What it is, Where it is, and how to avoid threading in it.
We’ve made a lot of progress in understanding baseball in the past 25 years, although last year’s Miguel Cabrera-Mike Trout MVP debate was framed, to a large extent, around the same philosophical argument James made a quarter-century ago. Trout failed to win the MVP Award, not so much as a rebellion against sabermetrics and WAR, but because of Cabrera’s statistics—namely, his batting average, home runs and RBIs. (The fact that the Tigers made the playoffs and the Angels didn’t should have been a non-starter, since the Angels won more games.)
Even though we know we shouldn’t completely trust a statistic like RBIs in evaluating a player’s contribution—it’s heavily dependent on opportunities and where you hit in the lineup—it’s still a key influence in MVP voting. Last year, eight NL players drove in 100 runs; six of them finished in the top 11 of the MVP voting. In the AL, nine players drove in 100 runs and five finished in the top 11 of the MVP voting. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m not comparing Cabrera, who had an outstanding season, to Dawson.)
I’m not even suggesting RBIs is a horrible statistic and should be ignored; I still enjoy knowing how many runs a player has driven in. But the context needs to be understood. That’s why I often cite statistics like WAR or Defensive Runs Saved or other advanced metrics; these are all attempts to better understand the game and understand why teams win or understand more accurately the value of a player beyond batting average, home runs and RBIs.
Yet there is still a lot of push back against stats like WAR. The majority of fans still don’t trust it or believe in it. A few weeks ago, SportsNation asked on ESPN.com, “Do you consider WAR to be a useful statistic in evaluating baseball players?” The “no” votes outweighed the “yes” votes 63 to 37 percent. It was a landslide rebellion against new metrics. It was Andre Dawson winning the MVP Award.