Friday, November 16, 2012

TED? I've got Mitch Albom on line one.

Miguel Cabrera is a tremendous hitter, one of the best the game has seen in an incredibly long time. He would be, if baseball consisted solely of hitting, likely the best player of the last decade and only Albert Pujols would have a right to be mentioned in the same breath as him. In 2010, he almost certainly should have won the MVP. In 2012, he should have finished no lower than second. One could, I believe, make an argument that Miguel Cabrera could be the MVP in 2012.

On the other hand, one could just scream that he is the MVP and rejoice in vanquishing a straw man by willfully blinding one's self to knowledge, facts, analysis, and meaningful comparison. And by decrying certain numbers as worthless or artificial and then rooting your own argument in a slightly different set of numbers and voodoo mysticism.

I'll let you guess which Mitch Albom chooses.

Mitch Albom: Miguel Cabrera's award a win for fans, defeat for stats geeks

Ok, maybe you don't have to guess.

The eyes have it.

Great, Mitch has found some other old man with macular degeneration to spend his Tuesdays with...this is going to be ugly.

In a battle of computer analysis versus people who still watch baseball as, you know, a sport, what we saw with our Detroit vision was what most voters saw as well: Miguel Cabrera is the Most Valuable Player in the American League this year.

If you are suffering from Detroit vision, please see an opthalmologist immediately. Symptoms include: unemployment, financial ruin, being blinded to serious deficiencies, and dry mouth. Always dry mouth.

"It means a lot," he told reporters over the phone from Miami. "I'm very thankful. ... I thought it was gonna be very close."

So did everyone.

I may be wrong about this, but I'd speculate that virtually no one who looks at these things critically thought it would be this close. Everyone I talked to was either (1) resigned to the fact that Cabrera would win by a hefty margin or (2) under the deluded belief that Cabrera had a birthright to the MVP because he won the Triple Crown (for what it's worth, this person was also a Tigers fan). Sure, there was Jim Caple hand-wringing on ESPN about how difficult a vote it was, but it was all in the same vein as Mitt Romney running neck and neck with the president. ESPN refuses to give readers actual insight for free in a desperate attempt to get people to pay for insider access, so they have to post the same hand-wringing every year.

But the debate ended Thursday night when the results were announced, with Cabrera earning 22 of the 28 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

The debate, apparently, was over how close the vote would be, because nothing else ended. I'm sure there are some "stat geeks" who still think Maury Wills shouldn't have been the NL MVP in 1962 just because he had an OPS+ (whatever that is) below league average.

It reinforced what Tigers fans have been saying all season: This guy is a monster.

You mean because he has had a drinking problem and been involved in a number of domestic disputes? I mean, he's probably a pretty bad guy, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt...

It also answered the kind of frenzied cyberspace argument that never shadowed baseball 20 years ago but may never stop shadowing it now.

Mitch Albom's Brain: What verb could adequately convey the evil that lurks in the heart of Mike Trout voters?
Mitch Albom: Shadowed?
Mitch Albom's Brain: That is amazing. Oh, but Mitch...of course the arguments didn't exist in cyberspace 20 years ago, the Internet barely existed.

Statistics geeks insisted Cabrera was less worthy than Angels rookie centerfielder Mike Trout. Not because Trout's traditional baseball numbers were better. They weren't. Cabrera had more home runs (44), more runs batted in (139) and a better batting average (.330) than Trout and everyone else in the American League. It gave him the sport's first Triple Crown in 45 years.

Mitch Albom's Brain: Traditional numbers could also include things like, say, runs, doubles, stolen bases, ground into double plays, walks, and on base percentage. Similarly rudimentary numbers like a team's winning percentage with a player in the lineup could even count.

But Trout excelled in the kind of numbers that a few years ago weren't even considered, mostly because A) They were impossible to measure, and B) Nobody gave a hoot.

Yes, numbers like runs, stolen bases, ground into double plays, walks and on base percentage have never been considered. That's why none of the players who led the league in runs has ever won an MVP. Or stolen bases. Or, for that matter, OPS+, stat geeks! Or numbers like batting average, where Trout was within four "points" of your favorite monster. Or home runs, where he was, despite considerably less playing time, a worse hitting environment, and much better competition, tied for 13th with some garbage home run hitters named Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols.


