Saturday, October 02, 2010

Re-thinking Cabrera and MVP

As most baseball fans know, Miguel Cabrera was having a monster season when it was cut short on September 27. Most baseball fans also know that his name has fallen out of favor when it comes to MVP voting because, first, he plays first base and is below average at doing so and secondly, his Tigers fell out of contention a month an a half ago. Heck, even this writer didn't pick him with his BBA vote. But this last week has given at least this writer a bit of a pause.

When Cabrera got hurt, the Tigers were on a roll. They had won eight of their last ten. Cabrera was right in the middle of all that with four homers and a lot of ribbies. The Tigers were climbing back to respectability. They had beaten the Twins, the Royals and the White Sox quite handily. Since Cabrera got hurt, the Tigers have lost five straight including two double-headers to the Indians and the Orioles. During their 8-2 run, the Tigers were scoring 6.7 runs a game. Since Cabrera got hurt, they've scored 2.6 runs a game. Granted, we're looking at a small sample size, but it seems like more that a coincidence.

Without Cabrera, Raburn bats clean up. Raburn is a good player, but his OPS is 200 points lower than Cabrera. Cabrera's replacement at first is Don Kelly, a journeyman minor league player with 300+ at bats in the majors with a .619 OPS. That's 400 points less than Cabrera. Yeah, Kelly hit a homer on Friday night, but shoot, the pitchers on the other team are going to pitch this line up completely different than they would if Cabrera was stuck right in the middle of it. Cabrera struck fear into pitchers like Jim Rice did (that was a joke by the way). Pitchers can be more careful to Damon and the rest because they don't have to worry about Cabrera.

Miguel Cabrera has been walked intentionally 32 times in 2010. Nobody else on the team has more than five. That's one of the reasons that Cabrera scored 111 runs this season. All those walks mean more men on base. More men on base means greater odds at scoring. It's all pretty simple.

The bottom line is that the Tigers suck without Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers are pretty good with Miguel Cabrera. That's a big difference and the essence of a most valuable player, is it not? Sometimes we make these educated assumptions such as first basemen aren't that important so their defense that figures into WAR are devalued compared to shortstops, third basemen and center fielders. In essence, the Fan gets that. But what it doesn't tell you is the value a player adds to the line up and what happens to that line up when the player isn't there. Cabrera isn't there and the Tigers have lost five straight. That's no coincidence.

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