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.

Continue reading