Mike Trout is what happens when you construct a perfect baseball player out of marble and cybernetics, and then take a small measure of mercy on the world by making him hit right-handed instead of a lefty. He is a Greek god-cyborg-force of nature-outfielder-thing. Trout is the best player in baseball, and has been since he played his first full season in 2012.
Because the Earth is currently revolving around the sun and Bryce Harper is not currently hitting like Hank Aaron, Trout is once again leading the league in WAR. WAR is far from a perfect statistic, especially since there’s at least three different formulas for calculating it and one even tacks a "P" on at the end. That one, WARP, has him leading only the AL, being third in all of baseball behind Buster Posey and Kris Bryant. It should be noted that WARP factors in BP’s catching metrics, which love Posey, and that Bryant is also exceptionally good at this whole baseball thing.
However, Trout has comfortable leads in both fWAR and bWAR. Even without the usage of somewhat imperfect catch-all stats, it’s easy to see just how insanely good Trout is.
Think of the thing that you’re best at and Trout is better at baseball than you are at that specific thing, unless you’re Michael Phelps or something. Trout is hitting .312/.422/.546. That’s ridiculous, especially for a center fielder. His 165 wRC+ is actually the lowest full-season mark of his career, because even his low points are better than nearly everyone’s highs.
There’s a very good chance that he won’t win MVP despite all of that.
You see, Mike Trout, as you may know, plays for the dreadfully bad Angels. The Angels are 49-63. Outside of Trout, they’re a special kind of bad. They won’t be sniffing the playoffs unless they drive over to Dodger Stadium. For many members of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America, this somehow means that Trout is not deserving of the MVP award.
The absolutely strange view that an MVP must be on a playoff team is rooted in a few different places. Firstly, just how "valuable" can a player be if his team didn’t make the playoffs? If this player was so valuable, how come his team didn’t make the playoffs?
Well, first and foremost, baseball is not the NBA. As good as Mike Trout is, baseball is played by a team of 25 players and Trout can’t potentially take every potential scoring opportunity like LeBron James can. Trout only gets to bat 3 to 5 times per game. Yes, he can influence whether or not the Angels win in the field and on the basepaths, but he’s just one man.
Let’s put it this way: just how much worse would the Angels be without Trout?
WAR tells us that they’d have about seven more losses if Joe Schmo was playing center field instead of him. Given what Anaheim is already trotting out on their big league roster (Jefrey Marte, Shane Robinson, Gregorio Petit with an outfielder’s glove), Joe Schmo from Triple-A is probably a lot worse than theoretical replacement player, too. Trout has nearly singlehandedly kept the Angels at "bad" levels instead of "oh God, why" levels.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, Josh Donaldson is having yet another fine season and is leading the charge to the playoffs. In Boston, David Ortiz is having the time of his life in his final season, and Boston is contending for a division title. In Cleveland, Francisco Lindor is dazzling on both sides of the ball for the first place Indians. In Houston, Jose Altuve has become an even freakishly better hitter, and is hitting more home runs than ever.
Whether it be through sheer force of narrative or a player putting on a performance that feels somewhat comparable to Trout, someone that isn’t Trout will win the MVP. There’s still about a month and change of baseball left to be played, but Donaldson and Altuve look like the favorites, especially with Donaldson’s Blue Jays being an excellent bet to make the playoffs.
Short of hitting .400 from now until the end of the season, there likely isn’t anything that Trout can do to change his predicament. Because he’s the best player in baseball not a particularly good NBA player, or one of the fabled elite QBs, Trout can’t will his team to the playoffs all on his own.
That’s enough for some writers to discount his titanic level of play. For a player to combine his powers with those of the non-Trout Angels and form the baseball equivalent of a Captain Planet-style contending team, they’d have to have nearly double the value of a full season of Trout. That means about 17-20 fWAR. Babe Ruth reached 15 fWAR in a season just once, for reference.
Again, WAR is an imperfect approximation of player value. There are strengths and faults to the statistic. It is accurate, however, insofar as Trout being the best player in baseball, and clearly being the best in the AL. He will deserve the MVP award. In all likelihood, he won’t win, because life is cruelty and pain punctuated by brief moments of ecstasy until
the sweet embrace of death finds us our favorite baseball players retire.
In the long run, this matters little. Trout is still a fantastic player regardless of whether or not he wins arbitrary hardware for his mantle, and he will still make truckloads of money before he’s done.
However, it’s high time that the baseball writing community realize that a team’s place in the standings has little to do with the quality of their best player. Mike Trout can’t help that he was drafted by the Angels. If he could, then...
He’d be playing for the Phillies, and we may be having this very same conversation.