measure of team value. Recall for example that, in 2012 and 2013, Cabrera’s Tigers were division-winning playoff teams that made deep runs while Trout’s Angels missed the playoffs and waffled around a .500 win percentage. If all of Trout’s good isn’t really doing the Angels any good, is he really the type of player we think of as an MVP? We can appreciate a superstar toiling in competitive obscurity, but does it make complete sense to bestow upon him or her the game’s highest individual honor?

Consider how infrequently postseason MVP awards go to players from losing teams. When it comes to formulating an MVP-award rubric, one can both prefer reliance on metrics that better account for individual performances and believe that the rubric should account for both team-success and individual-statistical components. In other words, the sabermetric revolution need not change what we’re looking for in an MVP even if it has changed how we decide if a candidate meets our criteria.

The good news is that there is a sabermetrically sound method to building an MVP-award analysis that accounts for both individual and team aspects. Continue reading