Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Outfield Analysis and Future Options

After struggling for much of the season, the Tigers found a solid corner outfield rotation of Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry, and Avisail Garcia. Here, I plan on evaluating the potential of each of these players going into next season and beyond.

Now, before I get into the meat of this analysis, there are some terms that need to be explained. The main numbers presented here are weighted On Base Average (wOBA) and weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+). I could go into detail about them, but I'd rather let the experts do it. I would strongly recommend going to and for simple, well thought out explanations. I'd also recommend poking around on Fangraphs' glossary and familiarizing yourself with most of these statistics since they'll come up at various points.

First, let’s start with Andy Dirks who really came into his own this season, posting a triple slash of .322/.370/.487 with 8 homers for a wOBA of .368 and a wRC+ of 133.  For reference, Victor Martinez .369 wOBA and a 131 wRC+ last season. Unfortunately, there are signs of potential regression for Dirks. He had a BABIP of .365, which is approximately .060 points above league average. If he regresses to a reasonable number, say to .320 due to his solid speed, his line would drop to something in the range of .280/.330/.440. If he was a centerfielder, that would make him above average but in a corner, that’s 4th outfielder material.

Quintin Berry certainly provided a huge spark for the Tigers when Austin Jackson went down in May, hitting .333 with a .395 OBP and .293/.389 in June. Unfortunately, he fell off dramatically after June, hitting .250, .176, and .212 in the subsequent months. This was a function of his BABIP normalizing following a scorching start to his season. A slap hitting outfielder who rates below average defensively and strikes out 24.2% of the time is not a regular in the major leagues. He does still have value as a left handed bench bat and extremely efficient pinch runner.

Now, we get to the real future of the Tigers outfield, Avisail Garcia. A true 5 tool player, Garcia had a breakout 2012 in the minors .289/.324/.447 with 8 home runs and 14 steals in A+ before really turning it on in AA to a tune of .312/.345/.465 with 6 bombs and 9 steals. Combining speed and power with a huge arm in right field, Garcia is a very exciting player. Despite this, I still believe he is not ready for the big show. He has absolutely no plate discipline, posting horrible walk rates of 3.8% and 3.1% in the minors this year. Unless he can figure out how to take the right pitches, he’ll get the Delmon Young treatment which means nothing in the zone because he swings at everything in sight.

The Tigers have a clear need in at least one corner spot, allowing a platoon in the other. Now, I’ll analyze the most noteworthy offseason outfield targets.

Free Agent Outfielders:
Angel Pagan
Ryan Ludwick
Scott Hairston
Josh Hamilton
Ichiro Suzuki
Michael Bourn
Reed Johnson
Cody Ross
Torii Hunter
Shane Victorino
Nick Swisher
B.J. Upton
Melky Cabrera

Trade Targets:
Peter Bourjos
David DeJesus
Coco Crisp
Chris Heisey
Drew Stubbs

Hamilton is really, really scary due to his well-documented past, but he would give the Tigers an incredible lineup for the next few seasons. I would sign him for something in the range of 3/75, wouldn’t touch him for anything longer.

Bourn is a bit of a pipe dream. He COULD be undervalued due to general undervaluing of defense and base running. Should and could get $100 million over 5 or 6 years, but if it falls to 5/75 it would be a steal.

Ludwick and Pagan, despite being vastly different players, are probably too expensive given their level of production since they’re coming off very nice (possibly overrated) seasons, most likely pushing them towards multiyear $10 million or higher a season contracts. (3/30 for Ludwick, 4/45 for Pagan)

Victorino is an interesting bounce back candidate.  After being outstanding in 2011, he really struggled in 2012 due to a BABIP of .278. Despite his offensive struggles, he still managed 3.3 WAR due to good defense and speed.

Ichiro would be a perfect fit for our outfield but could be overpriced based solely on name value. I’d be comfortable with a 2/20 level deal, but not much more.

BJ Upton, while never living up to his potential, has been an above average player for his entire career. He would provide strong defense, pop, and speed despite having poor on base skills. Due to his untapped potential he’s likely to command a deal in the range of 4/40 million which would be better served going after a better player along the lines of Bourn or Pagan.

Swisher has a solid bat, posting a career .364 OBP with an average of 28 home runs per season. He is most likely going to cost in the range of 5/80 after a poor showing in the playoffs and he’s 32 years old. Due to age, I wouldn’t want to commit to more than three guaranteed years in the $15 million range which is likely well below his asking price.

