Skip to content

WAR is stupid, people are stupid (Or, Trout vs. Cabrera)

Aug 17, 2013, 11:43 AM EDT

g-sport-121116-troutcabrera.nbcsports-story-612 Reuters

Well, as expected, Los Angeles’ Mike Trout is beginning to open up his WAR lead on Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, not that anyone really cares or should expect it to make much of a difference in the MVP race. I’ve been saying for a couple of months now that by the time the season ends, Trout will have a higher WAR than Cabrera. I would argue it’s because while Cabrera is the best HITTER in the game, Trout is the best PLAYER in the game, But you could certainly make the argument that it’s about the WAR stat itself.

First, the numbers right now:

Baseball Reference WAR
Mike Trout: 7.2 WAR
Miguel Cabrera: 6.3 WAR

Fangraphs WAR
Mike Trout: 8.2 WAR
Miguel Cabrera: 7.5 WAR

Baseball Prospectus WARP
Mike Trout: 8.2 WARP
Miguel Cabrera: 6.7 WARP

Basically every version of WAR I’ve seen has Trout ahead at the moment, and I suspect that the gap will widen before the year ends. The reason is simply this: Cabrera has only one way to add to his WAR — by hitting baseballs. Trout has multiple ways to add to his WAR — with his hitting, his fielding, his speed, etc. If you have two stores that are selling Diet Coke exclusively, and for the same price, the store that sells more always will make more money. But if one store also sells Diet Pepsi and Coke Zero while the other doesn’t, well, obviously, what you have is a strained analogy but I’ve got this caffeine headache and really need a Diet Coke right now.

Trout just puts more stuff into the WAR bucket. You might not like how WAR adds up such things, but that’s the simple fact here. WAR, in all its forms, tends to look past the context issues and anomalies of basic statistics like batting average and counting RBIs.

Here’s a quick example: You probably know that Cabrera is hitting a rather extraordinary .358 with a .450 on-base percentage. Trout is hitting a slightly less extraordinary .330 with a .428 on-base percentage. So, Trout is great … and Cabrera is better. Seems obvious, no?

Well, sure, except for this: Trout has reached base nine times on error. Cabrera has reached zero. Now, I don’t want to go off on a rant here about errors and their statistical absurdity — but let’s just say that as far as baseball value goes, reaching on error is just as good a reaching on a hit. In both cases, you hit the ball into the field of play and you reach base. Same thing. We can argue from now until forever how it should be figured statistically, but it is inarguable that they are of equal value when it comes to the actual game.

Batting average and on-base percentage count reach-on-error as OUTS. Everything I think about this, it drives me crazy. It’s one of the dumbest statistical tricks in all of sports, maybe the dumbest, it is not unlike not giving a shooter credit for a three-point shot because he made it off the backboard or taking away not giving a receiver credit for a catch and yardage because the defender slipped and fell down. If you hit the ball and reach base it should absolutely NOT be counted as an out. It’s not an out. No out was recorded. IT IS NOT AN OUT. Sorry, I am going off on a rant here.

If you give Trout credit for the times he reached base on error, his batting average jumps to .350 and his on-base percentage jumps to .444 — suddenly very close to Cabrera.

This, I think, is one of the benefits of speed. Here’s another one: Cabrera has come up in a double-play situation 118 times and hit into 16 of them. Trout has come up in 92 double-play situations and hit into just six. So that’s 10 fewer outs for Trout. That should be figured in somehow when considering a player’s value, no? Throw it into the WAR bucket.

Home field context should be considered. Trout plays in a brutal hitter’s park. Cabrera plays in a very good one. Speed should be considered. Trout has stolen 27 of 31 bases and he leads the American League with eight triples. Cabrera has three stolen bases (though he has not been caught) and one triple. Throw it into the WAR bucket.

Trout has, by the numbers, had a tough year defensively. Last year, the numbers showed him to be a defensive superstar, but this year Baseball Reference has him with a negative defensive WAR and the Dewan Plus/Minus shows him to be minus-7 — about seven plays worse than the average center fielder . But those numbers have climbed rapidly the last few weeks and I suspect they will keep going up, Trout is simply too fast, too hard-working and too talented to be a defensive liability. I fully believe he’s had some defensive issues, but class eventually rises.

Cabrera meanwhile — he fought third base to a draw last year through sheer stubbornness, but he has always been a defensive liability and from everything I can tell he’s been pretty terrible there this season. The numbers also indicate he has been pretty terrible this season.

So we are once again in a situation where Cabrera’s superior batting average and power numbers face off against Trout’s very good batting average and power numbers, great speed and better defense. Of course, Cabrera’s team leads the American League Central while Trout’s team is dreadful and has been all season. I think we know where this is going. Trout will once again win the hearts and minds of those who like the advanced stats. Cabrera will once again win the MVP.

Latest Posts
  1. Video: Derek Jeter surpasses Lou Gehrig for first place on Yankees’ all-time doubles list

    Jul 22, 2014, 10:24 PM EDT

    derek jeter getty Getty Images

    Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter made a little more history on Tuesday night against the Rangers …

  2. Marlins are not shopping Casey McGehee, might sign him to multi-year contract extension

    Jul 22, 2014, 9:37 PM EDT

    casey mcgehee marlins getty Getty Images

    Casey McGehee entered play on Tuesday evening with a batting average (.322) that is 54 points above his career mean (.268) and an RBI total (56) that ranks ninth in the National League. The 31-year-old third baseman fits the mold of a sell-high candidate. But it doesn’t sound like he’s going to be moved.

