Yesterday, I received some semi-justifiable ribbing from fellow editor Daniel Epstein. Yes, I may have chosen the Cy Young based on the pitcher who was the best at per-inning run prevention—silly me—but I understand the criticism as I knew I was being a little cute, just like you would be if you chose Stephen Strasburg because of DRA.
Surely, then, I will have seen the light for the Most Valuable Player, where the quantifier is more explicit in designating how the award should be dealt out. Maybe site-wide it may have been, but once again, your favorite managing editor bucks the trend.
AL Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
By a score of 7-1, Mike Trout was “handed” his third MVP, and it marks seven straight years in which he has been first or second in the voting. I am the one, of course, placing a vote for Mr. Alex Bregman. Bregman, as we know, had a season that ranked quite favorably to Trout, who I absolutely do not mind, and in fact condone, as the winner.
While Trout was obviously the better hitter, by a margin of 12 points of wRC+, Bregman was all-around the better fielder, putting up 7 DRS versus Trout’s -1. Yet the argument really hinges on whether he was on a good team or not, which I generally do not abide by. Trout was unfairly robbed of the title in 2015 by Josh Donaldson, again because of the contention factor, and again in 2013, largely around the famous argument surrounding the Triple Crown—that Miguel Cabrera’s team was good also helped his case.
The argument would be the same for Bregman if he wins, and I entertain it in one case: when there’s basically a tiebreaker in performance, and where that players’ leverage matters more. That, again, doesn’t penalize the player, but in the case of Mookie Betts last year, he was both an equally good player and also on one of the better teams of the last 50 years.
So despite the fact this isn’t Trout’s best season; in fact, it’s his second-worst full-season, which makes it funny that this is his award when he’s only won in one of his three 10+ WAR seasons. I guess sometimes there’s just no single player than the best player alive over the course of a single season, it happens.
NL Most Valuable Player: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
In the National League there was no such contest, yet we still had a couple of writers throw a bone to Christian Yelich despite the broken kneecap. Yes, that was sure to be the hotly debated topic in November, and now an injury and basically a billion MLB scandals have distracted us from what could have been a fun and meaningless debate. Instead, we get a slam dunk winner—boooorrrriiinnggg.
Bellinger was easily the best player in the league, and the most surprising part was really his defense. Sure, not often does a player stationed in Dodger Stadium for a half-season hit .305/.406/.629, but even fewer can do that while also recording 22 DRS in the outfield, a whopping two-thirds of his total career DRS. Only Victor Robles and Hunter Renfroe were more valuable in that regard.
It wasn’t just DRS that thought this, either. Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average said he recorded seven outs above average, which while not as elite, still puts him around Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge, and Juan Soto, all well-above-average defenders.
His case also dovetails nicely with what we talked about before; Bellinger’s team easily cruised into the postseason right on his back, and while the Dodgers were far from successful in the postseason, we thankfully didn’t take that into account here in our biases. There were plenty of moments where Yelich was the better player throughout the season, but really no contest over the last ~25 games of the year.