Major League Baseball has never had more young talent. Harper, Machado, Stanton, Altuve, Bryant, Seager, Lindor, Betts, Correa, Arenado …the list goes on. Even with current and potential superstars seemingly on every team, Mike Trout is clearly the best player in baseball. Yet once the book closes on the 2016 season, his resumé will only include one American League Most Valuable Player award.
WAR is not a perfect stat. Different websites have been known to calculate the statistic differently, but it does a good job of telling the whole story. Mike Trout has played five full seasons in the American League and, barring injury, he will finish all five of them as the American League leader in WAR. The list of players that have led their league in WAR five consecutive times is Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, and that’s it. It hasn’t been particularly close, either. Assuming WAR runner-up Jose Altuve wins the award this year, Trout will have accumulated 6.3 WAR more than the eventual MVP winner in the four years in which he did not win the award. That is the equivalent to Josh Donaldson’s entire 2016 campaign to date. In an era where sabermetricians spend their days devaluing the RBI and the Win because of what a player can’t control, Trout is being punished for the Angels continuos inability to make the post-season. His one MVP was awarded during the only season in which he got a taste of October baseball.
Each voter is free to define valuable in their own way, and this causes Mike Trout to bring home the silver during award season. People argue that ultimately accolades like All-Star appearances and MVP awards are meaningless. Yet anytime someone is building a Hall of Fame case for Jeff Bagwell, they are always sure to include his 1994 National League MVP trophy. Is the Hall of Fame meaningless? Well, that’s a discussion for another day. But saying Trout finished in the top 2 in MVP voting for five years is a fancy way of saying he didn’t win the award four times. This is, of course, assuming he doesn’t finish further back in a race that includes Altuve, Donaldson, Betts, Ortiz, Cano, and Encarnacion.
Even with all of the statistics available today, the MVP still means something. It’s why those three letters will echo throughout Oracle Arena this season as 40% of the Warriors starting lineup is shooting their free throws. It’s a lot more fun to chant than Win Shares. So what more does Mike Trout have to do? Short of introducing Albert Pujols to a contagious Benjamin Button, there is nothing he can do. I hope he doesn’t change a thing. If he can lead the American League in WAR for a 6th consecutive season in 2017 he’ll be all alone on a list with Babe Ruth, and he’ll only be 26 years old. Do not take this guy for granted, because you may never see another baseball player like him.
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