The great Eno Sarris recently tweeted about the AL MVP race. And as he can sometimes be, he was a little sarcastic. Here’s what he wrote.
My theoretical ballot for AL MVP:
3) Why not Trout?
4) Seriously, I don’t get it.
5) Explain it to me like I’m two.
Let me first state that for the fourth time in the last five years, I support Mike Trout as the AL MVP. The only year I haven’t backed him was 2014, the worst year of his career, and the only time he actually won the AL MVP trophy.
However, let me also say that this year it’s really, really, really close.
I’m not going to explain the reasons as if Eno or anyone else is two. I’m just going to explain.
Mike Trout had a great season. It was historically great at 10.6 WAR. The last player to post a season that valuable was Mike Trout himself in 2012. The last hitter other than Trout was Barry Bonds in 2004. The last AL hitter before Trout was Cal Ripken back in 1991. Seasons like this one don’t come along all too frequently. In fact, there are only 24 hitter seasons in history that are better than Trout’s 2016, six of them by Babe Ruth.
But Trout wasn’t the only historically great player this year. Mookie Betts was also incredibly impressive with 9.6 WAR. No, Eno and others, 9.6 isn’t 10.6, but it’s pretty incredible. Do you know the last time an AL MVP hitter posted at least 9.6 WAR? It was Cal Ripken in 1991. Before that, it was Rickey Henderson in 1990, Robin Yount in 1982, Rod Carew in 1977, and Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. That’s five AL MVP winners in the last half century who have been better than Mookie Betts was in 2016.
Without treating readers like they’re two, I’ll offer the words of our friends at Baseball Reference. They write the following on their page where they explain their WAR system.
“…you should not take any full-season difference between two players of less than one to two wins to be definitive (especially when the defensive metrics are included).”
Betts is certainly behind Trout by bWAR, but it’s only one win. What I mean is that if we’re going to trust BBREF, we should actually trust them. One WAR isn’t definitive.
Maybe you don’t trust BBREF. Okay. Fangraphs puts Trout at 9.4 WAR and Mookie Betts second at 7.7. That’s still within the two wins BBREF says we shouldn’t count as definitive.
Is there anyone else?
I don’t buy the Jose Altuve argument. By May 15, he had 15 stolen bases. He stole only 15 the rest of the year. I think we were duped by his hot start. He had nine homers by May 5. He hit only 15 more the rest of the way. Again, I think we were duped by his hot start. On August 20 Altuve had a .366 batting average and a 1.009 OPS. The rest of the way, when the Astros really needed him to make a run at the playoffs, he hit just .250 with an OPS of .667. How valuable can you be if you perform like this when your team needs you most? How can you win the MVP Award when you’re 2.9 WAR behind the top guy. No thanks.
There are some romantics out there who might want to vote for David Ortiz. Let me be clear. It was a tremendous joy to watch Papi’s final season. He was among the very best players ever at 40+. But he wasn’t one of the ten best players in the American League this year. You might know that he didn’t have defensive value as a regular DH. He hurt the Sox by grounding into double plays. He hurt the Sox on the bases. Sure, he almost definitely helped in the clubhouse. He might have made his teammates better through pure inspiration. And yes, he actually might have been the second best hitter in the AL (he was tied for third by Rbat). But looking at his 5.1 WAR compared to 9.6 for Betts or 10.6 for Trout, even the romantics can’t really support his MVP candidacy.
Some reasonable people could excuse a 1-WAR difference between Trout and Betts, not just because BBREF basically says it’s okay to do so, but because Betts’ team is in the playoffs. Mookie helped the Red Sox get there, avoiding the crapshoot that is the wild card game, while Trout’s team finished fifteen games out of the second wild card. Without Betts, the Sox probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs. Without Trout, the Angels just would have sucked more.
I don’t love the playoff argument. And I don’t support Betts for MVP over Trout. I’m just saying that doing so is reasonable.