Oh, wait. I missed someone when I made my prior statement about no one leading the league in runs winning an MVP. It turns out I forgot TyCobbEddieCollinsGeorgeSislerBabeRuthLouGehrigJimmieFoxxTedWilliams(twice)AlRosenMickeyMantle(twice)RogerMarisZoiloVersallesFrankRobinsonCarlYastrzemskiReggieJacksonFredLynnRodCarewDonBaylorCalRipkenRickeyHendersonFrankThomasKenGriffeyAlexRodriguez(thrice)VlaidmirGuerreroDustinPedroia. To call that guy shitty would be an insult to feces, which can prove useful as fertilizer. But not TyCobbEddieCollinsGeorgeSislerBabeRuthLouGehrigJimmieFoxxTedWilliams(twice)AlRosenMickeyMantle(twice)RogerMarisZoiloVersallesFrankRobinsonCarlYastrzemskiReggieJacksonFredLynnRodCarewDonBaylorCalRipkenRickeyHendersonFrankThomasKenGriffeyAlexRodriguez(thrice)VlaidmirGuerreroDustinPedroia-- he sucked.


Come on. This is why we can't have nice things. I missed someone when I made my statement about no one leading the league in stolen bases winning an MVP. It turns out I forgot...TyCobbGeorgeSislerRickeyHendersonIchiroSuzuki. He was okay, I guess.


And you know, just to respond to you newfangled number geek people. one who's led in that has won the honorable trophy that's given to people who lead leagues in RBIs (that's right, we people who hate numbers also reject your William Safire-like attempts to note that only runs is plural. RsBI. Bah.) EVER. Except 25 times. 25 times writers forgot the one true faith of AVGHRRBI, since those numbers could not have any correlation with OPS+, the realm of stat geeks who hate baseball.


Miguel Cabrera does have a big lead in the category of "Columns written by people who depend on notions of 'Real Fans' and 'Computer Geeks'". That is clearly the only stat that matters. They'll be repossessing Felix Hernandez's Cy Young any minute now.

There is no end to the appetite for categories -- from OBP to OPS to WAR. I mean, OMG!

Mitch Albom's Brain: Those all have three letters. You are on fire. Mitch AlbomI know. I'm the best. Mitch Albom's Brain: No, while you were typing WAR, you spontaneously combusted.

The number of triples hit while wearing a certain-colored underwear is probably being measured as we speak.

Measured? You mean counted? I haven't mentioned WAR or performed any arithmetic and I have generated categories that could, if you were deluded enough to use them as an isolated measure of "value", would each (or in tandem) "prove" Mike Trout is better than Miguel Cabrera.

By the way, I can calculate that whole "triples in underwear" number for Cabrera. It's ZERO. LAST IN THE LEAGUE. Regardless of underwear color. Because although he plays in a stadium that was (may still be) referred to as Comerica National Park because it was (at the time) regarded as cavernous (and, in 2012, had a park factor that ranked 3rd in the major leagues for triples with triples occurring 150% as often there...), he is not good at running, which stat geeks mistaken believe is a part of baseball.

So in areas such as "how many Cabrera home runs would have gone out in Angel Stadium of Anaheim" or "batting average when leading off an inning" or "Win Probability Added," Trout had the edge. At least this is what we were told.

I mean, did you do the math? I didn't. I like to actually see the sun once in a while.

Good point. Math is hard. On that note, did you calculate Cabrera's batting average? That would take a lot of adding up 1 for 4s and 2 for 5s and then dividing. Screw that. We can cross batting average off the list of relevant information. It'd take away the opportunity to soak up that glorious sun for which tropical Detroit is so well known. HRRBI4EVA.

For the record, if you could find a straw man who used one of the first two statistics as their primary criteria for leaning one way or the other, Mitch, I would join you in chasing them with a pitchfork.

Plus he has intangibles

Mitch, you've just converted every Yankee fan to my side of the argument by using the I-word with someone other than The Captain. Note to self: recruit Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, and Marco Scutaro to star in a cop drama called The Intangibles. Is Robert Stack still alive?

Besides, if you live in Detroit, you didn't need a slide rule. This was an easy choice. People here watched Cabrera, 29, tower above the game in 2012. Day after day, game after game, he was a Herculean force. Valuable? What other word was there? How many late-inning heroics? How many clutch hits? And he only missed one game all year.

If you see the words "slide rule" used in a column about baseball and it's not about breaking up double plays with takeout slides, you need to stop reading that column. By continuing, you will only rue the day you left the velvety comforts of illiteracy.

"During the season, a lot of guys tell me I'm gonna be the MVP," Cabrera said, laughing. "But they said the same thing to Trout."

Yes, it's true, Trout is faster,

Unfortunately, speed is a handicap in baseball. Just ask Herb Washington. Trout is a better defensive player, Ha. Defense? What is this, the NBA? Trout is a leadoff hitter and Trout edged Cabrera in several of those made-for-Microsoft categories.