Hunter seems likely to be resigned by the Angels even though recent reports have them a ways off on contract length and value, and there are reasons to have reservations about a 37 year old coming off of a career year. I wouldn’t go above 2/20 and that might be pushing it.

Ross is an outstanding platoon vs. LH pitching (career 141 wRC+) and is probably the best suited among the platoon based players to play fulltime due to a not necessarily horrible 93 wRC+ vs. RH, but will likely be priced out of a reasonable range for his services.

Hairston and Johnson are both serviceable platoon outfielders’ vs LH, both with wRC+ around 120. Would leave us with corner outfielder platoons of Dirks/(Hairston or Johnson) and Berry/Garcia. Only issue is that it Garcia is potentially not ready to play a full season even as a platoon

Dejesus is a platoon bat versus RH pitching but would have to be traded for. After a quality season for the Cubs last year, he may not be available at a reasonable price.

An extremely intriguing option is Melky Cabrera. Sure, his reputation has taken a hit due to the PED violation, but this leaves him ripe for the picking since the multi-year big money contract he was looking at is now most likely off the table. Some people want to link his success over the last two years to his PED use, but the two are simply not scientifically related. He is not a power hitter, and steroids do not increase the pure hit tool. If he’s willing to take a 2 or 3 year deal with an AAV around $7-8 million I would jump all over that.

Crisp is very capable of being an above average corner outfielder after being nearly a scratch centerfielder (-0.9 UZR) and the Athletics have a plethora of outfielders after the trade for Chris Young. Billy Beane has said he will not trade from his outfield depth but the right offer could certainly sway him. A few mid-level minor league pitchers should be able to pry Crisp from the A’s.

Bourjos is an interesting option since his defense is well above average in center let along a corner. He’s a nice bounce back candidate, even though he’ll never hit .300 and his walk rate hasn’t been great, but he runs and fields well enough to be a 3-4 win player without an outstanding OBP. He is only theoretically available assuming that Torii Hunter is resigned by the Angels.

Heisey and Stubbs are both underachievers for the Cincinnati Reds. Neither has lived up to their tools and would essentially be short term solutions unless Stubbs manages to turn around his very uncomfortable downward trend.  Both play solid defense, with Stubbs rating as well above average and he also runs much better than Heisey. Both are going to be 27 heading into next year, right in their theoretical primes and if they are going to turn it around, 2013 is as logical a time as any other.

Ideally, we would pick up a strong defensive/base running outfielder to help offset our poor defense at nearly every other position on the field. That leaves players such as Pagan, Victorino, Bourjos, and Upton as top options on my list. If the Tigers resign Anibal Sanchez, I'd have to believe the most likely option is going after either Hairston or Johnson and rolling with a platoon in both corners. If Pagan doesn't command a massive deal, he’s probably my favorite long term answer since he would provide speed and above average defense, though Bourjos is a personal favorite. All of these options should really help to lengthen our lineup, especially with the imminent return of Victor Martinez. As long as the Tigers acquire someone to play a corner, they should go into next year in a much better defensive position.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2013 Bullpen Construction

After a disappointing performance in the post season and with the underperformance of Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit’s struggles with home runs, the Tigers bullpen is flux next season.  Despite the uncertainty, the potential for an above average bullpen is there.  With young, high potential arms such as Brayan Villarreal, Al Alburquerque, and Bruce Rondon in the system and experienced, proven arms in Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, and Joaquin Benoit, the future looks bright.  So who will be pitching high leverage innings next season?

Brayan Villarreal looked like a dominant late innings reliever up until September, when he struggled to the tune of a 6.75 K/9, 8.68 BB/9, and a FIP of 6.20.  The reason for his struggles is unknown at this point but he pitched only 9.1 innings so small sample size caveats apply.  A reasonable explanation, though unfounded, is that he tired.  It was his first full season in the major leagues and the minor league season doesn’t last until September.  This could explain why he was left off the playoff roster.  Despite his late season struggles, he still produced an outstanding season line of 10.19 K/9, 4.84 BB/9, and a 2.98 FIP.  While he could stand to reduce his walks, his stuff is well above average allowing him to get away with a below average walk rate.  Look for him to see plenty of high pressure situations in 2013.

