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Friday, October 05, 2012

Trout Versus Cabrera: Offense Only, Context Included | FanGraphs Baseball

For a really long time, I have believed the question of who is the best player and who is the most valuable player are two separate questions. In the first case, you need to remove context because, generally, you want to know who the best player will be going forward (to make a trade, sign a free agent, etc.). In the second case, you want to know the context because you are purely going back to see how his play impacted his team at a particular time frame.

WAR works to answer the first question but often falls short when answering the second question because, although the types of opportunities players face over a career might even out, in a particular season things don’t always work out that way. Additionally, although clutch ability might not be something that’s real, the timing of a player’s accomplishments can often provide more value to his team than is generally expected. IMHO, that additional value should be counted if we are trying to determine who has been the Most VALUABLE Player in a particular season.

In the linked article, David Cameron uses a stat called RE24 to investigate how well Trout and Cabrera did offensively to take advantage of the opportunities their teammates provided them in 2012.

(RE24 is the difference in run expectancy (RE) between the start of the play and the end of the play. That difference is then credited/debited to the batter and the pitcher. Over the course of the season, each players’ RE24 for individual plays is added up to get his season total RE24.)

Cameron’s conclusion is that Trout provided more value to the Angels than Cabrera did to the Tigers *without even considering baserunning or defense.* Here’s the end of his article:

However, Trout makes up the gap — and then some — in the other 600+ plays that matter as well. While he had 23 fewer big positive plays, he had 50 additional smaller positive plays, all of which contributed to the Angels offensive performance. He also had 28 fewer negative value plays, including 10 fewer that were extremely negative, thanks primarily to his ability to stay out of the double play.

You can go through each player’s play logs and see exactly where they earned and lost credit. There’s no replacement level here. We’re not dealing with defensive metrics that require some subjective inputs and can’t be easily replicated. This is just pure offense, and the total value of all the plays that both Trout and Cabrera were involved in.

And Trout still comes out on top. Ignore defense. Ignore things like going first to third on a single, or taking the extra base on a fly ball. Ignore WAR. Trout still wins. This is how amazing his season actually was. Even if you strip away the things that make Mike Trout special, he was still the best offensive performer in the American League this year, even while starting the season in the minors. This isn’t just the best performance of 2012 – it’s one of the best individual performances in the history of baseball.

Read the whole thing to learn even more.

Jim Furtado Posted: October 05, 2012 at 08:42 AM | 11 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: awards, miguel cabrera, mike trout, mvp, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Bug Selig Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:21 AM (#4254904)
Why does this guy hate America?
   2. PS is probably going to lose his mind Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:54 AM (#4254957)
Yea, everyone knows the MVP goes to the RBI leader, as long as he's on a playoff team.
   3. GEB4000 Posted: October 05, 2012 at 01:44 PM (#4255222)
I'm surprised they aren't accusations of racism for favoring the white guy. The columns could write themselves.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: October 05, 2012 at 05:28 PM (#4255496)
Typical mainstream media -- Cameron decides who he wants to vote for then cooks up some crazy reason to justify it. :-)
   5. Walt Davis Posted: October 05, 2012 at 05:42 PM (#4255522)
This was interesting and is one way of explaining the entire gap between them in RE24 (why 24?):

It comes back to double plays. I noted a few weeks ago that Cabrera had hit into an AL leading 28 double plays. Turns out, a bunch of those were big-time rally killers. 12 of the 28 double plays Cabrera hit into lowered the run expectancy by at least one run;

Of course this stat doesn't really adjust for all the context. It's based on run expectancy before and after a plate appearance. Buried in that are all sorts of assumptions about the quality of the pitcher, the quality of the baserunners, the quality of the batters coming up next. But even in one small sample season, I wouldn't think that the variation in that between two players would be enough to make up 10 runs ... and given Trout was in the AL West, he probably faced better pitchers on average anyway.

It might be interesting to look at RE24 as a ratio to maximum RE24 or something like that. Given all his leadoff PAs, I'd imagine Trout has many more PAs than Cabrera where he couldn't have a huge impact on RE. By the way, I see they have Cabrera slightly ahead on WPA/LI but he's behind on clutch (both Trout and Cabrera have negative "clutch" whatever that is).
   6. JJ1986 Posted: October 05, 2012 at 05:45 PM (#4255532)
RBIs don't offer much because they are context-specific. Instead, you should use this context-specific metric.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: October 05, 2012 at 07:35 PM (#4255776)
RBIs don't offer much because they are context-specific. Instead, you should use this context-specific metric.

