Any of them. No matter what they’re voting for.
Last night Mike Trout edged out Mookie Betts for the American League MVP Award. That, in itself, isn’t a shocking development. Trout is pretty widely considered the best player in the game. This is his second MVP in five seasons, with him finishing second the other three years.
It’s not so much that he won the MVP. It’s more the question of why he won this one, as opposed to the other three. Sure, he led the league in WAR, but he always leads the league in WAR. That’s never helped him before. It’s generally been about the “older” stats when it comes to the MVP.
Mookie led Trout in all the triple-crown categories. (I was pretty surprised by that myself.) His team did better. In fact, Trout’s Angels finished in last place. That’s supposed to be the kiss of death when it comes to MVP voting. The only way you can win from a last place team is to be so exponentially better than everyone else in the league that you can’t be ignored. Like ARod was when he won it with Texas. But, in this case, you had Mookie Betts who was at least as good as Trout, from a first place team. It should have been an easy choice.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m on record saying that a team’s finish should in no way affect MVP consideration. In fact, I’d suggest that a player on a bad team is more valuable or impressive than a player putting up the same numbers on a good team. But, I don’t vote for AL MVP. I’ve never voted. Other people did, and have. And those things have always mattered to them. What happened?
If Mike Trout can win this year based on an edge in WAR from a last place team, how on earth did Donaldson beat him out last year? How has anyone ever beat him? Aren’t these the same voters who decided he wasn’t good enough before?
This almost feels like an apology vote. Or, at least an overcorrection vote. The writers know that Trout’s been screwed for years when it comes to the MVP, and have just decided they need to give it to him at some point. This just happened to be the point.
Again, it’s not that they made the wrong choice. Trout is every bit as deserving as Mookie. It’s just that they made an inconsistent choice. They gave the Cy Young to the guy with the most wins, but didn’t give the guy with the most HR-RBI the MVP. They didn’t think leading your team to a division title was the most valuable thing you can do.
So, do these new rules only apply to Mike Trout? It’d probably be OK if they did. But, will the league leader in WAR next year win the MVP? (Of course, it’ll probably be Trout again, so it may be a moot point.) Does this signal a shift that traditional stats are starting to lose their value in the eyes of voters? It is just a lifetime achievement award? Are they giving one last award to Trout because they assume Mookie’s winning the next four? What does this vote mean?
Because I’m not really sure.