The next big armed reliever in the Tigers pen is Al Albuquerque.  Despite missing most of the season due to injury, he has been absolutely dominant in his time with the Tigers due to his overwhelming stuff.  Featuring an explosive fastball and an incredible slider, he posted a 13.92 K/9 and a 2.08 FIP last season.  He spent most of this season on the disabled list with elbow problems, but in a limited sample size of 13.1 innings this season, he posted in a 12.15 K/9 and a 2.19 FIP.  He has similar issues to Villarreal in that he struggles with high walk rates but his stuff is possibly better than Villarreal’s, putting him in prime position to be a dominant end game closer in 2013.

The last potential youngster to pitch high leverage innings is Bruce Rondon, the Tigers minor league pitcher of the year.  He features an 80 grade fastball with 80 movement that is one of the best anywhere in the game.   To accompany his fastball, he has a slider that flashes above average potential and a future average change up.  In fact, he has stuff of a potential number two starter he just doesn’t have the control or body type to deal with 200+ innings a year.  Despite control issues, he did manage to lower his BB/9 from 7.65 in 2010 to a 3.86 in 2011 and 3.74 this year (not including 8 innings in AAA with a 7.88 BB/9).  As long as the control improvement is legitimate (likely), he profiles as our best reliever within the next few years and one of the best in all of baseball.  Despite this potential, he most likely will be eased into the roll, pitching in the 6th and 7th innings and lower leverage scenarios.

One interesting name to watch in the minors is Andy Oliver.  He almost assuredly won’t see any high or even medium leverage situations due to his high walk rate and relative lack of experience in the majors but his stuff is very good and if he had even average control, he would profile as a mid-rotation starter.  After moving to the bullpen, he tightened up his control enough to have potential as an end game reliever.  He probably needs at least a half season in AAA to get used to coming out of the bullpen, but he has a chance to salvage his career from there and could be an interesting midseason call up.

As for the experienced guys, Benoit is clearly our best reliever despite a down second half.  Reliever numbers suffer from small sample size issues since they rarely hit 100 innings in a season so his HR/9 of 1.77 is not worry and is very likely to regress towards his career number of 1.17.  Benoit is an interesting picture since he has a reverse platoon split, holding LH hitters to a .300 wOBA against a .319 for RH hitters.  This is due to his devastating changeup which is easily his best pitch.  He is a proven high leverage reliever who will definitely be getting similar innings next year.

Phil Coke has had quite a season.  He went from much maligned “lefty specialist” to shutdown closer against the Yankees.  Despite his solid playoffs, Coke had a worrying year overall.  Despite being very solid against lefties, holding them to a .298 wOBA he was absolutely crushed by righties to the tune of a .441 wOBA.  Essentially, he turned righties into Joey Votto this year.  This could very easily be a small sample size issue since his career splits aren’t nearly as bad (.347 to righties, .276 to lefties).  In all honesty, unless the Tigers bring in a true LOOGY, he will likely be the lefty specialist and medium leverage situations.

Despite the uncertainty, the bullpen issues seem fairly easy to resolve internally.  With the future coming soon in Bruce Rondon, they shouldn’t look for a long term answer at closer but a stop gap instead.  If a traditional closer is not found, Leyland should have no issue piecing together the list three innings of games between all of the talent they have in the bullpen, young and old.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sweeping the ALCS Was a Team Effort

Delmon Young was impressive during the ALCS, hitting .353/.421/.765/1.186 with 2 HR and 6 RBI.  He is credited for the game-winning RBI in each of the four games and had as many RBI as the entire Yankees team combined.  His contributions earned him ALCS MVP honors.  However, he wasn’t alone in the dominance of the Yankee sweep.

Jhonny Peralta hit .389/.421/.778/1.199 with 2 HR of his own on the final game to help put the final nail on the Yankees’ coffin.  He also contributed on the field, saving some runs in the first couple of games of the series.  In fact, an argument can be made that he was more deserving of the MVP than Delmon Young because of those run saving plays.

Austin Jackson (.353/.421/.706/1.127, 1 HR) and Miguel Cabrera (.313/.421/.563/.984, 1 HR, 4 RBI) were also major contributions to the offense.  Avisail Garcia also came up big, hitting .455/.455/.545/1.000 with 3 RBI while getting 2 big pinch hits in games 2 and 3.  Garcia also got his first Major League extra base hit (the fact that it was a ground rule double prevented him from getting another RBI) and his first ML stolen base.  It was one of the most impressive Tiger rookie performances, even more so given his limited ML experience.  (Useless fact: 3 of his 5 hits were against reliever Boone Logan).

