How good does Mike Trout have to be to be to win an AL MVP award over Miguel Cabrera?
Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Angels phenom, the answer might just be “never good enough … until the Angels are in the World Series”.
After all, he’s already the best overall player in MLB once again in just his age-22 season, and is actually poised to top his historic 10.0 fWAR rookie season last year — and it wasn’t good enough then. Both ZiPS and Steamer has him finishing at 10.3 fWAR in 2013, an accomplishing that simply cannot be overstated.
Only one other player in the last 20 seasons has posted a 10.0-plus fWAR season — Barry Bonds. That’s the kind of company Trout finds himself in, which is to say that he’s in a class of his own.
And still, it will not be good enough. That’s because Miggy is also having what is likely going to end up being his best season ever, a scary proposition when you think about the fact that he’s been the best hitter in the game for some time now. However, he’s never even come close to touching 10.0 fWAR in his career thus far, and though he might come close this year (he’s projected to finish at 9.1), we already know what’s going to hold him back.
That would be his whopping 13.9 fielding runs below average (or -20.5 UZR/150 … pick your defensive stats, it doesn’t matter really), of course.
As long as Miggy is a liability with the glove, the fact that is that he will never be a complete package like Trout. The argument is essentially the same as last seasons, so there’s little point in repeating it at length: Miggy is perhaps MLB’s biggest spectacle, but he hasn’t been its best player in either 2012 or 2013.
That distinction is important because as fans and Trout found out last season, it’s one that MVP voters make as well. It’s also the reason why the Angels outfielder has virtually no chance at winning the MVP this year, despite providing his team with the most overall value over the course of the season across all aspects of the game.
And you know, there might be a point here too.
As much as it might go against the “true” meaning of the MVP award, the fact is that the criteria for winning it is not strictly empirical, even though we now have very good data to calculate exactly how much value a player brings to each team. Whether it should be the case is an argument for the different day, but the fact is that voters also vote based on narratives and good ol’ unquantifiable context — mostly winning, as it were.
These are the facts: with Mike Trout, the Angels are an expensive, disappointing mess mired in fourth place. Without him? They’re basically the same mess, even if you took the 10 or so wins away from their record. On the other hand, the Detroit Tigers are World Series favourites with Cabrera, and without him (and his nine wins or so for the full season), they might not even make the playoffs.
Given that the context of teams playing the game in the season is to get the postseason, it’s at least not totally bewildering why voters would take a team’s finish into consideration, as there are intangibles that one player can bring that are not quantified be performance numbers that can turn the team around — just ask the Los Angeles Dodgers and Yasiel Puig.
Is that a fair way to assess who the most valuable player was when looking strictly at the season? Nah. Is it the reason why Trout won’t come close in MVP voting despite another all-time season? You bet.