Cabrera vs. Trout: a debate for the ages

David Madill

If you follow baseball at all, you’ve probably heard of Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. If not, here’s a chance to learn about two of the most electrifying players of this age.

Mike Trout is 22, in his second year in the major leagues and considered the future of the game. He is a five-tool player, meaning he can hit for power and average, he’s quick around the bases and he fields and throws well. Mike Trout sets the standard for a well-rounded athlete.

Miguel Cabrera is the epitome of a pure hitter. Many managers and experts who know the game well describe him among the greats. “This is my 50th year, and I don’t get too giddy about anything, but I’m not sure I’ve seen what’s going on… It’s a little mind-boggling,” former Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Cabrera’s performance this season in an (Mich.) article about the Tigers from the end of the summer.

Two years ago, he hit for the Triple Crown: the most home runs, runs batted in and the highest batting average, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since 1967. Although he doesn’t field or run the bases well, he makes up for it with his bat. (Or so the old-school thinkers claim.)

Lately, a wave of advanced measurements has begun to argue with more traditional statistics such as the aforementioned runs batted in and batting average.

One such measurement, the WAR, or “Wins Above Replacement,” incorporates measures of a player’s worth other than pure hitting, such as fielding and base running. This increased emphasis on tools that Trout has and Cabrera doesn’t is the basis for the argument that Trout should have been proclaimed Most Valuable Player in the American League above the three-time AL batting champ, Cabrera.

Here’s the question: is it time for change? Undoubtedly in the future, advanced measurements and computers will be relied on more and more until older, easier to calculate statistics become less relevant. In that age, Trout supporters would have an argument for him being MVP. However, 20 or even 10 years ago, Trout might not even have been considered.

So what’s holding us up? Can’t everyone see the clear superiority of these advanced measurements? Or are they really superior? Could there be a mistake in the equation for WAR? Is fielding really of equal importance to batting? These questions continue on, but no obvious answer is forthcoming.

A short-term decision was made last Thursday, proclaiming Miguel Cabrera the MVP for the American League. Once again, voters decided to rely on traditional stats over sophisticated measurements. But that wasn’t the most important decision made. For years, people will look on Cabrera’s stellar hitting or a brilliant play in the outfield by Trout and be amazed. There is no doubt that these two men are great ballplayers ­­– among the best ever. But that isn’t the question. The question is how greatness will be determined in the future. The question is about what value fans are willing to place on a statistic they don’t understand. The question is not Cabrera versus Trout. It’s algorithm versus instinct. The old versus the new. Change versus familiar.

So is it time for change? For now, let’s just sit back and watch the magic. Play ball!


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