Then there’s the pitching.  After Jose Valverde blew up in the first game, surrendering 2 2-run HR in a 4-0 game in the 9th inning to tie it at 4, Jim Leyland decided to go with a “closer by committee.”  Turns out that committee was just Phil Coke.  After stumbling in the 2nd half of the regular season, many fans were losing faith in Coke, who was now branded as a LOOGY.  Thankfully, the Yankees had many left-handed relievers in their lineup and Coke rose to the challenge, pitching a scoreless inning in Game 1; a 2-inning scoreless save in Game 2; another scoreless save in Game 3; and yet another scoreless 2-inning performance to end Game 4, slamming his glove in iconic fashion after getting the last out. 

Last, but not least, it was the starting rotation that set the tone.  Doug Fister got things started in Game 1, pitching 6 1/3 scoreless innings, weaving out of bases-loaded jams.  Anibal Sanchez followed in Game 2, pitching 7 scoreless innings of his own.  Justin Verlander pitched 8 scoreless innings in Game 3, before surrendering a HR in the 9th inning (ending the streak of a record 37 consecutive innings of starting pitching to give up 0 earned runs in the postseason, going back to the ALDS against the Athletics).  Max Scherzer then pitched 5 2/3 of 1-run ball, taking a no-hitter into the 6th inning and striking out 10 batters.  Altogether, the starting rotation pitched 27 1/3 innings of only 2 ER (0.66 ERA, 0.84 WHIP) with 25 strikeouts.  (The starting rotation has been one of the most dominating pitching staffs in postseason history, only giving up 7 ER in 62 innings for a 1.02 ERA).

So Delmon Young may have gotten the hardware, but there was more than 1 hero in this series.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

2012 Preseason Predictions Revisited

For the last few years I've been making predictions on the Detroit Tigers forum.  At the end of the year, I like to compare my expectations to what actually happen.  This is also a good example of why I'm just a random internet blogger instead of working for Bill James.

2012 Prediction: 566 AB - .337/.437/.592 – 34 HR – 111 RBI – 2 SB – 101 BB – 88 K
2012 Actual: 622 AB - .330/.393/.606 – 44 HR – 139 RBI – 4 SB – 66 BB – 98 K
One surprise of his 2011 season is his HR total. 30 is really low considering that he hit his career high 38 just a season before, I don’t know if this is an aberration or if he’s consciously trying to hit for less HR power to increase his batting average.
Aberration.  Definitely aberration. 

2012 Prediction: 569 AB - .285/.393/.538 – 34 HR – 105 RBI – 1 SB – 95 BB – 129 K
2012 Actual: 581 AB - .313/.412/.528 – 30 HR – 108 RBI – 1 SB – 85 BB – 84 K
This easily gives the Tigers the best 3-4 hitters in all of baseball with Cabrera/Fielder.
Some things are just easy to predict.

2012 Prediction: 237 2/3 IP – 20-7 W/L – 2.97 ERA – 1.069 WHIP – 249 K – 58 BB
2012 Actual: 238 1/3 IP – 17-8 W/L – 2.64 ERA – 1.057 WHIP – 239 K – 60 BB
His BABIP was a very low .236 and likely not sustainable. A regression to his .285 BABIP is likely in 2012.  His LOB% was also a high 80.3%, meaning he was stranding more runners on base than he’s ever done in his career and that will not likely continue.
2012 BABIP: .273; LOB: 76.4%.   

2012 Prediction: 441 AB - .270/.369/.456 – 17 HR – 74 RBI – 2 SB – 70 BB – 120 K
2012 Actual: 367 AB - .243/.352/.384 – 9 HR – 48 RBI – 2 SB – 61 BB – 104 K
However, the more playing time he gets, the more scouting reports pitchers will have on him and therefore he’ll have to make adjustments. The bad AB in the playoffs could be attributed to him tiring out but also to pitchers figuring him out. While I think Avila is going to be above average again, it’s going to be hard for him to remain the top offensive catcher in 2012.
I was too optimistic.

