First things first Mike Trout is a pretty boring guy. He doesn’t provide entertaining quotes in the media like Bryce Harper does. He doesn’t bat flip like Jose Bautista. He doesn’t even really have many national TV commercials. According to a Sports Illustrated story from a couple of years ago he still called his mom back home after every game. This effort to seem ordinary causes us to forget how truly great Trout is.
When Michael Jordan was at his peak he realistically should’ve won the MVP every year. He didn’t, of course, but took home 5 in an 11 year span. That’s where we are at with Trout today. He is the unquestioned best player in baseball and pretty much has been since coming into the league. In his rookie year in 2012 Trout hit .326 to go along with 30 homers and led the league with 49 stolen bases and 129 runs scored. But that was the season Miguel Cabrera won the first Triple Crown in 45 years. Trout still had a higher WAR than Cabrera, but it was an understandable second place finish.
2013 was the same story. Trout hit .323 with 27 home runs, 33 stolen bases, and a league leading 109 runs but Cabrera put up even better numbers than this Triple Crown season and took home back to back MVP honors. However, in his third full season Trout finally broke through and batted .287 to go along with 36 homers, a league leading 111 RBI, and a league leading 115 runs scored. The difference this time was he did it for the AL West winning Angels. It seemed Trout was destined to win multiple in a row before we ended up right where we began last year, with Trout finishing second to Josh Donaldson. For those keeping track Trout has finished either first or second in the AL MVP voting every year he’s been in the league. That’s fucking incredible.
So with just over a month left in 2016 the Angels are all but out of the playoff race. Currently they are in last place with a record of 54-73. Jose Altuve is the current favorite for MVP honors this year, although he is being pushed recently by Mookie Betts. Both those guys play for winning teams, which is where voters look first for their candidates. But Trout shouldn’t be penalized because the Angels front office isn’t as good as building a winning baseball team than the Astros or Red Sox. Donaldson was out of this world last year but had the support of Bautista and Edwin Encarnacian. Why should Trout get penalized for not having as good of teammates?
So far this year Trout is batting .316 with 24 homers, 21 stolen bases, and 97 runs scored. He leads the league in walks (87), OBP (.432), and OPS+ (172). Altuve is also having a great year. He leads the league with a whopping .361 average and 180 hits. He ranks second in the AL in both doubles (37) and total bases (285) to go along with 20 homers and 26 steals. Yet despite all this he trails Trout in WAR according to all three of ESPN, fan graphs, and baseball reference (8.0 to 7.3). WAR, which incorporates hitting, fielding, and base running, isn't the be all end all in MVP debates, but in this case it's too big a factor to ignore.
In a perfect world the MVP award would go to a player on a winning team. But the purpose of the award is to go to the player who has contributed most to his team. In other words the player who has been most valuable. As evidenced by his superior WAR this is Trout. It's not his fault the rest of his roster isn't as good as the rest of Altuve's. Let's not penalize him for it.