Mike Trout could tie George Brett for fewest games played in an MVP year since MLB went to a 162-game schedule.
Assuming he plays in all 36 remaining games for the Los Angeles Angels this season, Mike Trout will end the year with 117 games played. George Brett played that exact number of games in 1980 when he won the American League MVP award. No player has ever played fewer in a 162-game season and won the MVP. Baseball’s best player, Trout, could be set to join the Hall of Famer.
Fans who routinely check Baseball-Reference or Fangraphs will have noticed that Trout’s numbers have once again placed him atop the leaderboards. He is the only player in the league with an OPS over 1.100 and leads Joey Votto by over 70 points. While Trout is still technically short of the 3.1 plate appearances per game to qualify, he is able to appear as the league leader by virtue of the fact that he would still lead the AL in OPS if he went 0-fer his next 42 plate appearances.
That Trout is that much better than the rest of the Junior Circuit is almost impossible to comprehend. Jose Altuve was batting a ridiculous .362/.422/.569 entering play on Tuesday night. Trout could still go 10 days without a hit or walk and still have a better OPS.
Provided Trout does not suffer through that aforementioned 0-for-42, he will end the season with the highest OPS since the league stopped turning a blind eye on rampant PED usage. His wRC+ of 197 is nearly 30 points better than his previous high and is 32 points better than Altuve’s. Trout has been worth 5.6 fWAR to Altuve’s 6.0 in 40 fewer games. When he has been on the field, no one in the American League has even come close to matching Trout.
Because Trout has currently played 81 games in 2017, now is an easy time to project what his counting stats might have looked like at the end of the year had he not injured his thumb. Try this on for size — 130 runs, 36 doubles, 52 home runs, 28 stolen bases and 128 walks. Trout had been on track to obliterate all of his career-best power numbers before injury, and he has not slowed down upon returning to action. Somehow, the best player in baseball made himself roughly 20 percent better than the rest of the league over the course of a single offseason.
There is no debate that Trout is the best player in baseball. In fact, he has put even more distance on the rest of the league this year. What is up for debate is where he stands in the MVP vote that will take place at the end of the year. It has been nearly 40 years since Brett won the MVP playing fewer than 120 games. In that time period, the BBWAA voters have become even more averse to voting for a player without a full season’s body of work, while putting more emphasis on picking a player that comes from a winning ballclub.
To wit, Trout lost the 2015 AL MVP vote to Josh Donaldson of the Toronto Blue Jays because the Jays ended a 22-year playoff drought. By every advanced metric, Trout was the superior player, but his Angels could only muster a third-place finish in the AL West.
The “V” for valuable in MVP is not clearly defined anywhere, and each voter is forced to come to their own conclusions about how to fill out their ballot. Advanced metrics like WAR, OPS+, wOBA and wRC+ make it much easier to draw logical conclusions about a player’s overall value, but too many writers still fall back on the old counting stats when picking their MVP. Many eschew defensive value altogether.
The voters who attempt to hash out how valuable a player is to his individual team should have no problem picking Trout as their 2017 MVP. Take him off the Angels, and the team likely struggles to win 75 games. The team has one full-time player, Andrelton Simmons (who has his own case for AL MVP), with an OPS+ over 100 and is dead last in the American League in OPS.
So, what will it take for Trout to actually win his third AL MVP and not finish second for a fourth time? For starters, he needs to hit slightly better than the .283/.421/.500 slash line of the past two weeks. If the Angels claim the second AL Wild Card, that could be enough to clinch the award for Trout.
No one can say for sure at this point how strong Trout’s chances to win a third AL MVP award are a full month out from the end of the regular season. He is likely fighting an ingrained sentiment among the voters that Altuve’s epic year is simply too much to ignore. Call it Trout fatigue among the voters. LeBron James goes through the same thing every year when the NBA MVP is handed out. James is always the best player, but something within the human psyche makes us want to reward someone else just for variety’s sake. Altuve is in line to win his third MLB batting title, lead the entire league in hits for the fourth time and lead the AL in steals for a third time.
With the Angels contending strongly for a playoff spot, Trout’s MVP chances are much higher than they were when he returned to action right after the All-Star break. To win the award, he has to go on an absolute tear in September — talking 10-plus home runs and 30-plus RBIs — with his team earning an invitation to the postseason dance. If both of those things do not happen, a very deserving Jose Altuve will win his first MVP award.
Trout is still the best player in the league and the most “valuable,” but convincing voters to overlook his six-week absence in the middle of the year may ultimately prove impossible.