2012 Prediction: 216 IP – 15-9 W/L – 3.33 ERA – 1.120 WHIP – 167 K – 40 BB
2012 Actual: 161 2/3 IP – 10-10 W/L – 3.45 ERA – 1.194 WHIP – 137 K – 37 BB
The safe bet is to assume that he’s in between what he did with Seattle and what he did with Detroit, 6.1 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 3.02 FIP, 3.61 xFIP, .272 BABIP.
2012: 7.63 K/9, 2.06 BB/9, 3.42 FIP, 3.39 xFIP, .296 BABIP.  I also can't help but wonder what he would've done if he were healthy all year.

2012 Prediction: 539 AB - .278/.335/.456 – 22 HR – 84 RBI – 0 SB – 48 BB – 100 K
2012 Actual: 531 AB - .239/.305/.384 – 13 HR – 63 RBI – 1 SB – 49 BB – 105 K
At only 30 years of age, I would expect pretty much a repeat in 2012.

2012 Prediction: 201 IP – 15-7 W/L – 3.63 ERA – 1.249 WHIP – 186 K – 57 BB
2012 Actual: 187 2/3 IP – 16-7 W/L – 3.74 ERA – 1.274 WHIP – 231 K – 60 BB
There was a shift in his pitching pattern in 2011. He decreased the percentage of fastballs (65% in 2010; 61.4% in 2011) he threw and increased the percentage of sliders (15.2% in 2010; 18.3% in 2011). Putting aside the potential injury concerns there are in throwing a lot of sliders, this could potentially be the source of why his H/9 increased in 2011. Scherzer has a great fastball; there’s no reason why he should throw less of them. He needs to go back to the pattern that gave him the 3.50 ERA in 2010. His command is getting better as evident of his better BB/9, so if he can get back to throwing more fastballs, he’s primed to have the best year of his career.
2012: 60.8% FB, 19.5% SL, 8.6 H/9.  That’s an even more of a shift in sliders from fastballs.  Yeah, my theory was wrong.

2012 Prediction: 581 AB - .269/.336/.386 – 7 HR – 42 RBI – 24 SB – 57 BB – 172 K
2012 Actual: 543 AB - .300/.377/.479 – 16 HR – 66 RBI – 12 SB – 67 BB – 134 K
I don’t know how much the leg kick will help him, but he’s still young enough that he can improve.
Apparently, it helped more than I thought. 

2012 Prediction: 195 1/3 IP – 14-9 W/L – 3.92 ERA – 1.300 WHIP – 45 BB – 123 K
2012 Actual: 176 1/3 IP – 10-12 W/L – 4.59 ERA – 1.531 WHIP – 44 BB – 107 K
The way I see it, there’s 2 things Porcello needs to get better at: his strikeout rate and his groundball rate.
5.46 K/9, 53.2% GB rate in 2012, both improvements over 2011.  3.91 FIP and 3.89 xFIP, also both improvements over 2011.  Poor defense seemed to have victimized Porcello more than any other pitcher in 2012.

2012 Prediction: 521 AB - .282/.347/.472 – 22 HR – 70 RBI – 7 SB – 48 BB – 87 K
2012 Actual: 470 AB - .240/.286/.372 – 12 HR – 54 RBI – 6 SB – 26 BB – 104 K
I think Boesch will be a pretty good player, there is one area that suggests that he isn’t as good as his stats suggest. Boesch always struggled against left-handed pitching in the minors and was even called a “platoon player” by many scouts (playing exclusively against right-handed pitching). However, he has significantly hit better against left-handed pitching in the majors (.319/.380/.471/.851 vs. lefties; .254/.315/.425/.740 vs. righties). Has he made an adjustment to get better against lefties? If this is real, then Boesch can be even better than I imagine once he gets better against righties. If this is indeed a fluke, then he must improve against righties in order to maintain his current level of production.
2012 vs. LHP: .230/.292/.333/.625
2012 vs. RHP: .244/.284/.387/.671

2012 Prediction: 532 AB - .284/.327/.442 – 17 HR – 84 RBI – 3 SB – 32 BB – 97 K
2012 Actual: 574 AB - .267/.296/.411 – 18 HR – 74 RBI – 0 SB – 20 BB – 112 K
Looking at his numbers, 2 things jump out at me, his BB rate and his HR/FB rate. With the Tigers last year, Young had a pathetic 2.8% BB rate, almost half of what it was with Minnesota, 5.5%. What’s worrisome is that Young has shown a low BB% over a full season before; in 2009 his BB% was 2.9% over 416 PA. His HR/FB rate was a very high 16% with the Tigers last year, something that Young has NEVER done in the past (HR/FB rates usually stay consistent and don’t fluctuate too often). The highest it was in past was, again, in 2009 (not 2010) at 11.4%. I’m calling this a fluke and say it’ll be closer to 10% in 2012, like it was in 2010.
3.3% BB rate and 11.1% HR/FB rate in 2012. 

