Is Mike Trout Doomed To Be The Forgotten MVP?


I had a whole different idea for a post today.  I had even started a draft about how the BBWAA should be ashamed of themselves, especially Bill Ballou, the hack who voted Mike Trout 7th in the MVP ballots, and the fact that his vote was even allowed to stand, knowing that anybody who would vote Mike Trout 7th in anything remotely related to baseball is clearly not in possession of his mental capacities, shows how flawed the system is.

But my editor, Mike Hllywa, stole my thunder when he quite effectively enlightened us regarding Mr. Ballou’s hypocrisy yesterday.  If you haven’t had a chance to read about it yet, you can here (I’ll give you a few minutes to catch up).  My favorite lines include:

"You go and give some cockamamie statement about the importance of an MVP candidate being on a contending team, but forget that you placed not one, but two players who played on non-contending teams ahead of players who actually appeared in the postseason. Do you think we are dumb, sir? Did you think we wouldn’t notice that?"

And Brandon McCarthy earned himself a follow on Twitter when he proved he can provide gems like these:

So instead, I’m contemplating the question: is Mike Trout is doomed to be forgotten as the true AL MVP and condemned to miss out on being recognized as he should because the Los Angeles Angels as a team under-perform?

Oct 6, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) reacts after hitting a double against the St. Louis Cardinals in game three of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: H.Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

And all of this caused me to challenge the entire concept of the award and how it’s bestowed, because there was no such controversy with regards to the NL MVP award.  Andrew McCutchen won that without leading any National League offensive category.

So what is it exactly that makes a player “most valuable”?  Is it that they’re on a team that makes it to the playoffs and the fact that a team doesn’t advance means that a player’s contribution is less valuable and therefore shouldn’t be rewarded?  Is it that they’re an incredible offensive force and leader in many statistics?  Is it that they hit an incredible amount of home runs and have accomplished this feat when they weren’t expected to, like Chris Davis?

Sep 22, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) on deck to bat during the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Baltimore Orioles 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Or is the MVP something more?  Is the “Most Valuable Player” someone who exceeds in one area of baseball to the exclusion of all else, or should the player be not only proficient, but excel in all aspects of the game?  Should how the team performs have any relevance in deciding an individual award?  Should prior accomplishments have significance considering the MVP is awarded annually?  Is a veteran more qualified to be MVP because he’s played more years in the league, or is a younger player just as deserving if his merits are objectively evaluated?

I have been pondering these questions ever since Miguel Cabrera won the AL MVP for the second straight year.  Of course, everyone’s talking about the outcome, each has their own opinion, and because the writers’ votes are now public, most write their justifications for voting the way they did.  Most people have billed the past two year’s debates on the MVP race as old school vs. new.  WAR vs. offensive production.  Every argument that’s made for Cabrera as MVP is the same: he’s better than Mike Trout in the offensive categories (batting average, RBIs, OPS, etc.) and the Detroit Tigers made the playoffs.  You can read one such justification by Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, if you’re so inclined.  And yes, a lot of the debate around Trout being MVP centers around WAR, but it’s not where the case for why he’s entitled to it ends.

Last year, my brother-in-law, Steve, was one of those people who argued the case for Cabrera to be MVP over Mike Trout until he didn’t want to bring it up any more because he was double teamed about how wrong that was by both my sister, Vanessa, and I.  “Triple Crown” winner, hadn’t been done in blah, blah years, was the assertion for Miggy to be MVP.

Some people also said that it was to commemorate Cabrera for winning an award that exists only in title, the Triple Crown, but what of this year?  He only led in one of the offensive categories that the Triple Crown is comprised of: batting average.  Chris Davis was the leader for the other two: home runs and RBIs.  This is not to say that it was the only statistic Cabrera led in, he also led in OPS and OBP.  But Trout not only lead in WAR (by a large margin), he also led in walks and runs.

I remember a somewhat similar debate a few years ago when discussing which player should win the Cy Young award.  Should the pitcher’s record and the record of the team he plays on be taken into account?  Or should the award be based on the pitchers’ performance itself, independent of the team’s overall record and the pitcher’s win/loss record, because those are things that aren’t controlled by only the pitcher, but also by how the team performs on the whole when that particular pitcher is on the mound.

Sep 2, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez (34) delivers a pitch in the first inning of the game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In 2010 Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young award.  He finished the year with a record of 13-12, the Seattle Mariners ended the season with a losing record at 61-101.  It seems the same writers who uphold the team advancing to the playoffs as the benchmark standard when scrutinizing who to name as MVP were able to reason out that the pitcher’s performance should be evaluated on its own, independent from team’s performance, which worked out well for Hernandez, since obviously the Seattle Mariners didn’t do well that year, and his efforts were acknowledged and honored.

But, apparently, the same can’t be said of the AL MVP award.  Can the best all-around player in baseball be on a losing team and receive the acknowledgement that he’s provided all the positive influence he can because what he brings to the team was the entire reason they were as successful as they were?  Does that demonstrate that he’s earned MVP?  Can said player’s performance be evaluated on its own worth, outside that of the team he plays on?  According to the BBWAA, no.  Though it’s an individual award, how the team performs effects the MVPs ability to be named as such by them.  And from reading the rationalizations put forth, how Miguel Cabrera performed offensively outweighed everything Mike Trout did offensively, defensively, and on the bases combined.

I dispute the notion that what makes a player most valuable is the fact that his team makes it to the playoffs and he’s an offensive force who’s mediocre in the other elements of the game.  Shouldn’t the MVP be the best all-around player in baseball?  Based on how the BBWAA have awarded the MVP the last two years the answer is again no.  Referencing Mr. Ballou again, here’s what he said on the subject:

"If the award were Player of the Year, Trout would get my vote."

To that I say: Why are they two separate things?  Shouldn’t the best player of the year be the MVP?  I’ve yet to hear or read any reasoning that convinces me they should be different.

By naming Cabrera MVP last year, the voters purposely ignored all components of the game other than offense as part of the equation, because everyone knows Miguel Cabrera’s defense is average at best, and he’s not exactly fleet on the basepaths.  That they have chosen to repeat this is either willful ignorance of or blatant disregard for all other aspects of baseball and those of us who appreciate it.  Because according to the 25 members of the BBWAA who voted Cabrera MVP, the best player in baseball isn’t, and doesn’t deserve to be recognized as, the MVP. Jeff Passan wrote a scathing commentary on the subject, which I rather enjoyed.

What all this goes to show that the BBWAA are somehow able to separate individual performance from that of the team in order to award some of their accolades, but same courtesy evidently doesn’t extend to the AL MVP award.  So while Trout may be baseball’s best all-around player, until the Angels as a team meet the criterion of making it to the playoffs, it seems he’s destined to be overlooked as MVP, even though he deserves it.  Who’s to say they’ll recognize him even then, if they’re unwilling to do so now.