What is the Difference between Valuable and Best?

There are two schools of thought on voting for baseball’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. The first, and more traditional, is that it should go to the player perceived to provide the most value to their team. The second school believes that the award should go to the best player. I am firmly in the first school of thought.

Why? Simply because I believe that the name of the MVP award defines what it is.

Before going any further, let me say that the two schools of thought will never merge. My purpose here is to explain why Most Valuable isn’t always “Best”.

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Putting WAR in Context for Trout versus Cabrera

One of the things that everyone points out in the discussion of Mike Trout over Miguel Cabrera is Trout’s higher WAR* value. The basic premise is that if Trout contributed more wins to the Angels than Cabrera did to the Tigers, then Trout is more valuable.

For those unfamiliar with the statistic, WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. The theory that it acts as a “counting stat” that illustrates how many wins a player contributes over a theoretical “replacement” player. Replacement players are described as your typical AAA minor league baseball player.

WAR is calculated a few different ways but I’m going to leverage Baseball Reference’s value for this discussion, mostly because they have every statistic readily available for anyone to access.

Cutting to the chase, Cabrera had a WAR of 6.9 versus Trout’s WAR of 10.7, despite Cabrera playing the entire season. At face value, this seems like a pretty straightforward argument in favor of Trout.

Except this is a discussion of the Most Valuable Player, not the best player. WAR is excellent at showing production but the value of anything is dependent upon context. Let’s look at the standings for the 2012 American League West.

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Quick Look at the 2012 AL MVP Race

This is a good year for baseball. Infield flies aside, there was a lot of excitement down the stretch in the Pennant Race. To top it off we had the first Triple Crown Winner since 1967.

The strange thing is that people don’t think that Miguel Cabrera is the Most Valuable Player in the American League. They are saying that Mike Trout deserves that honor.

Well, let’s throw the MVPP statistic at this problem and see what happens.

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