AL MVP debate: What is WAR good for?

As we continue to discuss the fascinating American League MVP race, here’s a bit more background on the statistic that is being used to largely frame the case for Mike Trout.

Trout Trout Wins Above Replacement (WAR) summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic. It’s favored by many (including sabermetricians) because it is the best single statistic at this moment in accounting for a player’s all-around contributions -- not just batting, but base running and defense. And, it weights contributions in terms of their impact on creating (or preventing on defense) runs.

It is important to not confuse a "replacement" level player with an "average" player. Replacement players are more like a Triple-A/24th-25th man on a major-league roster. Studies show that a team full of replacement players would win about 45-50 games in a season. A team of average players would, of course, win 81 games (and lose 81 games). That is a huge difference.

Cabrera Cabrera Using Baseball-Reference.com’s version of WAR, Trout in 2012 had a WAR of 10.7 -- the highest by a position player since Barry Bonds’ 11.6 in 2002 (Bonds hit .370, 46 HR, .582 OBP, .799 Slug pct).

Miguel Cabrera’s WAR was 6.9, fourth in the American League behind Trout, Robinson Cano and Justin Verlander. Cabrera’s offensive WAR was second to Trout (8.6 to 7.4). When factoring in defense, Trout’s WAR improves by about two wins and Cabrera’s drops about one-half of a win.

Yes, Cabrera won the Triple Crown, and although WAR does not specifically use the Triple Crown statistics to power its run values, it should be noted that every Triple Crown winner also led his league in WAR by a position player with the exception of … Cabrera.

For those who cannot get enough on this topic, here are three recommended articles: WAR of the worlds for MVP, New York Times Nate Silver’s case against Cabrera and ESPN Insider Keith Law’s in-depth explanation for MVP.