2012 Prediction: 68 2/3 IP – 40 SV – 2.88 ERA – 1.121 WHIP – 29 BB – 64 K
2012 Actual: 69 IP – 35 SV – 3.78 ERA – 1.246 WHIP – 27 BB – 48 K
Relievers are weird because they have so small sample sizes.
The one thing that jumps out with Valverde is the strikeout rate, which has been declining since 2007.  It was regularly over 10.0 K/9 from 2003-2008, then around 9.0 K/9 the next couple of years and only 6.3 K/9 in 2012.  That’s not a very good sign going forward.

2012 Prediction: 443 AB - .271/.324/.463 – 19 HR – 68 RBI – 2 SB – 32 BB – 115 K
2012 Actual: 205 AB - .171/.226/.254 – 1 HR – 12 RBI – 1 SB – 13 BB – 53 K
I’m felling optimist.  I’m not going to predict 2009 production, but I don’t think the downward trend will continue.
I’ll see myself out now.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

My Hypothetical AL Cy Young Vote

1. Justin Verlander – 2.64 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 9.03 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 2.94 FIP, 3.31 xFIP, 6.8 fWAR, 7.5 rWAR
2. David Price – 2.56 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.74 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 3.05 FIP, 3.12 xFIP, 5.1 fWAR, 6.4 rWAR
3. Felix Hernandez – 3.06 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.65 K/9, 2.17 BB/9, 2.84 FIP, 3.20 xFIP, 6.1 fWAR, 4.6 rWAR
4. Chris Sale– 3.06 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.00 K/9, 2.36 BB/9, 3.27 FIP, 3.23 xFIP, 4.9 fWAR, 5.8 rWAR
5. Jered Weaver – 2.81 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 6.77 K/9, 2.15 BB/9, 3.75 FIP, 4.18 xFIP, 3.0 fWAR, 3.7 rWAR

For the 2nd consecutive year, Justin Verlander has been the best pitcher in the American League and deserves another Cy Young Award.  He struggled down the stretch, leading many Tiger fans to believe that he doesn’t deserve it, but that just shows how spoiled we’ve become.  Verlander led the league in innings pitched (238 1/3), strikeouts (239), complete games (6), and finished 2nd in ERA, WHIP and BAA (.215).  While he didn’t lead the league in ERA, he did finish best in both ballpark adjusted stats, Baseball-reference’s ERA+ (158, where the higher the number, the better) and FanGraphs’ ERA- (64, where the lower the number, the better).  And finally, he had the highest fWAR and rWAR.  He should be the obvious choice.

The surprise here might be putting Jered Weaver 5th.  Going strictly on Sabermetrics, he probably should be left off altogether.  He finished 14th in the AL in fWAR (behind Tiger pitcher Max Scherzer) due to a merely average 3.75 FIP.  Combine that with a league lowest BABIP (tied with teammate Ervin Santana) at .241, suggests that he was helped an awful lot by his defense.  But I’m not one to totally dismiss traditional stats and I think a 20-game winner with a sub-3.00 ERA should get recognized.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My Hypothetical AL MVP Vote

