In the WAR over stats, Cabrera's 2011 beats Cabrera's 2012
The hottest argument in baseball right now is Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout, old stats vs. new stats. But those same new stats can lead to another argument: Miguel Cabrera 2011 vs. Miguel Cabrera 2012. The new stats favor last year, because he walked more. The old stats favor this year, because he drove in more runs.
The hottest debate in baseball right now is Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout.
This isn't about that.
This is old stats vs. new stats, but this is not Cabrera vs. Trout.
It's Cabrera vs. Cabrera. It's Cabrera 2012 vs. Cabrera 2011.
The "new stats" say Cabrera had a better year last year than he's having this year, in large part because he walked more. The "old stats" say he's better this year, because he's hitting more home runs and driving in more runs.
Cabrera 2011: .344 (led league), 30 HR, 105 RBI, 48 doubles (led league), 108 walks, 1.033 OPS, 181 OPS+, 7.3 WAR (baseball-reference version), 7.3 WAR (fangraphs version).
Cabrera 2012: .333 (leads league), 41 HR, 130 RBI (leads league), 38 doubles, 62 walks, 1.014 OPS, 170 OPS+, 6.5 WAR (baseball-reference version), 6.8 WAR (fangraphs version).
Just as in Cabrera vs. Trout, both seasons are great. But if Cabrera plays for you, which would you prefer?
This isn't about defense, because even though Cabrera is worse as a third baseman than he was as a first baseman, both versions of WAR actually reward him for playing a tougher position. The year-to-year difference in WAR is an offensive difference, not a defensive difference.
So the question basically comes down to this: Would you rather have a Cabrera who walks more, or a Cabrera who hits more home runs and drives in more runs?
In "old baseball" terms, would you give up the walks for more production? In "new baseball" terms, can you accept him making more outs because he's hitting more home runs?
You can say you'd rather have both, but there's some evidence that Cabrera intentionally gave up some of the walks in order to drive in more runs. Fangraph's plate discipline stats, based on MLB's PitchFx system, suggest that Cabrera has swung at significantly more pitches out of the strike zone (31.2 percent) than he did in 2011 (27.5 percent).
Meanwhile, Cabrera is driving in a higher percentage of his potential RBI (21.3 percent, second in baseball to Josh Hamilton) than he did last year (16.3 percent, which ranked 66th).
Cabrera told Miller that he's been swinging more this year in part because he expected to see more pitches to hit, with Prince Fielder batting behind him.
"I wanted to be aggressive early in the count," he said. "I wanted to always be aggressive."
Lloyd McClendon, the Tigers hitting coach, believes in being aggressive and expanding the zone, but not to the point where you're swinging at bad pitches and getting yourself out. McClendon told Miller he believes Cabrera was doing that earlier this year.
"The last 40 days, he's hitting pitches that most humans don't hit," McClendon said.
In his last 43 games before Thursday, Cabrera hit .363 with 16 home runs and 43 RBI, with a 1.157 OPS. His walk rate in that span (9 percent) is actually lower than his walk rate up to that point (11.4 percent).
What does it all mean?
That's up to you. That depends on what you value.
Me? If Miguel Cabrera is hitting in the middle of my batting order, I'll give up the walks for the power and production.
I'll take Miguel Cabrera 2012 over Miguel Cabrera 2011.
As Cabrera vs. Trout, that's an argument for someone else, or for another day.