Before Microsoft, no one could even tell the speed at which things moved. It's a funny story. In an event to demonstrate this, Bob Feller threw a fastball alongside a roaring motorcycle. Time stood still. Van Meter, Iowa, which up until that point had been the largest city in the United States, remained in suspended animation until Windows ME. And you wondered why that came out.

And I will just point out that leadoff hitters are "made-for-Microsoft."

And that Mitch Albom thinks that "stat geeks" use Microsoft products.

But if you are going to go molten deep into intangibles, why stop at things like "which guy hit more homers into the power alleys?" (A real statistic, I am sorry to say.)

Here I was thinking "Molten deep is not a phrase." I googled it. There's apparently a video game called Denizens of the Molten Deep. Mitch Albom apparently believes molten is a level of depth. "Molten deep into intangibles" is this generation's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea".

Why not also consider such intangibles as locker-room presence? Teammates love playing around -- and around with -- Miggy. He helps the room.

He really tied the room together. Of course, when the Angels had Mike Trout in the minors, they had the worst record in the American League. When he was in the majors, they had the best record in the American League. You know why? Because he unified the clubhouse in their hatred for him. They wanted to leave so badly that they started getting on base so they wouldn't have to sit on the bench near him, pitching better so they could maintain a maximum distance. In fact, the only reason the Angels called him up was because he was ruining their other prospects, none of whom could bear to be around him.

How about his effect on pitchers? Nobody wanted the embarrassment of him slamming a pitch over the wall.

This is what ruined Omar Vizquel's career -- it wasn't embarrassing to have him hit home runs against you. So pitchers were brave and he never hit home runs.

The amount of effort pitchers expended on Cabrera or the guy batting ahead of him surely took its toll and affected the pitches other batters saw. Why not find a way to measure that? (Don't worry. I'm sure someone is working on it as we speak.)

Although Mike Trout reached base more than Miguel Cabrera, he never distracted pitchers. He never, for instance, led off first base or stole bases, which would distract pitchers. He never made a pitcher work around him. Never.

What about the debilitating power of a three-run homer?

You mean the one three-run homer that Miguel Cabrera hit that Trout didn't? Totals: Cabrera = 3; Trout = 2. Although, deep down, I am crushed by this. I was certain when reading this sentence that Trout would have more.

How many opposing teams slumped after Cabrera muscled one out?

Well, he hit 8 of his home runs against the I'm not sure how to answer that. I didn't know that was what demoralized them. Note also that Cabrera muscled one out. Obviously, Trout, being the patron saint of the stat geeks merely calculated or wisped one out each of those 30 times he traveled 4 bases at once in one plate session (we can hardly call them home runs or at bats when he's being so geeky about it).

How about team confidence? You heard everyone from Prince Fielder to Justin Verlander speak in awed tones about being on the same team as Cabrera. Doesn't that embolden teammates and bring out their best?

Tigers winning percentage when Miguel Cabrera was on active roster .543: Angels winning percentage when Mike Trout was on active roster: .584

How about the value of a guy who could shift from first to third base -- as Cabrera did this past season -- to make room for Fielder? Ask manager Jim Leyland how valuable that is.

Jim Leyland would blow cigar smoke in your face and tell you to stop writing pansy-ass garbage.

How about the fact that Cabrera's team made the playoffs and Trout's did not? ("Yes," countered Team Trout, "but the Angels actually won more games.") How about the fact that Cabrera played the whole season while Trout started his in the minors? ("Yes," said the Trout Shouters, "but the Angels won a greater percentage with Trout than Detroit did with Cabrera.")

Team Trout seems reasonable and rational, but they left out that Cabrera got to face the Twins, Indians, and Royals 13 times each. He got to play 39 games against the most nightmarish pitching staffs known to man. Considering Cabrera hit 8 home runs against the Indians, he wouldn't have had a triple crown if he'd had to play in any other division.

How about this? How about that? The fact is, voters are not instructed to give more credence to any one category than another. Twenty-eight sportswriters, two from each AL city, decide, in their own minds, what is "valuable" and who displayed it the most.

They chose Cabrera.

By an overwhelming majority.

Mitch Albom is easily overwhelmed. That have been four MVP votes that have been more "overwhelming" in the last 8 seasons. The only thing that is particularly noteworthy about this year is that only two players received first place votes. In most years, that spread is thinner. Here, we can get absolute consensus there were only two potentially sensible votes.

In the end, memories were more powerful than microchips.