  3. Video: Leonys Martin robs Brian McCann with juggling grab

    Jul 22, 2014, 8:41 PM EDT

    leonys martin getty Getty Images

    Watch as Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin leaps above the right-center field wall at Yankee Stadium to rob Brian McCann of a home run in the bottom of the second inning Tuesday night …

  4. Taijuan Walker returning to Mariners’ rotation Wednesday

    Jul 22, 2014, 7:53 PM EDT

    taijuan walker getty Getty Images

    Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker will be called back up from Triple-A Tacoma to start Wednesday night against the Mets at Seattle’s Safeco Field.

  5. Why aren’t the Cardinals playing Oscar Taveras?

    Jul 22, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT

    oscar taveras getty Getty Images

    Oscar Taveras has started just two of the Cardinals’ last seven games and the left-handed-hitting outfield prospect is not in St. Louis’ starting lineup on Tuesday night against Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi. Getting the nod instead is the right-handed-hitting Allen Craig. What’s the deal?

  6. Kevin Siegrist expected to return Wednesday

    Jul 22, 2014, 6:14 PM EDT

    kevin siegrist getty Getty Images

    According to Brian Stull of CBS Sports 920, left-handed reliever Kevin Siegrist joined back up with the Cardinals on Tuesday in St. Louis and is expected to be activated from the disabled list on Wednesday.

  7. Rockies place Troy Tulowitzki on the disabled list

    Jul 22, 2014, 5:27 PM EDT

    Troy Tulowitzki Troy Tulowitzki

    Troy Tulowitzki exited Saturday’s game with what the Rockies called a “cramp” in his quadriceps, but now the star shortstop is out of the lineup tonight for the third consecutive game and it’s clear the injury is more serious.

  8. Josh Reddick rejoins A’s after latest knee injury

    Jul 22, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT

    josh reddick getty Getty Images

    A’s outfielder Josh Reddick is off the disabled list after missing all but one week of the past two months with knee problems.

  9. Kirk Gibson gives a jerky kind of “no-comment” on the Brandon McCarthy cutter controversy

    Jul 22, 2014, 4:31 PM EDT

    Kirk Gibson AP

    Apparently, one does not ask Kirk Gibson about the decisions he and his coaching staff make about on-the-field decisions.

  10. Geovany Soto lasted three games before going back on the disabled list

    Jul 22, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT

    Geovany Soto AP AP

    At this point the Rangers’ injury situation is absurd.

  11. Rob Manfred “heavily favored” to be Bud Selig’s replacement

    Jul 22, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Rob Manfred

    After a bit of a dance, it seems like the early favorite to take over for Bud Selig is the favorite when it really matters.

  12. Cubs designate Darwin Barney for assignment, activate Emilio Bonifacio from disabled list

    Jul 22, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT

    Darwin Barney Getty Getty Images

    Darwin Barney logged 500-plus plate appearances for the Cubs each season from 2011-2013 and was the Opening Day second baseman this year, but today he was designated for assignment to make roster room for Emilio Bonifacio’s return from the disabled list.

  13. Justin Masterson wants to rejoin the Indians, but he’ll make at least one more rehab start

    Jul 22, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    masterson getty Getty Images

    Justin Masterson tossed five innings in a minor-league rehab start Sunday, but rather than welcoming him back from the disabled list the Indians will have the right-hander make another rehab start.

  14. Yankees acquire Chase Headley from Padres

    Jul 22, 2014, 1:22 PM EDT

    Chase Headley Chase Headley

    Two seasons ago Headley smacked 31 homers, led the league in RBIs, and finished fifth in the MVP balloting, but his production plummeted last season and this year he’s been mostly injured and ineffective.

  15. Michael Cuddyer still 3-4 weeks from returning to Rockies

    Jul 22, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT

    cuddyer getty Getty Images

    Cuddyer, who won the batting title last season by hitting .331 with a .919 OPS in 130 games, hit .317 with five homers and an .866 OPS in 31 games before the injury this year.

  16. Changes to official scorers rulings have tripled in recent years

    Jul 22, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Four Getty Images

    Murray Chass — yes, Murray Chass — has an excellent article about this today.

  17. No one is sure when Matt Cain will pitch for the Giants again

    Jul 22, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT

    Matt Cain AP

    After letting Matt Cain pitch (poorly) through a “cranky” elbow since spring training the Giants finally shut him down yesterday, placing him on the disabled list with elbow inflammation.

  18. The guy with the curly-W beard is . . . awesome?

    Jul 22, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

    Nationals cap logo

    That’s some real Nattitude right there.

Featured video

Colby-on-Colby crime in Toronto
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. H. Street (3523)
  2. C. Lee (2587)
  3. H. Ramirez (2393)
  4. T. Tulowitzki (2389)
  5. Y. Puig (2177)
  1. T. Walker (2098)
  2. B. Belt (2062)
  3. D. Price (2029)
  4. D. Uggla (1947)
  5. D. Salazar (1887)