Where did this come from?

Cameron is not arguing for or against context here and he explicitly states that he's not talking projection here. He's just using the time-honored debating technique of "fine, you want to reduce it to hitting and you want to argue that context needs to be taken into account -- well, here's a way of doing that and Trout is ahead on that basis too." Or in his own words:

The reality is that the case for Cabrera requires the assumption that baserunning and defense are of marginal value, and that position players should really by evaluated by their hitting statistics. The case for Cabrera also wants you to take context into account, since Cabrera drove in so many more runs than Trout did, and wants Cabrera to receive credit for his accomplishments with men on base. Interestingly enough, we have a metric here on FanGraphs that measures only offense and credits hitters for their performances with men on base. At the risk of adding to the alphabet soup, I think it’s worth looking at this little-used metric that measures exactly what the Cabrera contingent wants us to measure.

You can object to "exactly" but it's a legit approach to the question and I didn't see anywhere that he dissed RBI (although he's probably just assuming we all know how limited that measure is already).

The main differences between RE24 and RBI are (a) RE24 also gives you credit for creating runs by getting on base and advancing runners who don't score during your PA; (b) RE24 punishes you for making outs, not advancing runners and DPs. But, hey, it even provides some reward for "productive" outs vs. unproductive ones.

The problems with RBI as a main indicator of "run production" go way beyond the fact that it's a function of having teammates on base. And that one is a problem that RBI and RE24 share which is Cameron's point for crying out loud. And my point in #5. Cabrera had a number of plays where he improved RE by more than 2 and a bunch where he improved it by more than 1. All those times that Trout led off, he couldn't possibly have changed the RE by more than 1 ... the most he could have shifted the RE was from whatever the base RE of a PA with nobody out, nobody on is (say .2) to 1.2.

The "max possible RE gained" for any player is going to be absurd of course -- it's essentially the value of a player if he homered every time up -- so it would be a silly denominator in that way. But something that adjusts for Cabrera (I assume) having more opportunities to increase run expectancy by large amounts.

Note, I have no skin in this game. I'm not gonna dig into RE24, I don't really care if it works for this purpose or not, I've never used it before and I'm not sure I'll ever use it again. Even Cameron calls it a "little-used metric."

But it's silly to pick at Cameron for adding context when the very premise of his article is "some folks want to add context, then let's add context."
   8. JJ1986 Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:41 PM (#4256157)
Sorry, didn't mean to sound dismissive. Cameron's been writing about this race for weeks now. He's insistent that the case for Cabrera depends on RBIs, with quotes like this "The case for Cabrera also wants you to take context into account, since Cabrera drove in so many more runs than Trout did". For people interested in sabermetrics, there's no point in challenging a case based on RBIs in the first place, but he does it because he's more interested in what writers get obviously wrong than in actual two-sided conversations. This article is an appeal to people who already favor Trout, no one who cares about a stat called RE24 is going to favor Cabrera. The point is to give another reason why people who favor RBIs are wrong, not to change any minds.
   9. Elvis Posted: October 05, 2012 at 10:38 PM (#4256219)
This was interesting and is one way of explaining the entire gap between them in RE24 (why 24?): 


For the 24 base-out states
   10. Harold can be a fun sponge Posted: October 06, 2012 at 03:54 AM (#4256564)
The "max possible RE gained" for any player is going to be absurd of course -- it's essentially the value of a player if he homered every time up -- so it would be a silly denominator in that way. But something that adjusts for Cabrera (I assume) having more opportunities to increase run expectancy by large amounts.


That's what the RE24/LI and WPA/LI stats are supposed to do: adjust for opportunity in terms of leverage.
   11. Buddha Posted: October 06, 2012 at 07:27 AM (#4256587)
History and romance matter in baseball. Things like the triple crown don't happen every year (or every 40 years anymore). Things like performing in September matter. Narrative matters. Heck, RBIs matter too.

Cabrera or Trout would be excellent choices. Choosing the guy who won the triple crown would not be a travesty in any sense.

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