John Dewan’s Stat of the Week

Miguel Cabrera, American League MVP?

August 20, 2010

As we approach September, it’s time to start considering MVP candidates. In the American League, Miguel Cabrera is a popular choice because of his offensive production this year. Here are Cabrera’s triple-crown stats, compared to a couple of other MVP candidates:

American League MVP Candidates
Player AVG HR RBI
Miguel Cabrera .340 31 100
Josh Hamilton .353 26 81
Robinson Cano .325 24 78

Looking at this, most people would give the nod to Cabrera. But let’s go a little deeper.

As you might guess, we want to look at their defense. Miguel Cabrera is a defensive liability. He has cost his team nine runs defensively, based on the Defensive Runs Saved system we devised. Josh Hamilton has split time between left field and center field and has been an average outfielder, saving two runs with his defense. Robinson Cano’s defense at second base has been quite good having saved 14 runs so far this year.

But let’s go still deeper. One more element we need to consider is the importance of the defensive position they play. A middle infielder is far more important defensively than a first baseman. We have a way to measure this, called the positional adjustment, and in this case we credit Cano with 23 runs for playing second base compared to nine runs for Miguel.

Now let’s put it all together. Instead of using a player’s triple-crown stats, a more complete way to measure overall offensive production is Runs Created, Bill James’ estimate of the number of a team’s runs created by each individual hitter.

Stolen base ability is included in Runs Created, but it doesn’t measure running on the basepaths other than stolen bases. We have a metric called Baserunning Runs which takes into account how often a baserunner takes an extra base on hits, how often he is thrown out, how often he advances on wild pitches and passed balls, scores on a sacrifice fly, etc.

We can add up a player’s offensive Runs Created, Baserunning Runs, Defensive Runs Saved, and the positional adjustment to get a complete picture of what a player is worth. We call that picture Total Runs.

Here are the leader boards for the American and National leagues in Total Runs for 2010.

American Leauge Total Runs Leaders
Runs Baserunning Runs Positional Total
Player Created Runs Saved Adjustment Runs
Robinson Cano 94 1 14 23 132
Josh Hamilton 105 1 4 14 124
Evan Longoria 86 4 14 19 123
Adrian Beltre 83 1 12 18 114
Miguel Cabrera 106 3 -9 9 109
National Leauge Total Runs Leaders
Runs Baserunning Runs Positional Total
Player Created Runs Saved Adjustment Runs
Ryan Zimmerman 81 -1 22 16 118
Joey Votto 97 3 6 9 115
Albert Pujols 96 0 2 9 107
Matt Holliday 82 3 8 13 106
Chris Young 76 -1 9 21 105

Despite his impressive triple crown numbers, Miguel Cabrera is only fifth in the American League in Total Runs. He currently has 106 Runs Created, tied with Josh Hamilton for the overall MLB lead, but his baserunning, his defense and his value for playing first base only add another three runs for a Total Runs total of 109. Instead, Robinson Cano is the top player in the American League, with Hamilton and Evan Longoria close behind. In the National League, the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman leads in Total Runs thanks to his stellar defensive performance. Joey Votto trails Zimmerman by three runs.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week™, www.statoftheweek.com.