News Column

Nate Silver Weighs in on AL MVP Race

November 15, 2012

Pete Grathoff

The other clear-cut winner in last week's election (besides President Obama) was Nate Silver. Not only was his FiveThirtyEight blog generating an astonishing amount of traffic, but Silver also correctly picked how every state would go in the Electoral College race. He became something of a celebrity in the aftermath of the election.

Silver is a self-described baseball fan, and as many sabermetricians know, he is the creator of PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm). It's a great way to predict player performance, but it's also the worst acronym since WOPR from the movie, War Games.

Anyway, Silver has waded into another contentious, hard-fought election: the American League MVP vote. The winner will be announced today, and the race is between Triple Crown stud Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers and Rookie of the Year Mike Trout of the Angels.

Silver, who was roundly criticized in mid-October for forecasting Obama's victory, thinks the MVP race is one-sided thanks to sabermetrics. (The title of this blog entry is "The Statistical Case Against Cabrera for M.V.P.")

"Perhaps 10 or 20 years ago, when evaluations of base running, defense and clutch hitting were murkier, stat geeks would have argued that Cabrera deserved the M.V.P. on the basis of the hard evidence," Silver wrote.

"Now that some of the 'intangibles' have become measurable, we know that Trout did more of the little things to help his team win.

"It's the traditionalists who are using statistics in a way that misses the forest for the trees."

Silver argues that the Cabrera's home-run total was inflated compared with Trout (based on playing at Comerica Park), their averages were basically a wash and Cabrera's superior RBI totals are a product of his his spot in the lineup.

Silver also addresses an argument that I've found intriguing: stolen bases. Trout swiped 49 bases this season, but anyone who read "Moneyball" can tell you that stolen bases are largely overrated in the sabermetric world.

"The 'Moneyball' paradigm is sometimes associated with de-emphasizing the value of the stolen base," Silver wrote. "In large part, this is because being caught stealing hurts a team about twice as much as a successful stolen base attempt helps it. Thus, a player who steals 20 bases, but who was caught stealing 10 times, provides little added benefit to his club.

"But this wasn't a problem for Trout, who was successful on 49 of 54 stolen base attempts, one of the highest percentages ever for a player who attempted to steal so many times."

Despite what Silver sees as overwhelming evidence, he thinks Cabrera will win the award tonight. Read his entire blog entry here.

Leave your thoughts on the race and vote in our poll.

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Source: (c) 2012 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.). Distributed by MCT Information Services

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