Mike Trout is widely considered baseball’s most well-rounded player and has had quite the luxury season: a lucrative shoe deal (Nike’s first since Ken Griffey Jr.’s in the 90s), and after winning the MLB all-star game’s most valuable player award, was given the arduous task of choosing between a Corvette and a truck.
Trout turns 23 in August. As USA Today’s Jorge L. Ortiz noted earlier this month, “He’s generally acknowledged as the best player in baseball even by those who think of WAR as a military maneuver, not a gauge of a player’s value.”
Ortiz strikes an interesting chord. Last season, despite holding considerably more skill and better numbers regarding base running, fielding, positional value, and myriad components other than primitive hitting statistics, Miguel Cabrera waltzed to his second consecutive American League MVP award. I say waltzed because he received 23 of the 30 first-place ballots voted upon by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Trout received five.
Here’s why Trout deserves the MVP award in 2014
Trout is six home runs, 21 RBI, and 74 hits shy of setting new career highs. Alongside Josh Hamilton, the two outfielders have plated 471 runs or the second-most in baseball, and have outscored their opponents for a +87 run differential, which is also second-best in the league, per James Schmehl. He’s hit and reached base safely on 6.2 percent of the pitches he’s seen all year. His 5.6 wins above replacement is tied with Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki for tops in the majors as well. Although he’s a considerably better hitter against right-handed pitching (16 home runs vs. right-handers, eight home runs vs. lefties), home runs have come in all shapes and forms and he has power both ways.
More than anything, though, his patience has improved at the plate. He’s swinging at a career-low 23.9 percent of pitches outside the strike zone and his contact percentage of 81.3 is among the best in the majors. Trout swung at 40.1 percent of the pitches he saw in his rookie campaign, but has since digressed to 38.15 percent average the last two seasons.
You simply cannot discuss Trout without mentioning what he brings to the defensive side of the game. Trout’s .991 fielding percentage—No. 6 among center fielders who have played more than 75 games—is on pace to be a career high and has just two errors in the 94 games he’s started, or every single game, he’s played for the Angels in 2014. Oakland Athletics outfield Yoenis Cespedes, who produced arguably the defensive highlights of the year, has double the number of errors Trout has despite playing in 173 fewer innings.
Here’s why those numbers might not matter
Trout’s batting average currently rests at .305. Since 2007, nobody in the majors has won the MVP award hitting less than .317. In the American League, nobody has won it hitting less than .310 since Alex Rodriguez belted 47 home runs in 2003 and voters forgot his .298 average. Just five players since 1990 have won the MVP award hitting less than .305: Jimmy Rollins, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Mo Vaughn, and Barry Bonds.
Wins and production are also heavily weighted later in the season rather than early on. As Grantland’s Jonah Keri noted in the wake of Cabrera winning the 2013 AL MVP, it’s “as if wins don’t matter in May, June, and July.” The Angels are currently tied for the lead in the Wild Card standings, but the Yankees are sure to not collapse for Jeter’s sake and Cleveland only trails by 3 games, not to mention Toronto, Kansas City, and Seattle are salivating at the thought of getting back to playing in October.
He is undeniably the leading candidate for this season’s AL MVP award. But if you ask most, Trout should’ve won it a season ago. He didn’t. Trout likely won’t win the Triple Crown this season, but that’s no reason to cheapen his stake as front-runner for the MVP award. If Trout is anything he’s a well-rounded machine, a player who uses each component of the game as a weapon. You might not find a better one in baseball, but that doesn’t mean he’s a lock for its top honor.
Josh Planos has had his work featured at Rivals, Bleacher Report, Denver Post, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio, and ESPN Radio, and is currently a columnist for the ESPN TrueHoop Network, FanSided and The Pick and Roll. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).