In 1975, Fred Lynn became an immediate force in the Red Sox lineup. The center field rookie with the awesome eye and incredible strikeout rate was a shining star in a lineup that would eventually go on to capture the AL pennant. On a team that contained star hitters the likes of Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, and Dwight Evans, Lynn nearly lapped the competition from a value standpoint. 7.1 WAR, 161 wRC+, and some solid defensive prowess to go along with it.
Flash forward 26 years. Another incredible rookie year by a man who was in no way a rookie to the game of professional baseball. Ichiro Suzuki hit the ground running, hitting for a .350 batting average and stealing a whopping 56 bases. He might not have been a rookie in technical terms, but it was still one of the best debut seasons ever in the history of the game.
What do these two players have in common? This may be obvious to some, but these are the only two men in the history of the sport to win the MVP award in their rookie season. The Lynn decision was a solid one, as few in the American League came close to matching his value output. He wasn’t the absolute best in the AL by a WAR standpoint, but it’s close enough to the point where arguments can be made in his favor. Sadly, I cannot make the same argument for Ichiro, who was nowhere close to the best player in the American League. The voters could not look past the dominant season that the Mariners had in order to vote for guys like Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, or even Ichiro’s own teammate Brett Boone.
The argument for “heist of the decade” does not involve Ichiro. That is not the decade I wish to focus on. The decade is 2010-2020. It’s not that there should have been one less person to win MVP in their rookie season, but there should have been one more. Mike Trout was absolutely robbed of the MVP award in 2012, and no, his fans are still not over it. The cries of the first triple crown winner in 65 years made it seem like Miguel Cabrera was the no doubt slam dunk winner. The alternative argument made for Mike Trout was a resounding “who cares?”
Before I go any further, I will cede that Cabrera had Trout beat in the categories of home runs, batting average, and RBI. That fact cannot be taken away. But what do these three stats really say that the multitude of other statistics won by Trout do not? There is no way to take home runs away in this argument. Cabrera was the better power hitter, and it wasn’t all too close: 44 to 30. Clearly Cabrera dominated Trout in power, but was he the better hitter sans home run ability? Cabrera’s .330 to Trout’s .326 was better by only a few thousandths, and when you factor in who was able to reach first base more, Trout’s .399 to Cabrera’s .393 was better. In the words of Brad Pitt, “He gets on base a lot, do I care if it’s a walk or a hit?”
This leads us to RBI: Is a hit more likely to lead to an RBI than a walk is? Of course, but the statistic is so flawed, that it is basically ignorable. Cabrera played for the offense potent Tigers. Hitting behind on base capable players like Austin Jackson made RBIs easy to come by for Cabrera. Trout was a leadoff hitter. He had fewer players on base by the nature of the position. This, coupled with the fact that the 2012 Angels had poor players batting around Trout meant that naturally Trout would end up with fewer opportunities. It is a bad idea to look at a statistic that varies by what team a player plays for when determining the value of a player
Here’s some more things to consider: None of these three random arbitrary stats account for Trout’s defense and baserunning ability. Trout stole 49 bases and had a defensive adjustment of 10.2. Cabrera was a defensive liability at -0.1. Trout was a great defender, and his singles basically became doubles with his base stealing. If we take only 40 of his 49 stolen bases (generously assuming he stole 3rd base 9 times here) and turn 40 of his singles into doubles, his slugging for the season jumps from .564 to .635. Cabrera’s sat at .606. His 4 stolen bases won’t do much to that number. Even with no adjustments to stolen base and doubles totals, Trout had Cabrera slightly beat at wRC+, 167 to 166
This brings us to the final argument: The playoffs argument. Some will argue that making the playoffs makes a player more valuable than a player whose team didn’t make the October dance. This is the worst argument of them all. A single player will almost never drag a team to the playoffs. For every 2008 CC Sabathia, there are thousands of other players that do not have the same amount of pull for a team. Your value is based on how good you are. Trout was the better player in 2012, and this heist was such a shame.