The dregs of the Internet exist for days like Thursday. In the kingdom of sports, the phylum of baseball, the class of awards, the order of opinion, the family of fan and the genus of obnoxious exists the most horrid species in the sports-viewing universe: trollus mvpus.
I wanted to take the higher road on this. Honestly. I wanted to preach détente among baseball fans, to proffer this idea of harmonious coexistence between the parties that have turned Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout into the argument that never ends. Considering I have fire-hosed lighter fluid on the debate, I realize that I, too, have contributed my fair share to the quarrel. I was ready to apologize and sing "Kumbaya" and agree to disagree.
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Then Cabrera romped to a second straight American League MVP triumph over Trout – this one even more decisive than in 2012. And the realization washed over me that in this age of great knowledge, when a surfeit of information about a player's true value exists – especially how to assess a player's contributions and why past follies should be buried there – a large group either blinds itself to such details or is left blind by a voting system that must evolve to match the breadth of our knowledge.
This is not just a nod in the direction of my Baseball Writers Association of America brethren, who lavished Cabrera with 23 of 30 first-place votes to Trout's five (with one apiece going to Chris Davis and Josh Donaldson). Some very intelligent, thoughtful, deliberate, considerate people still found reason to place Cabrera atop their ballot – people who understand the game well enough to realize that despite superior hitting numbers, Cabrera cannot stack up to Trout when factoring in baserunning, fielding and positional value.
In which case it's time for the BBWAA to consider killing its woefully outdated and dithering criteria – seriously, it asks voters to name a player most valuable when it says, in the letter sent to voters, "There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means" – and awarding the thing to its rightful owner: the best player in each league, because he who plays the game best is the apotheosis of value.
Miguel Cabrera was baseball's best hitter in 2013. Mike Trout was baseball's best player in 2013.
Of course, should one spelunk into the comments sections of any Cabrera-vs.-Trout story, the Twitter @ replies to any of the five Trout voters (including Yahoo's own Tim Brown, who had the pleasure of reading this doozy) or any of the myriad bridges under which trollus mvpus plants itself, an ugly truth will reveal itself. It is the same thing that festers in politics, actually, and turns what should be a marketplace of ideas into a swap meet of idiocy.
Willful ignorance is an embarrassment; trollus mvpus celebrates it. Being informed as to the new methodologies of determining value should be a pre-requisite to forming an opinion; trollus mvpus thinks pre-reqs are for losers. Even if the population of trollus mvpus shifts geographically – the past two years have been populated by Detroiters who have an understandable affinity for Cabrera – people's fandom does not preclude them from at very least trying to understand why others might disagree.
Being informed is a good thing, and it does not take a math degree to understand Trout's superiority. Here's a dirty little secret: I think Wins Above Replacement, the catch-all, go-to stat adopted by the sabermetric glitterati as the best determinant of value, is full of crap. The idea is great: Boil down everything a player does on the baseball field to one number. The execution is flawed. On the hitting side, both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com, the two most popular purveyors of WAR, put great stock in defensive metrics. Truth is, defensive metrics are statistical Snickers bars: as wholly satisfying as they may seem, they're calorically empty, and giving them equal weight to the much more developed hitting statistics bastardizes the final product.
So, no, my case for Trout has nothing to do with WAR. It has to do with tangible facts that modern metrics have helped teach us. Like, fielding does matter, and even if we cannot measure it with exact precision, some combination of scouting reports and metrics gives us an accurate hierarchy. And accordingly, position matters as well; a center fielder provides greater value than a third baseman, who is more important than a first baseman, and so on. Keeping track of every baserunning intricacy lets us know it wasn't just Trout's steals that dwarfed Cabrera's impact on the basepaths. Trout took an extra base on teammates' hits twice as often as Cabrera did, and those bases add up to runs.
Thinking this way requires a lot. First, a willingness to drop long-held beliefs, which anybody will admit takes time. Next, the motivation to educate oneself, something that in many wanes regardless of the subject. And finally, a desire to look at baseball through an objective lens, the toughest sell of all, because sports is an inherently subjective pastime.
In the aftermath of the voting, I sent out four Trout-related tweets. One reply came from Tom Haudricourt, a 28-year BBWAA member, who suggested Trout garnered little support because the Los Angeles Angels stunk. Why teammates' performances have such great impact on an individual award I'll never understand. And please don't come with the if-he-wasn't-there-Detroit-wouldn't-have-made-the-playoffs hypothetical or the his-games-mattered-more canard. The former is impossible to discern – similarly, imagine how bad the Angels would've been sans Trout – and the latter is flimsy logic. A game matters as much as a player believes it does, and considering Trout outperformed Cabrera significantly in the second half, it's fair to say Trout believed those games mattered quite a bit.
His reply: "We can make it easier by renaming it ‘Best Stats Award.' Sort of like the Hank Aaron Award. I prefer the MVP debates."
And they say 140 characters isn't enough to make a point. It's good enough for two, actually. Somehow, the sabermetric revolution turned stats into ... something worthy of derision? MVP voting should be easier thanks to what we now understand. We can demystify long-held beliefs, learn things that broaden our perspective. Without statistics, our votes would be nothing more than personal biases come to life. Stats fortify opinions and strengthen perspectives. They do not fill out ballots. They inform those whose privilege it is to fill them out and whose responsibility it is to fill them out ably.
Moreover, this whole idea of the MVP debate as something good is untoward. It is not our job to spur debate, even if it personifies the no-such-thing-as-bad-publicity truism and foists the BBWAA into the public consciousness for one day a year. Even if the BBWAA changes the MVP voting rules to reflect the best player winning, it will not silence those who believe their guy should win. It simply places the burden on the uninformed to come up with a better reason than, "Cuz he's better."
The MVP is the baseball writers' award, and as such, the writers must ask themselves an important pair of questions: What do we embrace? What do we hold true? The point of this exercise is not to gerrymander the rules but post one final legitimate question in the face of a sport that has evolved and a voting bloc that seems disinclined to go with it: Do the majority believe that nebulous guidance crafted decades ago provides the best conduit through which the BBWAA can select the Most Valuable Player? If so, maybe then I will lay back for the time being, knowing that eventually the five-point voting criteria will change, because all bad things do.
For now, we'll have to live with one of the best right-handed hitters ever winning back-to-back MVPs, which provides some solace. Still, the double-barreled blast of Trout being seen not as Mickey Mantle 2.0 but some amalgamation of numbers and his team's mediocrity turns these MVP votes into another pair in which the wrong player won, no matter how well Cabrera wears the MVP crown.
In the end, not as well as Mike Trout, the man who should've won, the best player in baseball. The real MVP, trolls.