The reigning American League MVP is Mike Trout – and the reigning National League MVP is Kris Bryant. In 2017 Bryant had a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) rating of 7.7, while Trout scored 10.5. What that means is that Trout would produce about 3 more wins a season than Bryant – and 10.5 more runs than the average major league centerfielder. Impressive. The Kris Bryant-led Cubs won the World Series, while Mike Trout’s Angels once again finished 14 games under .500. What does this all have to do with being MVP?
In the NFL, they hand out the Offensive Player of the Year Award and the Defensive Player of the Year Award. In MLB, the Cy Young clearly goes to the best pitcher in the league, and the MVP is often mistakenly assumed to be the top position player in the league. Not so fast.
Baseball is steeped in tradition. Some we understand and are still relevant – others are not. The Most Valuable Award is one award that should NOT change.
The top hitter in each league wins the Hank Aaron Award, given every year since 1999 to the top AL and top NL hitter. David Ortiz won it in 2016 for the Red Sox and Bryant took that home as well for the Cubs in the National League.
Yet what this award is really about is what player is SO important to a team that they would not be anywhere close without him. For all of the statistics, we have often there are intangibles that go into this award as well.
It explains how Justin Verlander won the AL Cy Young and MVP Award in 2011 when he carried the Tigers on his back as they won 95 games and the AL Central Division Title.
In 2017, I recently wrote about my lack of overall excitement about the wild card races and in some ways, this article drives home that point – but I believe that if the Angels win the wild card Mike Trout will absolutely deserve the AL MVP Award. My breakdown follows.
The top candidates right now for the AL MVP are first half rookie sensation Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve with Mookie Betts in the conversation as well for the Red Sox. All of these players also currently play on teams that would be in the playoffs today if the season ended.
Altuve’s Astros have the second best record in baseball and a commanding lead over the second place Mariners in the AL West. Yet my fear with him is that because several of his teammates (Carlos Correa and George Springer in particular) also are elite level good, that could take away some luster of what Altuve has done alone. Indeed, Carlos Correa has missed some time recently due to injury and the Astros haven’t suffered really at all. Certainly, their first place finish is in no jeopardy.
Judge we’ve talked about his offensive numbers the first half and the show he put on in winning the Home Run Derby.
On top of that from the intangible side, he is leading a Yankees youth movement we haven’t seen since Derek Jeter led the charge in the mid-90’s along with buddies Andy Pettite, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera. You don’t get your own fan section in Yankee stadium without being a special player. Yet – now the Yankees have brought in reinforcements as they do with Todd Frazier and others to secure a playoff spot once again.
Which brings us to Mike Trout. Trout missed a chunk of time in the first half with a wrist injury but hasn’t slowed down since he came. Currently, Trout sits at a 4.45 WAR compared to 5.14 for Judge and 6.23 for Altuve. He has 21 home runs on the season in just 64 games and is hitting .341. While he does have a legend surrounding him in Albert Pujols, who knows the right touch to hit a grand slam for his 600th home run for crying out loud, no one else outside of Andrelton Simmons is helping him out much offensively.
I liken the situation to the Atlanta Braves in 1999. Chipper led the Braves with 45 home runs – but more amazing than that 24 of them were in the second half. Andruw was second on the team that year overall with 26, but only 10 in the second half. I recall countless games the final month or two especially against the hated NY Mets and their “Larrry” chant where Chipper led the Braves on the field and with seemingly an inexhaustible supply of heroics. I think Mike Trout can do the same this season for the Angels.
It is a long road to climb. Again, the team sits one game under .500 and a lot of competition for the wild card. Again though – this can be an advantage. The Yankees, Red So and Rays all currently are fighting in the AL East, and the Orioles and Blue Jays haven’t given up either. These teams will play against each other and help the Angels to nearly automatically gain ground against someone every night they win a game as those teams tear themselves apart.
The biggest hurdle for the Angels in their final 53 games will be the Astros and Mariners. They have 10 games remaining against Seattle and 9 against Houston. I believe they need to take 8 from Seattle and 6 from Houston to stay relevant in the WC race. Questions abound on this team about their pitching staff(starting and relieving), defense, longtime manager under fire (just how long does a World Series Championship keep you around?) – but if I bet on one player in baseball to do super human feats and increase his legendary status – it would be Mike Trout.