Was Asdrubal Cabrera Really Indians' Player of the Year?

On Monday, MLB.com released its annual team awards for each club’s top performer, best pitcher, and biggest breakout player. Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin were named Pitcher and Breakout Player of the Year, respectively. Meanwhile, to no one’s surprise, Asdrubal Cabrera was named the Tribe’s overall Performer of the Year.

Cabrera definitely had a terrific season. He hit .273/.332/.460 with 25 homers and 92 RBI—according to wRC+, he was 18 percent better than an average MLB hitter in 2011—while playing one of the hardest positions on the diamond. He won the AL Silver Slugger award at shortstop and really was a (if not the) deserving choice for the honor. His hot start earned him a reputation as a clutch hitter who could carry the team on his back.

But was Cabrera really the best choice to take home the top honor? I say nay. The true 2011 team MVP was not Droobs but Masterson.

Look beyond Masterson’s 12-10 record (was he to blame for the inconsistent offense he had behind him?) and there’s no doubt he had an outstanding season. Through 216 innings, he posted a 3.21 ERA, backed up by a 3.28 FIP. He had a solid WHIP (1.28) and K/BB ratio (2.43), allowed only 11 home runs (or, 0.46 HR/9), and induced ground balls at a 55.1-percent clip.

Comparing position players and pitchers can be difficult, but sabermetric value stats make the process easier. Any way you slice it it’s hard for pitchers to accumulate as much value as hitters—the (lower-case) most valuable players in the league each year are usually position papers—but at least we can put them on the same scale.

So how do they compare? Baseball-Reference has Cabrera at 3.7 wins above replacement for the 2011 season—i.e., based on his offensive and defensive contributions relative to his league and position, the Indians won about four more games with Cabrera in the lineup than they would have had they replace him with a Triple-A scrub. Masterson, meanwhile, is at 4.1 WAR. The 0.4-win discrepancy is far too small to make any sweeping judgments about who is more valuable, but nonetheless Masterson comes out ahead. For what it’s worth, Cabrera doesn’t even rank as the most valuable position player—that would be Carlos Santana (3.9 WAR).

B-R isn’t alone in projecting Masterson as having had the better season. FanGraphs has Masterson at 4.9 WAR, while Cabrera has just 3.6 (Santana has 3.8). That discrepancy is significant. Meanwhile, Baseball Prospectus has Cabrera ahead in VORP (which does not take his subpar defense into account) 46.9 to 40.7 (Santana has 37.2), but WARP (which includes a fielding component) has Masterson way ahead 4.3 to 3.0 (Santana’s at 3.9).

What about WPA, a more concrete statistic that directly measures how much better off the team is after each play a hitter or pitcher is involved in? Cabrera comes in at 1.34 wins added while Masterson ended up ahead yet again with 1.91. Interestingly, Cabrera’s WPA was less than half that of the team’s hitting leader, Travis Hafner (2.74).

Cabrera’s is the better story. He’s had more big, memorable moments, and thanks to his hot start he made a great first impression. He’s certainly an understandable choice, but I don’t think he’s the right one. Cabrera’s a solid player who had a great year, but Masterson is the real team MVP.

Who's your team MVP?

  • Asdrubal Cabrera (71%, 5 Votes)
  • Justin Masterson (29%, 2 Votes)
  • Someone else (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 7

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