July 29, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Kurt Mensching

WAR between Tigers' Miguel Cabrera, Angels' Mike Trout flares up again

Miguel Cabrera Cabrera is batting better this year than he did last. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)

Just when you thought it was safe to support a Miguel Cabrera MVP bid, a stat again steps to the forefront.

Mike Trout has a 6.4 WAR (Wins Above Replacement, as calculated by FanGraphs.com); Cabrera’s WAR is 6.3.

Steel yourself for three more months of the same bitter arguments we have had.

Last year, when Cabrera won baseball’s first Triple Crown since 1967, his resume seemed strong. He’d just done something to get his name in the history books while leading his team to its second consecutive playoff appearance.

But, some said, those familiar points of reference were not enough.

They argued a Triple Crown is just a statistical fluke, using inferior statistics, and Cabrera’s was rather a weak one at that. Average and RBIs aren’t really that useful statistics.

Beyond that, it shouldn’t matter his stacked team made it to the playoffs, or that Trout shouldn’t have his candidacy torpedoed for his teammates not doing enough to get the Angels there.

Trout was a better runner and fielder at a more difficult position and had the BsR (baseruns) and UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) to back his WAR.

Clearly, many would have told you, Trout was the deserving one and would have won if not for the Luddites in control of handing out the award.

Classical argument

The Luddites would respond that hitting, scoring and driving in runs are pretty important facets, and how valuable could a guy be, anyway, if he’s watching someone else in the playoffs? Maybe if people stopped making up stats for a minute, they could take more time to actually watch the game for themselves. Then they’d see how valuable this guy or that guy was to his team.

Actually, the debate is interesting, and it’s fair to cede both sides a number of points.

The MVP award was not designed, so far as a reading of the rules would tell you, to go to the offensive star. It was designed to go to the most valuable player based on whatever components a voter feels makes that player “most” valuable.

What a player does at the plate is one component. It shouldn’t be up for debate if one player is a better runner than another, he’s helping his team more in that part of the game. Or if one player plays a difficult position well, he’s helping his team more in that part of the game.

On the other hand, the award was probably not meant to disqualify players because their position wasn’t difficult enough. Of course, it shouldn’t automatically go to a power hitter just because he hit more home runs, either.

Numbers game

In any case, no matter how many times the acronym comes up, just remember WAR is but one stat in the debate. It would be a mistake to assume sabermetric fans base their entire debate on who has the edge in the stat.

Of course, it would also be a mistake to put too much faith in that stat.

Cabrera is hitting better than last year. He’s again flirting with a Triple Crown.

Trout likely will not repeat his 49 stolen bases from last season, but he has been more productive at the plate. And, he continues to be an above-average outfielder.

The players have two months to differentiate themselves before the decision goes to the voters.

No matter who wins, it should be exciting to see how they do.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.

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