Tradition Triple-Crowns the MVP
― Jiddu Krishnamurti
“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”
― W. Somerset Maugham
“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”
― Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities
Thus the battle between the old and new schools of baseball analytics played out this week in the vote for the 2012 American League Most Valuable Player. MLB Network and shows such as “Clubhouse Confidential” chewed this matter over to great effect and extent. Should the MVP be awarded to Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years who led his team to the World Series? Or should it be given to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s super rookie, Mike Trout, who amassed a treasure-trove of eye-popping stats while displaying as complete a game as has ever been seen?
It was a great week to be a fan! The disagreements and arguments were profound and passionate, the adherents of the new-school analytics versus the keepers of the sacred diamond traditions, or so it seemed. What about WAR, Wins-Above-Replacement, the catch-all statistic employed to put all manner of differing performances on a common evaluative footing? Trout’s was almost 11, an eye-popping number that put him the company of immortals; Miggy’s was an impressive but not amazing not-quite-7.
The theological point, of course, was the meaning of “Most Valuable” as opposed to simply “Best” or “Most Outstanding”. No one argued that Cabrera’s overall game matched Trout’s. The argument was that thanks to Miggy, the Tigers won their division, and in spite of Trout, the Angels finished third. There were arguments that the Angels in fact played better in September (19-11 vs. 18-13) and that the Chicago White Sox faded badly and the Oakland Athletics played with keen inspiration; but still, Miggy’s team won their division, and Mike’s team finished third.
In the end, the Cabrera adherents (he got 22 of 28 first-place votes) could point to “advanced metrics” of their own in support of their candidate: Miggy posted an awesome 1.211 On-base Plus Slugging (OPS) with runners in scoring position and two outs; he also excelled in the “late and close” category of “clutch stats” with a 1.040 OPS. In September and October games down the stretch he was 1.071. These telling numbers far surpassed what Mike Trout showed. The Millville Meteor was no slouch, but Cabrera showed true MVP best-in-class performance.
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