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.