In the end, someone's memories christened Raul Ibanez the 10th best player in the AL. That person works for the same newspaper as you and is clearly the person in charge of logic-checking your columns. A rival for the future

Which, by the way, speaks to a larger issue about baseball. It is simply being saturated with situational statistics. What other sport keeps coming up with new categories to watch the same game? A box score now reads like an annual report.

It's time to play Gannett Newspapers 10-Q or Box Score? By the way, class action attorneys should take note that the Gannett Newspapers 10-Q does not explain that it employs a mental defective to write sports columns. That seems like a very material omission.

And this WAR statistic -- which measures the number of wins a player gives his team versus a replacement player of minor league/bench talent (honestly, who comes up with this stuff?) -- is another way of declaring, "Nerds win!"

We need to slow down the shoveling of raw data into the "what can we come up with next?" machine. It is actually creating a divide between those who like to watch the game of baseball and those who want to reduce it to binary code.
Baseball was much better before numbers. Back when all that mattered was whether it felt like you'd seen enough pitches in the strike zone. Back when it wasn't about runs on the scoreboard, but about how a team felt inside. Back before Gutenberg invented a printing press, so we would have to read the ill-informed banshee wailings of Mitch Albom.

To that end, Cabrera's winning was actually a bell ring for the old school.

Every time a bell rings, an Angel is wrongly denied an MVP. (And pardon my sabermetric expression, but WTF is a bell ring for the old school?)

There is also an element of tradition here. The last three Triple Crown winners were also voted as MVP.

The last three players to lead the major leagues (not merely American League) in runs and stolen bases did not win the MVP. You know why? Because, until this year, there hadn't been three players to do it -- in all of recorded baseball history. Trout was the third. And while this is a terrible, terrible, terrible argument for why he was the MVP, it is exactly the same level of specious as yours.

"I think they can use both," Cabrera said when asked about computer stats versus old-time performance. "In the end, it's gonna be the same. You gotta play baseball."


Miguel Cabrera, despite being forced to express himself in a language that is not his first, says things that are, while cliched, utterly reasonable, respectful, and reasonably honest. Mitch Albom...well, he typed a lot.

This was a nice moment for the Tigers -- and a small consolation prize for owner Mike Ilitch and president Dave Dombrowski, who, like Cabrera, would have traded a World Series ring for any postseason award. But the Tigers now have back-to-back MVPs (Verlander last year), which speaks pretty well for their ability to develop and sign talent. It's also nice that Cabrera has seemingly made a turn for the better with his off-field behavior.

Justin Verlander -- also not the MVP. See? I think WAR people are nuts too, but unlike you, I actually know why I disagree with the number in Verlander's case and can discuss it below.

And none of this diminishes the season Trout gave the Los Angeles Angels -- and baseball history. Rarely has a rookie so dominated on so many levels. It is scary to think that Trout, only 21, will get better. And if he improves even incrementally, who is going to beat him for MVP in years to come?

Anyone who manages to get more RsBI, because people like you and Murray Chass are insisting that baseball needs to travel back in time to a point when we didn't have any understanding for the fact that games involve hitting, running, fielding, and pitching. Derek Jeter, because you can't overestimate intangibles. Any player from any team that makes the playoffs any year the Angels don't, because you ascribe value to being on a great team (which, incidentally, is one of the reasons WAR is actually not a great stat, because if you're on a team that wins lots of games by the skin of their teeth, it will overestimate the value of certain players, like, say, 2011 Justin Verlander, because it doesn't actually tell you their value in a vacuum, it reverse engineers their value from their team's performance in either won-loss record or pythagorean score). And, of course, if the Tigers sign Ryan Madson and he gets 55 saves, you'll vote him first next year just to prove you're cool with "new stats".

But for today, for this season, anyhow, Cabrera gets the nod. In a season of fits and starts, he was a reliable Tiger, a consistent source of power, and a shadow that fell on opposing pitchers even before he reached the batter's box. He was the meat in the stew that became the American League champions, and while it is possible to argue the other way, it's undeniable to argue this one.

"Hopefully every year it can be a battle like that," Cabrera said.

This year, what you saw is what he got.


The eyes have it.

A big fat slug who pounds the ball. I'm pretty sure if it came down to the eye test, Trout wins this. *I will note one thing. Mitch Albom refers to Miguel Cabrera having superior intangibles. As much as (1) just using the word in an argument causes one's brain to pop a cyanide pill and (2) he merely states it in a series of questions (none of which he answers -- I am sure he is convinced Cabrera had at least 6 3-run homers (but apparently knew he didn't hit any grand slams), I will give him credit. He used the word "intangibles" in favor of someone who wasn't white (and who is Hispanic). For that reason, all is forgiven and all hail Mitch Albom.

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