WAR of the worlds for A.L. MVP honors

Joy R. Absalon/US Presswire

Mike Trout's defense is just one part of the argument that he should be the American League MVP.Miguel Cabrera became baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since 1967, and is favored to win the American League MVP on Thursday, but the final vote is likely to also show strong support for Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout. It became a months-long debate that seemingly pitted baseball’s old school against a stats-savvy new generation.

So what was it about Trout’s season that put him in the conversation with Cabrera and his Triple Crown?

Trout, who unanimously won the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year, had 10.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) compared to Cabrera’s 6.9. Trout compiled that number in 22 fewer games than Cabrera.

Cabrera and Trout finished with similar batting averages and on-base percentages, and the one statistic that’s considered when comparing the two is Cabrera’s gaudy RBI total (139 compared to Trout’s 83). However, that’s not entirely a fair comparison because Trout is a lead-off hitter and Cabrera hits third.

Most WAR by Position Players
Expansion Era (Since 1961)

Even though Trout had fewer opportunities to drive in runs, he still hit .324 with runners in scoring position compared to Cabrera’s .356 average.

If baseball was simply a hitting contest, Cabrera would win the AL MVP. But players can make a huge impact in other areas, specifically on the base paths and in the field.

The defensive portion of WAR is calculated from Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), which is formulated from video review. Trout had 21 Defensive Runs Saved, 25 more than Cabrera (-4). That gap is worth almost three wins a season to a team. (On average, nine runs is worth one win.)

It’s well accepted that Trout -- who led MLB with 49 stolen bases -- is an outstanding base runner, and Cabrera is not.

Putting some numbers behind it, Baseball-Reference.com estimates that Trout produced an additional 10 runs for the Angels this season with his feet alone. This includes his ability to steal bases without being caught, avoid hitting into double plays, and to go from first to third on singles and score easily from second.

Cabrera’s base running did not add any runs for the Tigers this season. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that he hit into a major-league leading 28 double plays.

In the expansion era (1961), Trout’s 10.7 WAR ranks tied for seventh (see chart). Cabrera’s 6.9 WAR was actually lower than what he posted in 2011 (a career-high 7.3) when he finished fifth in the American League MVP voting.

For a look at Miguel Cabrera's candidacy, click here