Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

Trout, Kershaw the right picks for MVP Awards

MLB.com @castrovince

This was not Mike Trout's best season, or even his second best. But he deserved the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Pitchers winning the MVP always feels a little icky. But Clayton Kershaw deserved the National League MVP Award, too.

Voting for the MVP Award is one of the most agonizing-yet-cherished responsibilities of members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (second only to the Hall of Fame vote), and I'm guessing this year's NL vote, in particular, was responsible for a lot of burned brain cells. But while there are nit-picky points to be made about Trout's strikeouts and the "pitchers don't deserve the MVP" arguments will rage deep into the night, it's hard to fault either selection announced Thursday night.

This was not Mike Trout's best season, or even his second best. But he deserved the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Pitchers winning the MVP always feels a little icky. But Clayton Kershaw deserved the National League MVP Award, too.

Voting for the MVP Award is one of the most agonizing-yet-cherished responsibilities of members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (second only to the Hall of Fame vote), and I'm guessing this year's NL vote, in particular, was responsible for a lot of burned brain cells. But while there are nit-picky points to be made about Trout's strikeouts and the "pitchers don't deserve the MVP" arguments will rage deep into the night, it's hard to fault either selection announced Thursday night.

Before we get into the stuff that really riles people up, let's start with Trout.

Trout was a unanimous winner, which was not at all surprising. That he finished ahead of a Tigers player (in this case, Victor Martinez) felt like poetic justice to those of us who thought he should have beaten out Miguel Cabrera in 2012 (better all-around player on a team that had a better record and run differential is the basic gist of that argument).

Video: Trout unanimously named 2014 AL MVP

Again, this was not Trout's best season. He drove in more runs than he ever has and more than anybody else in the AL. But as we know, that's a product of opportunity. He hit a career-high 36 homers, but that increased power came with a marked uptick in strikeouts -- a league-leading 184. Trout stole far fewer bases, got on base less frequently and hit below .300 for the first time. Some defensive metrics insist his defense slipped.

But was it still an MVP-type year for a player still on a Hall of Fame-type trek? Absolutely.

Trout, after all, was still the best all-around player in his league. He can run, he can hit, he can propel himself onto a defensive highlight reel near you. Martinez was the best pure hitter in baseball this season, but his defensive value is nearly non-existent. Michael Brantley had numbers that, in many cases, compared favorably to those of Trout, to go with speed and strong defensive play. But he had less power and played for a non-playoff team, which ultimately did him in.

And let's not pretend there wasn't a little mea culpa factor at play here. Trout's 2012 and '13 seasons had sparked so much conversation about advanced metrics and old-school vs. new-school evaluation that the whole thing became exhausting after a while. But now we no longer have to worry about him going his entire career without an MVP, so I'll sleep better at night. How about you?

Video: Breaking down Trout unanimously winning AL MVP

All right, that brings us to the NL, a source of much late-September debate and discussion.

For starters, it was nice to see that no voters left Kershaw off their ballot completely. The rules specifically state that pitchers and designated hitters are eligible for the honor, but we've seen some voters in the past (like when Pedro Martinez was inexplicably left off two ballots after his transcendent 1999 season) take the righteous stance that, because pitchers are eligible for the Cy Young Award they should not be considered for the MVP.

Video: Kershaw wins 2014 National League MVP Award

Now, just because pitchers are eligible doesn't mean that every great pitching season deserves an MVP. As far as I'm concerned, two factors must be met for something like this to happen:

1. The pitcher's season must be historic and so far out in front of the norm that he was unequivocally the best pitcher in the league.
2. The position-player field must be best described as muddled and muddied.

Both qualifications were met in the NL this year.

Kershaw's season was historic, no doubt. No left-hander had ever had an ERA this low (1.77) with a WHIP this low (0.86) with a strikeout rate this high (10.8 per nine innings). No pitcher had ever allowed this low a number of runs (42) in a 20-win season. No pitcher in the modern era had ever had this high a percentage (96.3) of his starts result in no more than three runs allowed.

Video: Clayton Kershaw wins NL MVP

And though I don't exactly love this stat (because Lord knows the Pirates fared better with McCutchen in the lineup than without him, and likewise the Marlins with Stanton), the Dodgers were 19 games above .500 when Kershaw started, seven games over when he didn't (they won 20 of his last 21 starts). So he was definitely a difference-maker on a division-winner, which certainly had sway with some voters.

Here's the thing: At a time when the average opponent slash line against an NL pitcher was an absurd .250/.313/.383 (pitchers are way ahead of the hitters these days), Kershaw's opponent slash line was an absolutely outrageous .196/.231/.289.

Dominant.

Video: Duquette dishes on Kershaw's incredible MVP season

And as far as that second qualification is concerned, every NL position-player candidate had some knock against him.

Stanton hit an NL-best 37 homers, he was second in OPS, second in RBIs, third in WAR and 17th in average. If some voters held his absence the last couple weeks against him, that was unfair (as obviously, getting hit in the face wasn't exactly his fault, and Kershaw missed all of April), but it did affect his counting stats. More to the point, Stanton played for a sub-.500 team, and we know that, fair or not, that kind of thing always comes into play in the voting. Just as pitchers must have a ridiculous season to win the MVP, a guy on a losing team has to have a truly transcendent season to take the top spot. Aside from the homer count, it's hard to say Stanton's season was truly transcendent in that vein.

Then you've got McCutchen, who himself said late in the season that he wasn't the MVP on his own team. McCutchen was merely being humble, but he wasn't altogether incorrect. Josh Harrison's emergence this season was as big for the Bucs as anything. Russell Martin's impact behind the plate was instrumental, and he had the bat, to boot. It was incredible to watch McCutchen fight through his obvious rib discomfort, fend off high-and-tight pitches and still deliver down the stretch. And his numbers were comparable, if not better, than his 2013 MVP output. But, again, was it a truly transcendent season? If there are guys on your own team that seem equally deserving, it's hard to argue in the affirmative.

So I, for one, am totally OK with Kershaw winning the MVP, even though he missed those early-season starts, even though I'd generally prefer this honor go to a position player and not a pitcher. He was just that good, folks.

Video: Look back at Clayton Kershaw's all-around MVP season

Call it a West Coast bias (from a guy currently buried under a foot of snow in Cleveland), but the right men won the MVPs.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout