In late May, the baseball world came to a halt. Mike Trout slid into second base on a steal attempt and came up with an apparent thumb injury. Though he stayed in the game defensively the next inning, things were clearly not right and he would not finish the game. Later, it became clear that Trout would have to miss 6 to 8 weeks with a torn ligament in his thumb.
Up to that point, Trout was lapping the field in the MVP race. His performance put him on pace to have what could have been the best season of his career, which is insane because he’s Mike Trout, and has had a pretty good career.
Prior to his injury, Trout boasted a 208 wRC+ with a .474 wOBA, a 20.4 percent K rate, and a 17.5 percent walk rate. Even with Aaron Judge wowing the baseball world with his ungodly power, Trout was still atop the leaderboards in many statistics that are commonly used to evaluate hitters.
After he got hurt, the wind was taken out of the sails. Many decried that Trout’s slam-dunk MVP candidacy was now off the table, and that we had been robbed of what could have truly been a historic season.
But this is Mike Trout we’re talking about. People forget that.
As of today, he’s at or near the top of the leaderboards in just about everything. His 197 wRC+ and .459 wOBA puts him ahead of Freddie Freeman for the MLB lead by 32 points and 19 points, respectively. He is also tops in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS.
The natural reaction to all of this is that Trout hasn’t played enough, so of course he’s at the top of all of the rate based statistics. It’s true that he doesn’t even qualify yet, though he is very much on pace to by the end of the season. But, thankfully, WAR incorporates questions of usage, allowing us to consider questions like these.
As far as WAR goes, Trout places strongly among the competition in the AL. Chris Sale leads both WARP and fWAR marks in the AL. He currently sits at 6.87 and 7.4 in each respective statistic and, as I said last week, is the presumptive favorite to win the AL MVP. Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve are the two most prolific hitters in the AL this season, and are the closest hitters, aside from Trout, to Sale’s high marks. Both sit at 6 fWAR; however, Altuve has a slight lead on Judge in bWARP at 5.52 to 5.03. Currently, Trout sits at 5.67 bWARP and 5.7 fWAR, which would place him second in the AL in bWARP and fourth in fWAR. After missing all that time, Trout could defend his title as King of WAR once again this season.
Meanwhile, Trout is keeping his MVP campaign alive while performing somewhat worse than he was playing in the first half. His wOBA fell from that .474 to .438 and his wRC+ dropped down to 184, which would still top the league by a wide margin. However, his walk rate has stayed roughly steady and his K rate has fallen to 18.5 percent.
With the Angels in the playoff race, Trout shouldn’t have to worry about the team dragging his candidacy through the mud. Even though the team playing well through his injury may emerge as a counter-narrative to his candidacy, there shouldn’t be the familiar MVP damnation that comes with being a great player on a bad team.
Though Sale’s value may prove tough to match, it’s easy to imagine a Trout who is in the playoffs and is clearly the most valuable hitter the American League has to offer, even with a deficiency in games played, walking away with the award. We’ve seen in seasons past that it can be tough for pitchers to ward off legitimate MVP candidates who are hitters. A downright historic Trout coming back from the dead and wreaking havoc on American League pitching seems like the hardest kind of hitter to ward off.
Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a Stats Intern at Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.