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Mike Trout, American League MVP? Not So Fast

October 30, 2019
Hitting the pause button during baseball's playoffs allows a perfect chance to take a look back at the 2019 season -- and also ahead to the deluge of award announcements that will start within days of the conclusion of the World Series.

And as always seems to have been the case in recent years, we need a disclaimer -- especially when it comes to the American League's MVP award -- that best does not always translate to most valuable. It's kind of known as the Mike Trout rule, or at least it should be.

If the Angels' gifted center fielder isn't the best player in the game, he is unquestionably among the top three or four. As such, his track record in MVP voting is unmatched in baseball history. He has finished first (2014 and 2016) or second (2012, 2013, 2015 and 2018) in six of the previous seven years -- and somehow dropped all the way to fourth in 2017.

Since the Angels have been a non-factor in postseason play in six of his seven years, Trout's success in the American League balloting for what arguably is baseball's most prestigious award can solely be attributed to his personal numbers, which makes him the poster boy for those who rely on Wins Above Replacement. By most preliminary counts (they usually start sometime around Father's Day), Trout, 28, seemed a runaway choice to win the award for a third time this year.

But that's not going to happen this time around, or at least it shouldn't -- one reason being the WAR numbers don't provide a significant edge this time around, thanks at least in part to a late-season injury that kept Trout out of the lineup for most of the last month of the season. The other reason, and perhaps the most significant, is the Angels' continued poor play, which resulted in a fourth-place finish in the five-team AL West.

It would seem the only chance of Trout winning the MVP this year would be if the vote is split. The Astros could have as many as eight players involved in the 1-through-10 voting process, while the unheralded Athletics and the uninspiring Red Sox each have at least three players who will draw some attention.

From a personal standpoint, I've always felt the team's success should play a prominent role in MVP voting. The best player on the best team generally gets more attention than the best player on a non-contender. Some will argue that's not fair to a player like Trout and that oftentimes a team is so good that no one player could be considered the most valuable. 

I wouldn't disagree with either argument -- and a perfect example would be picking an MVP this year from the Yankees, who conceivably might not place a player in the top 10, while the Astros have so many candidates an argument could be made they could have won without any one of them.

The fact that two of the Astros' candidates are pitchers (Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole) who will completely dominate the Cy Young Award voting further complicates the matter.

My gut feeling is Houston's Alex Bregman (whose WAR, by the way, is slightly higher than Trout's this year, according to Baseball Reference) will win the AL MVP. I would have a hard time arguing against Bregman, who split time between third base and shortstop, but if I had a vote, my dark horse candidate would be Oakland shortstop Marcus Semien, who almost anonymously had a monster season

I'd also have to find a place for Boston's Mookie Betts in the top five, despite his team's nosedive. Minnesota's Jorge Polanco, the Yankees' DJ LeMahieu, Cleveland's Francisco Lindor, Boston's Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, Houston's George Springer, and Oakland's corner combination of Matts, Olson and Chapman, are all are worthy of discussion. 

And of course, Trout's value, inept though his team might be, puts him in the top five, but not any higher on this mythical ballot.

As for that Cy Young Award, if ever there was a case for co-winners, as happened in 1969 with the Orioles' Mike Cuellar and Detroit's Denny McLain, this would seem to be the year. Verlander has one more win and loss (21-6), a slightly lower winning percentage, ERA and WHIP than Cole along with fewer strikeouts and more innings. He also pitched a no-hitter and posted a 7.8 WAR, 1.0 better than Cole -- and that will probably be the difference-maker, though you really have to be splitting analytics here.

The fact that it's hard to even find a player from Tampa Bay in the discussion makes it a no-brainer for the Rays' Kevin Cash as the Manager of the Year, an award that annually includes Oakland's Bob Melvin in the discussion, and this year also includes Minnesota's Rocco Baldelli.

Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez put up scary numbers (27 home runs, 78 RBIs, .313 average) in only 87 games and looks to be an easy choice for AL Rookie of the Year, but the trio of Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio clearly makes the Toronto Blue Jays winner of the team award.

As for the National League, the lack of exposure precludes long-term discussion, but certainly not opinions, so here's the take from this vantage point:

MVP -- In this instance, it's hard to make a strong case against the best player on the best team, and the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger has the pedigree -- and a 9.0 WAR -- but you could make a strong argument for the Nationals' Anthony Rendon, so I will.

Cy Young Award -- Jacob deGrom won this award last year even though his team had a very mediocre record in the games he started. Chances are he's going to win again -- mainly because of his league-leading 255 strikeouts and 204 innings. But somewhere along the line they have to realize the reason they keep score is to track wins and losses -- and either Hyun-Jin Ryu or Mike Soroka deserve some love here.

Rookie of the Year -- This is the easiest pick of the bunch. Mets first baseman Pete Alonso would be in the MVP discussion if his team ever got of its roller skates.

Manager of the Year -- Their analytics department might disagree, but doesn't Dave Roberts deserve some credit for not screwing it up with the Dodgers?

***

Most Innovative Fan Friendly Award (OK, I made this one up) -- Kristen Hudak, who heads up the Orioles' baseball public relations department, gets major league kudos for her idea of having every O's player, plus manager Brandon Hyde and general manager Mike Elias, write personal, handwritten notes thanking season-plan holders for their support (and presumably, their patience).

Recipients of the notes were randomly selected from a list provided by the team's ticketing/fan services department. The notes reportedly were very well thought out (more kudos to those who did the writing) and well received.

The gesture reminded me of another cool idea, this one introduced the final weekend in 1991, as the Orioles celebrated the closing of venerable Memorial Stadium. It was Evelyn Ehlers, grand-daughter of the Orioles' first GM, Art Ehlers, who came up with the idea of having players greet fans as they came through the gates -- a practice that became something of a tradition. •

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com

Issue 258: October 2019  

Originally published Oct. 15, 2019