Was Mike Trout the Real MVP?
By John B Holway
Back in 1944, a 14-year old kid took a pencil, paper, and the Sporting News and compiled the world’s first GWABs – Games Won At Bat.
The concept was simple. I wanted to know which hitters produced enough runs, scored or batted in, to equal the team’s winning margin. If the team won by one run, I counted everyone with a run or RBI. If the team won by two runs, it took a total of two, and so forth. (I didn’t double count homers.)
The winner was Lou Boudreau of the Indians, who was also the A.L.batting leader at .327. He was critical in 29 of Cleveland’s 72 wins.
I did it for three years until girls, college, war, and a family pretty well demanded all my time.
About 50 years later, I started on what became a still unfinished trilogy on Ted Williams and wanted to see how Ted did.
1941: Ted or Joe?
Which was more valuable, Ted’s .406 or Joe’s 56? It turned out that Ted beat Joe in GWABs by a knockout – 29 to 24. Not even close.
The writers said DiMag was the MVP. But they didn’t know about GWABs.
Boston came in second, 17 games behind New York. The Yanks probably would have won the pennant with or without DiMaggio. But without Ted the Red Sox would surely have finished in the second division.
Two other men, Jeff Heath and Cecil Travis, also were more valuable than Joe at bat.
But – surprise! – a guy many of you may never have heard of, playing for the last-place Philadelphia A’s, beat them both. His name was Indian Bob Johnson with 22 home runs, 107 RBI, and 30 GWABs. The A’s won only 64 games, or 37 behind the Yankees, but the games they did win were close. Imagine where they would have finished without Johnson!
Where did Bob finish in the MVP voting?
He didn’t get a single vote. That’s how much the writers know about value.
Not how many but when
The old stats are good for computer games. If a man bats .333, the computer will gurgitate a hit once every three at bats. If he hits 50 homers in 550 at bats, the computer will spit out one for every 11 at bats etc. Exactly when the hits or homers will come up is random. They could come in any situation.
But that’s not how baseball works in real life. It’s not how many home runs you hit, but when you hit them. Wee Willie Keeler said, “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.”
GWABs says, “Hit ‘em when they count.”
The glamor stat now is WARs – Wins Above Replacement. In 2012 rookie Mike Trout was crowned WAR king with 10.8 wins. How can you win 8/10th of a game? This tells you right away that these are computer wins, not real wins on real grass.
Sure, GWABs are situational. So are pitchers’ wins and RBIs, and just about everything else in baseball. Do you play in a hitters’ park? Do you have great place setters to get on base ahead of you or a great slugger behind you to make the pitchers throw strikes?
I don’t claim that GWABs is the only stat that counts. But I do think it can tell you things that the others don’t. So use every stat you can to understand what is really happening in the field. If you’re not using GWABs, you’re not using one of the most valuable tools in your tool kit.
How many games did Babe win?
In a later post I’ll list all the GWABs kings of the past 95 years, thanks to the immense help of Tom Ruane of Project Scoresheet.
It will open a lot of eyes. The traditional numbers – homers, RBIs, batting average – help indicate how many runs Babe Ruth produced. But they don’t tell us when he produced them. While everyone was watching and ooh-ing Babe, others, less famous, were often actually pinging singles here and there, quietly producing critical runs in close victories.
Gabriel Schechter has compiled an eye-popping stat he calls Useless RBIs. Which men in the past 50 years wasted the most RBIs in hopelessly losing games or in meaningless blowout wins? Stay tuned for the answer.
The 2014 A.L. King
So who won the most games in the American League in 2014?
Mike Trout of the Angels was the presumed favorite. He led the league with 111 RBI. And for the third straight year he led in WARs. But he had never finished first in GWABs. Oddly, as his WARs dropped, his GWABs climbed.
And last year Mike finally did it: He led all A.L.hitters with 30 GWABs.
Twenty is considered good; 30 is excellent. No one has ever reached 40 in a single year. We’ll list the all-time leaders in a coming post. Who will it be? Ruth? Hank Aaron? Willie Mays? Barry Bonds? Someone else?
Ian Kinsler of Detroit finished second with 25. The Tigers were pretty shrewd to grab him away from Texas. With him the Tigers narrowly finished first in their division. Without him, the Rangers plunged to last in theirs. How many MVP votes did he get?
