Labor Day has come and gone, and so has the minor league season. The playoffs have begun and the annual promotions have started happening. There are a few top prospects remaining on minor league rosters readying themselves for a playoff series or a trip to the Arizona Fall League. As the major league playoff races tighten, the award races will as well. The top contenders have less than a month to impress the voters – and overcome the playoff bias in voting.
The instructions for voters to consider before finalizing their Most Valuable Player award ballot reads:
There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:
- Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
- Number of games played.
- General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
- Former winners are eligible.
- Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.
Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.
Despite these instructions, every year idiots trot out the “he can’t be the MVP, his team is in last place!” argument. And every year, those people are wrong, wrong, wrong. The best teams make the playoffs. The best player often does not – and when he does, it is mostly because of the contributions from his teammates. It is far easier to look for the best player on the best team and cast a vote for that player – but it often is the wrong choice. Determining the most valuable player should require more consideration and study than a simple glance at the standings and RBI leader board.
Let’s play Family Feud for just one moment – survey 100 baseball fans, top five answers on the board: Who is the best player in the big leagues? Survey says:
There’s some debate, especially for last season, but for the past five seasons you cannot go wrong answering “Mike Trout.” The Los Angeles Angels center fielder is the epitome of a five-tool player: He can hit for average, has outstanding power, is speedy, has a cannon for an arm, and plays terrific defense. He routinely robs homers and doubles with highlight reel plays in the field and blasts his own bombs and two-base hits with regularity. Though WAR is a poor measure for many reasons, Trout has dominated the leaderboard since his rookie season.
That Trout is surrounded by teammates who are less valuable than, say Manny Machado’s Orioles or Mookie Betts’ Red Sox, is a terrible reason not to vote for Mike Trout as the Most Valuable Player. In what way is it Trout’s “fault” that he doesn’t have David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, and Hanley Ramirez hitting around him? The Orioles have six players who have lifted 20 or more home runs. The Angels have two (Albert Pujols is the other). The failures of Trout’s teammates and the Angels front office should have no bearing on determining whether he is the MVP. He should win the award if he deserves it – not if his locker mates deserve recognition for being good teammates.
The most famous case of a “most valuable loser” was Andre Dawson of the Chicago Cubs in 1987. The Hawk had an impressive season, though not the best of his career, and no other candidate ran away from the pack. Dawson’s high RBI total was, for many, a determining factor – that he managed to support his teammates while not being supported by them was enough to convince a majority of voters he deserved recognition. These days runs batted in are understood better by fans and (one hopes) voters as a derivative stat that has little to do with a player’s true contributions on the field. But using RBIs is the same sort of concept that leads a voter to omit a player on a last place club from first place consideration: a failure to understand what “valuable” really means.
No matter which metric you consult, Trout is at or near the top of the list. OBP, wRC+, wRAA, wRC, wOBA – in all of these, Trout is the best player. When he is not the best – such as in OPS or SLG – he is still among the best. He is the dominant player in the big leagues, and while Bryce Harper, or Clayton Kershaw, or Mookie Betts can force a discussion – when we consult the Family Feud poll results, Trout is consistently the top answer on the board.
Consider the many home runs he has robbed. Consider the countless highlight reel plays to steal hits, and extra bases, from opponents in the field. Consider the four Silver Slugger Awards and the opposition’s reluctance to pitch to him with the game on the line (10 IBBs) – despite the no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer hitting behind him in Albert Pujols.
In fact, according to Fangraphs, no one brings more value to his team than Trout – more than 40%, in fact. The Angels are terrible, but without Trout they might be historically bad. That the Angels front office has not surrounded him with better teammates is not his fault. That the Angels coaching staff has not coaxed a better performance from the other players is not Trout’s fault. The Angels being terrible in no way reflects upon the greatness that is Mike Trout.
Spare me the objection that a “truly great player” would find a way to win games: this is baseball, not the NFL, and Mike Trout is not a quarterback. He gets a bit more than four plate appearances, and an average of 2.5 chances in centerfield, to affect each game. And more than any other player, he affects the game the most in those limited opportunities. He has a bigger impact on the field than any other player, by just about every measure. The idea that a player who provides the most “actual value to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense” shouldn’t win the MVP award because his team is terrible is just preposterous.