1. Mike Trout - .326/.399/.564, 30 HR, 49 SB, .422 wOBA, 175 wRC+, 10.4 fWAR, 10.7 rWAR
2. Miguel Cabrera - .330/.393/.606, 44 HR, 4 SB, .416 wOBA, 166 wRC+, 7.2 fWAR, 6.9 rWAR
3. Robinson Cano - .313/.379/.550, 33 HR, 3 SB, .392 wOBA, 148 wRC+, 7.7 fWAR, 8.2 rWAR
4. Adrian Beltre - .321/.359/.561, 36 HR, 1 SB, .386 wOBA, 140 wRC+, 6.5 fWAR, 6.6 rWAR
5. Austin Jackson - .300/.377/.479, 16 HR, 12 SB, .368 wOBA, 132 wRC+, 5.5 fWAR, 5.3 rWAR
6. Justin Verlander – 2.64 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 9.03 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 2.94 FIP, 3.31 xFIP, 6.8 fWAR, 7.5 rWAR
7. Prince Fielder - .313/.412/.528, 30 HR, 1 SB, .397 wOBA, 152 wRC+, 5.0 fWAR, 4.5 rWAR
8. Joe Mauer - .319/.416/.446, 10 HR, 8 SB, .374 wOBA, 139 wRC+, 5.1 fWAR, 4.1 rWAR
9. David Price – 2.56 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.74 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 3.05 FIP, 3.12 xFIP, 5.1 fWAR, 6.4 rWAR
10. Josh Hamilton - .285/.354/.577, 43 HR, 7 SB, .385 wOBA, 139 wRC+, 4.7 fWAR, 3.3 rWAR

It’s been a two man race for quite a few weeks.  Traditionalists pointing to Triple Crown numbers and Sabermetricians pointing to WAR to determine the award. I presented a new angle earlier, even though I don’t personally agree with it (at least not all by itself).  It mainly comes down to the following areas:

Offense: Cabrera simply beats Trout in almost every offensive stat imaginable, HR, RBI, AVG, SLG, OPS, etc.  However, Trout edges out Cabrera in two ballpark adjusted stats, OPS+ (171 to 166) and wRC+ (175 to 166).  Playing time is a huge component though, and Trout missed most of the month of April, stuck in AAA.  That’s enough for me to say that Cabrera has been the best offensive hitter in the American League this year.

Defense: Defense is hard to quantify, especially when we only have one year of data on each player (Trout only has one year, period and Cabrera is playing a position he hasn’t played in quite a while).  My two “go to” stats have been UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved).  Cabrera has not been the disaster at 3B that everyone predicted, but putting preseason expectations aside, Cabrera has shown to be a negative on defense.  UZR has him rated as the 5th worst defensive third baseman in baseball in 2012 at -9.2 runs.  DRS is kinder on Cabrera, only rating him -4 runs on defense.

Trout has lived up to his scouting report as being very good on defense, using UZR and DRS as the metrics. UZR says that Trout has been worth 13.3 runs, tied for 9th among all outfielders in 2012.  DRS rates him even better, 3rd among OF at 21 runs saved this year.

Using one year of data can be deceptive, though.  People may claim that Cabrera isn’t as bad as these numbers suggest.  But even ignoring all numbers and just using the eye test, it should still be concluded that Trout is a better defensive outfield than Cabrera is a third baseman.  The question now is, is it significant enough to make Trout the more valuable player in 2012? 

Intangibles and Others:  Ok, so maybe you agree that Cabrera is the better hitter, but Trout has been the better overall player.  However, there are intangibles that may put Cabrera back on top.  Arguing that "valuable" isn't always synonymous with "best." For example, Cabrera moved to 3B to accommodate the signing of Prince Fielder.  How much value is that worth?  Cabrera had a much better August and September to push his team to the playoffs while Trout slumped and the Angels fell to 3rd place and out of the playoffs (even though the Angels ended up with a better record than the Tigers).  How much value do you give that?  Maybe you give Cabrera the MVP for winning the Triple Crown, a feat that hasn't happened in 45 years, end of discussion.  According to run expectancy, Trout has given his team bigger hits than Cabrera when context is factored.  How much value is that worth?    

One thing that might personally sway me to the Miguel Cabrera side is if we factor in career stats.  Normally, this is an award to showcase that particular year, but it can be argued that Cabrera has deserved the award in the past.  Giving him the award in a year that is this close can sort of “make up” for the fact that he hasn’t gotten it yet.  Trout is young, has a long, bright future in his career.  He will have plenty of time to win the award if he is really this good.  

Conclusion: There’s no right answer here.  They intentionally leave the MVP voting rules vague to leave it up to the individual voter’s discretion.  How much weight you give to each area will determine who you believe is the winner.  I just happen to come to the conclusion that Trout’s value was more valuable than Cabrera’s in 2012. 

One thing’s for certain, there has been a ton of debate on this this year.  It’s sad to see some arguments come down to degrading the other player to make their player appear better.   These are two very special seasons that we just witnessed this year.