Adam Jones in third place is no surprise. Two years earlier he was the A.L. champ, That’s the year the O’s set a record in one-run victories. They couldn’t have done it without Adam.
Here, courtesy of Tom Ruane of Retrosheet, are the leaders for 2014, plus their rank in the MVP voting:
|Ranked by GWABS||Ranked by MVP|
|30 Mike Trout||ANA||1||Trout||30|
|25 Ian Kinsler||DET||0||Martinez||18|
|24 Adam Jones||BAL||12||Brantley||24|
|24 Yoenis Cespedes||OAK/BOS||0||Abreu||22|
|24 Nelson Cruz||BAL||7||Cano||15|
|24 Michael Brantley||CLV||3||Bautista||6|
|22 Brian McCann||NY||0||Cruz||24|
|22 Brett Gardner||NY||0||Donaldson||20|
|22 Jose Abreu||CHI||4||Cabrera||21|
|21 Jacoby Ellsbury||NY||0||Gordon||17|
|21 Miguel Cabrera||DET||9||Altuve||11|
|20 David Ortiz||BOS||0||Jones||24|
|20 Adam Eaton||CHI||0||Beltre||13|
|20 Albert Pujols||ANA||14||Pujols||14|
|20 Yan Gomes||CLE||0||Kendrick||2|
|18 Victor Martinez||DET||2||Seager||17|
|18 Salvador Perez||KC||0|
|18 Nick Markakis||BAL||0|
|18 Kole Calhoun||ANA||0|
|17 Alcides Escobar||KC||0|
|17 Norichika Aoki||KC||0|
|17 Alex Gordon||KC||10|
|17 Kyle Seager||SEA||16|
|17 Dustin Pedroia||BOS||0|
|16 Omar Infante||KC||0|
|16 Chris Davis||BAL||0|
|16 Steve Pearce||BAL||0|
|16 Carlos Beltran||NY||0|
|16 Erick Aybar||ANA||0|
|16 Rajai Davis||DET||0|
|16 Dustin Ackley||SEA||0|
|16 Adam Dunn||CHIOAK||0|
|16 Brian Dozier||MIN||0|
|16 Alexei Ramirez||CHI||0|
|16 Coco Crisp||OAK||0|
|16 Jose Bautista||TOR||6|
|15 Chris Iannetta||ANA||0|
|15 Kurt Suzuki||MIN||0|
|15 Brock Holt||BOS||0|
|15 Jose Altuve||HOU||11|
|15 Robinson Cano||SEA||5|
|15 Torii Hunter||DET||0|
|14 Derek Jeter||NY||0|
|14 Andre Beltre||TEX||13|
|13 Mike Napoli||BOS||0|
|13 Mark Teixeira||NY||0|
|13 Josh Hamilton||ANA||0|
|13 Ben Zobrist||TB||0|
|13 David Freese||ANA||0|
|12 Joe Mauer||MIN||0|
|10 Ichiro Suzuki||NY||0|
Looking at GWABs and MVP voting, one can only shake his head and wonder: Were the writers actually at the games? Were they awake?
Where were Kinsler, Jones, Cespedes, and Cruz?
Jones should not be a surprise. Two years earlier he led the league. That was the year Baltimore won a record total of one-run games. They couldn’t have done it without Adam.
How did Oakland let Yeonis Cespedes get away to Boston? They might have gotten into the Series if they had kept him. And how did Boston let him go to Detroit? The Tigers have started out fast after acquiring him.
Yankee catcher Brian McCann batted only .234 and was considered a huge disappointment. But he was hitting ‘em when they count. He and Brett Gardner kept the Yanks from losing all self-respect. Jacoby Ellsbury helped too, and the Red Sox missed him sorely.
But when the Yankees let Robinson Cano go, they cost themselves – and him – dearly. Cano had been the GWABs champ in two out of three years 2011-2013 – he was champ in 2013 with 27, almost twice as many as he would win in Seattle. His traditional statistics were about the same. But he couldn’t win there, and the Yanks couldn’t win without him. The writers, voting on memory, named him fourth most valuable hitter! Trout had a splendid GWABs year in 2014. But he wasn’t the best in baseball. A National Leaguer did even better.
Next week: The National League