September 24, 2016


Mike Trout should have 4 of these by now
The baseball regular season is nearing its end, and the MVP voter’s ballots are due soon.  And as usual there is a lot of talk about who should win and fans of individual players or teams make passionate arguments to convince others why they should vote for their guy.

What is the defined criteria for MVP?  Well, eligible voters are given the following guidelines: 

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:
1.  Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2.  Number of games played.
3.  General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4.  Former winners are eligible.
5.  Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.
Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.
Ok, nothing too specific, but there is always the usual controversy over whether MVP means best player in the league, or most “valuable” to his team.

What’s the difference you may ask?  Well, when the best player in the league plays for a losing team, fans of a good player on a playoff team will use a variation of “Well, team X could have finished in last without player Y so how ‘valuable’ was he really?”  (By the way, this year X = Angels, Y = Mike Trout).
Fans who are using this argument come from Houston arguing for Jose Altuve, Toronto for Donaldson, Baltimore for Machado and Boston for Betts… or Ortiz… or Hanley…. or even Rick Porcello.  The point is that supporters of these teams believe that their guy is more valuable for them because he helped them get to the playoffs, while even if Trout is arguably a better player, he didn’t provide as much value to the Angels.

On the surface, this argument may have some merit. But let’s use a fictional example and see if this position still makes sense:
The year is 2020. Mike Trout (while still young enough to provide gold glove defense and be a plus baserunner) bats .400 and hits 100 home runs for the Angels while providing 16 WAR. They obliterate the AL West competition winning 110 games, or 20 more than the 90 win runner up.  In the AL East, the Red Sox win the division with 95 wins to the Yankees 92.  Mookie Betts is the team’s best player, ending up with 4 WAR.  None of the other playoff teams have players with a season worth mentioning.  According to the above logic, who should win the 2020 AL MVP Award? …. Obviously Mike Trout, right?
Not so fast!  Remember that the Angels won the division by 20 games. With my girlfriend playing centerfield for them, they would have still easily won their division! (hyperbole alert – this may not quite be true, but let’s assume a replacement level outfielder instead of Trout. Say Daniel Nava, a name familiar to my readers and Angels fans alike).  Meanwhile, without Betts, the Red Sox would have only won 91 games, and be runners-up to the Yankees.  So, based on that definition of valuable… you’d have to say Betts was more valuable.  

Ok, this was a fictional example, and obviously a 100 HR hitter would probably win an MVP. Hell, Andre Dawson won one for the last place Cubs with less than half of that. So let's look at a real life example:
In 2011 Justin Verlander won the MVP with 8.4 WAR. The Tigers won their division by 15 games.  With bad Clay Buchholz taking up Verlander’s rotation spot, they STILL would have won their division.  But voters chose him over Jacoby Ellsbury because the Red Sox missed the playoffs, and the thinking was they would have missed the playoffs without him too, so he really didn’t help that much.   Well, according to this logic, Verlander didn’t help the Tigers playoff position either.  Just like Ellsbury didn’t help the Red Sox reach the postseason, the Tigers would have made it even without Verlander.

Mike Scioscia recently said that he thinks "there needs to be a value on how you've affected a team's performance". So by that logic, Verlander shouldn't have been eligible, and Trout's fictional 100 HR season for a division winner wouldn't either.  This makes no sense to me.

The Cy Young Award goes to the best pitcher in the league. The Jackie Robinson Award goes to the best rookie in the league.  Let’s keep this simple: Make the MVP go to the best player in the league.  Congratulations Mike Trout. You will be getting my vote (again) this season.
(Oh, and if you think pitchers should be excluded because they have their own award already, let’s have a “Best Position Player” award too.  Then there’s an award for best pitcher, best hitter (Hank Aaron Award), best position player, and then the MVP).

Now that the season is actually over, a quick update with stats.  Specially for those Red Sox fans who believe Mookie Betts is actually better than Mike Trout. (Note: I'm a huge Mookie fan. Check out my musings on Twitter if you don't believe me).
Here are their year end slash lines (BA/OBP/SLG)
Mike Trout: .315/.441/.550
Mookie Betts:  .318/.363./.535
Nothing really jumps out, until you dig a little deeper:
Trout's OPS+ is 174 Betts is 131.  If you're wondering why such a large difference in seemingly similar numbers, take a closer look at the middle number.  Mike Trout reached base via hit, walk or hit by pitch 300 times in 681 plate appearances.  Betts only 265 in almost 50 more plate appearances (total of 730).
Defensive metrics like Betts better, but still only gives him 9.6 bWAR to Trout's 10.6.  (The numbers are 9.9 to 6.2 in favor of Trout for offense only).
As Brad Pitt said in Moneyball, the point of a batter is to get on base. And Trout did that more than 20% better than Betts.  He's the best player in the league, and had the best season of anyone. Period. Give him the trophy.

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