First of all, let me be clear: I intend no disrespect to Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre or even Yoenis Cespedes for that matter. They’ve all had great years, particularly Cabrera, who’s currently as close to winning the heralded MLB Triple Crown as anyone this late in the season in recent memory. Cabrera might be the best right-handed hitter in the major leagues, and this is not a matter I aim to dispute.
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However, I do aim to point out why Mike Trout should be a shoo-in for the American League MVP.
I’ll begin by addressing one aspect of the perennial debate about the MVP Award: does it go to the best player, or the literal interpretation of most valuable player? The thing is, either way I think it goes to Trout.
I’m not even going to touch the Sabremetrics thing, as I’m ambivalent on the whole movement for reasons I’ll get to in another post sometime. I will say this, though: Defense makes a big difference, especially up the middle. How many home runs has Trout stolen? Half a dozen? He covers a ridiculous amount of ground in center field, which unto itself accounts for a heck of a lot of run differential insofar as he accounts for a lot of runs taken away (Moneyballers, feel free to hit me with the WAR and defensive Sabremetric stats, pro or con; I’m willing to entertain them, despite my aforementioned ambivalence on the approach). Miguel Cabrera, even in his best defensive year, is nowhere near as good defensively as Trout has been — and he sure hasn’t taken away a single home run.
Another matter of importance is stolen bases, of which Trout has almost 50. Cabrera is not a base stealer; I think this makes a difference. Now, I’d like to point out that I think stolen bases are an oft-overrated part of baseball; teams, and players, often run themselves out of innings, in my opinion, and I also think slap-happy baserunners can distract their own hitters as much as the opposing pitcher. But here’s something worth noting: Trout got to 46 stolen bases in 50 attempts. Seriously, that means he almost never gets thrown out. Which means, effectively, a lot of his singles might as well be doubles. Again, despite my admitted misgivings about the reliance on SBs, you can’t argue with a cat that is both highly selective and has swiped almost 50 bags.
Now, let’s talk about the Triple Crown numbers. Again, I can’t argue the importance, impressiveness or historical magnitude of winning the Triple Crown; I think it’d be bonkers if Cabrera did it, especially hitting in a park that’s not exactly homer-friendly. But Trout’s numbers are nothing to take lightly — and let’s remember that he missed the first month of the season! Moreover, he’s on pace to score over 130 runs, hit 30 home runs and drive in 85-90 runs from the leadoff position. The leadoff position! Not a lot of leadoff hitters put up middle-order power numbers, much less as a month-late arrival and fitting in 50 stolen bases. I know that runs scored isn’t part of the Triple Crown, but scoring runs is the point of the game — and Trout’s scored, and driven in, a crazy amount. While stealing home runs, and teleporting around center field from gap to gap. Besides that, Trout’s numbers are comparable to Cabrera’s, in almost 30 less games:
Last but not least, let’s talk about impact. In the first month of the season, the Angels were floundering; people were wondering aloud about the decline of Albert Pujols and openly baffled at the under-performance of the bomb squad the Angels’ lineup seemed to be. Enter Trout, and the whole lineup wakes up. Not only did he galvanize the offense, drive in runs, provide impact on the front end of the lineup and protection for the back end, he also put pressure on opposing pitchers and improved the defense tremendously. He infused the Angles and their fans with the kind of hopefulness and “wow factor” that Jose Reyes brought to Met-dom in his best years.
The beauty of baseball, and sports in general, is that teams, games and players often don’t equal their apparent sum. With the arrival of Trout, the Angles went from below their apparent sum to one of the most feared teams in baseball. With all due respect to Cabrera, I think that — along with his numbers and defense, and the direct correlation between the Angels’ resurgence and Trout’s arrival — makes Mike Trout the MVP.