Math has taken over every other aspect of baseball, from the way general managers put teams together to the way fans watch the game, but it still can't affect the outcome of baseball's biggest solo award.
The Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera won the American League's Most Valuable Player award on Tuesday evening. To some, it was inevitable. Cabrera was the first winner of baseball's Triple Crown in over forty years. That means he led the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in (RBIs). These are very old-guard baseball stats. The kind of numbers the table of clueless old scouts you all laughed at in Moneyball would love. But Forty years. Through the steroid era and A-Rod and all, no one had done it until Cabrera. It's hard to argue against prestige like that in a sport fo steeped in tradition like baseball.
But the sabermetrically inclined folk, like king of math Nate Silver, or Brad Pitt's Billy Beane, or the National Post's Bruce Arthur, the numbers say the award should have gone to another man, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels. Some people forget that Silver was once a contributing member to the annual Baseball Prospectus books and played a big part in math revolutionizing baseball. So those people might have been surprised when Silver used his FiveThirtyEight blog to lay out his argument for Trout the other day. Poll analysis this was not.
In the interest of helping you play devil's advocate when you go for drinks after work tomorrow, we're here to show you how to sound like a poor man's Nate Silver and argue against Cabrera winning the MVP. Argument tent poles are laid out in the exclamations that will guide you:
"Trout's stats are basically the same as Cabrera's!"
The argument for Trout is pretty simple. First, Trout was better than Cabrera in all the stats that have become popular among the sabermetric crowd. Trout had a better on base percentage, which doesn't calculate someone screwing up when measuring how often a batter gets on base. His batting average is just a few points behind Cabrera's. When you look at a lot of the big boy stats (that's good, use that) like WAR and OPS, Trout still comes out on top.
"Trout was a better defensive player!"
Usually when arguing over drinks no one challenges you when you say something like that. It's one of those things you can't prove unless you are a math nerd like Silver, who did it like this:
One of these systems, Ultimate Zone Rating, estimates that Trout saved the Angels 11 runs with his defense in the outfield. Cabrera, a clumsy defender at third base who is more naturally suited to play first base, cost the Tigers 10 runs with his.
We suggest something along the lines of, "he didn't fall over as much as Cabrera did."
"Trout stole all the bases!"
Trout stole 49 bases on 54 attempts. His ruthless efficiency led the league. This is just a fun line.
"Trout is a rookie and didn't even play a full season!"
Eventually you're going to have to appear to the human side of your table. Math can convince the logical among you, but it will not melt their hearts and that's how you're going to hook them. While he's not the kid with the broken arm from the movie Rookie of the Year, Trout is the real, live 2012 AL Rookie of the Year. This was the first year Trout has spent significant time playing in the show. He started the year playing in Salt Lake for a minor league team before getting called up to Anaheim. Quite the climate change, no? His success wasn't unexpected, per se. He was a highly-touted prospect, but no one really expected him to be this good this fast.
If you follow this advice carefully and to the letter, someone at your table will concede and buy you a beer for being so right. That, or they'll crack a bad joke and tell you to, "go fishing." Get it. Trout. Get it. Sigh.