Mike Trout Deserves the MVP

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:

Dear Voter:

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:

  1.  Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
  2.  Number of games played.
  3.  General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
  4.  Former winners are eligible.
  5.  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.


Follow us on Twitter @SoSHBaseball.

Featured image courtesy of Jayne Kamin-Oncea.

8 COMMENTS

  1. The one thing we should all agree on is that the performance in other years is no part whatsoever in the 2016 MVP. Where would the Red Sox be without Mookie Betts? Where would the Angels be without Mike Trout? How can Trout be MVP if his absence would not affect the season outcome for the team? The award is not best player. —- “Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.” number of games — the rule make consideration of a pitcher, designated hitter and especially a reliever difficult

    • If Trout were subtracted from the Angels lineup, they would be much worse than the Twins – and maybe in the conversation for worst team in MLB history. Trout has provided ~40% of the team WAR; take him away and the Angels go from bad to historically awful. That has value.

      The award is about best player. Actual value to his team.

  2. I sort of kind of agree with your premise, that the best player is the best player irregardless of team record. But the fact of the matter is that “value” is undefined in the MVP criteria. Isn’t there a way in which it is more “valuable” to deliver big hits that lift your team into the playoffs than it is to deliver a random home run while your team is getting beat whilst playing out the string? I would say that if a player on a last place team is only a little better than a guy on a first place team, it’s hard to give the last place player the vote.

    You mention Dawson, who finished with a lower BRef WAR than the players who finished 2nd through 11th in the voting. That was a stupid MVP award. On the other hand you are way too dismissive of RBIs in this context. The criteria are for “actual value.” Actual value. We ignore runs and RBIs when we are trying to predict future performance because they are so context dependent: they are irrelevant to the THEORETICAL value of a player. A double with no men on in a game you’re losing 10-2 has the same predictive/theoretical value as any other double. But the ACTUAL value of a game-winning double in the middle of a pennant race is much higher than an average double and in my eyes should therefore count more towards the MVP award. The award is not the “If we replayed this season over and we were having a player draft and you are a GM and you can expect all the players to pretty much perform as they did this year which one would you select with the number one pick Award.”

    So I would argue that looking at the RBIs of a guy in last place like Dawson is maybe sort of weird, but if someone knocked in -or scored -137 runs, many of them in key moments, while leading his team to first place it would make a lot of sense to say that on that team in that season that player obviously made an ACTUALLY valuable contribution, and credit him more than someone who had a good OPS but did it in a situation that didn’t produce much actual value that particular year.

    • RBI is a teammate dependent stat; look at Curtis Granderson’s 3 RBI on non-homer & non-sac fly plays this season. The only way to drive in teammates is if teammates get on base.

      Getting on base and playing stellar defense are the things a player can control. Trout is the best, or among the best, at both.

  3. Sorry, but I think you are arguing for Trout as the “Best Player.” Betts and Ortiz have more effect on the players around them as a sparplugs on the Sox. Try this exercise: Remove each candidate from his team and imagine where the teams ends up.

    • Remove Betts and the Red Sox are battling for a playoff spot. Remove Ortiz and the Red Sox are battling for a playoff spot. Remove Trout and the Angels are battling for the 1st overall draft pick? Remove Trout and the Angels are the obvious “worst team in the league”?

LEAVE A REPLY