Mike Trout has the numbers. He leads the American League in batting average, runs, stolen bases, slugging percentage and OPS.
The 21-year-old center fielder has had a demonstrable impact. Before he played his first game this season, the Angels were 6-14. Upon his arrival in late April, the Halos crawled back into contention.
While there's still nearly a quarter of a season to play, Trout is almost a shoo-in to be voted the winner of the AL Rookie of the Year Award by the Baseball Writers Association of America. The bigger question is whether he can double down and also take home the Most Valuable Player Award.
There is precedent. Fred Lynn won both for the Red Sox in 1975, and Ichiro Suzuki matched the achievement for the Mariners in 2001. But those situations were different. Lynn's numbers helped Boston win its division. Ichiro's Mariners won 116 games. For all of Trout's heroics, the Angels have struggled lately and have fallen far behind Texas in the AL West.
They had gotten themselves back into the division race, closing to within three games of the Rangers after beating them in successive games on July 30-31. But then they lost the next two to Texas, including an 11-10 backbreaker. The Angels are 8-13 this month.
A random poll of veteran baseball writers suggested that merely being a rookie won't cost Trout support ... but being an outstanding rookie on a team that may or may not make the playoffs could. Voting is done at the end of the regular season, so postseason performances aren't part of the equation.
"I personally would not let Trout's rookie status impact my vote," said Larry Stone of The Seattle Times. "His value is irrespective of his service time. If I had a vote, I would simply weigh the merits of the candidates based on their credentials, and decide who was the most valuable -- no bonus points for being 'through the wars,' no detractions for being green."
Added Mark Gonzalez of The Chicago Tribune: "I have no qualms about considering a rookie for a Most Valuable Player Award. [Trout] should be treated like any other position player, regardless of his service time."
MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby, winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, stressed the impact that the success of the Angels as a whole might have on Trout's chances of winning the AL MVP Award.
"The Angels will have something to say about his candidacy," Ringolsby said. "I see 'valuable' as a key part of that award. The Angels are battling to stay above .500. They are much closer to last place in the AL West than first place."
That, in fact, is what has usually distinguished the MVP from player-of-the-year types of awards. The latter honors are usually based on individual accomplishments, regardless of what the rest of the team does. For example, Steve Carlton was a unanimous National League Cy Young Award choice in 1972 even though the Phillies won just 59 games. He won 27 of them.
That doesn't happen nearly as frequently in the MVP balloting. Yes, Andre Dawson won it with the last-place Cubs in 1987. But a more typical illustration was made a year later, when Kirk Gibson won it with the Dodgers despite having statistics that may not have been as dazzling as some of the other candidates. He was viewed as having brought a spark to a team that badly needed clubhouse leadership. With the MVP, intangibles count.
Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune thinks Trout's MVP candidacy could get a boost just from the attention the subject is getting, but also strongly agreed with the premise that Trout's hopes could be undermined if the Angels don't finish strong.
"If anything, being a rookie could help him," Rogers pointed out. "It's extra buzz, like what was created behind Justin Verlander with the Cy Young/MVP double last year, when even [Tigers manager] Jim Leyland wasn't sure a pitcher should get the [MVP] award.
"The thing I think could hurt Trout is the Angels fading. I don't have an MVP vote this year, but if I did I'd have a hard time giving it to someone from a team that exits at the end of the regular season. The Tigers may similarly impact Miguel Cabrera's bid, which could put guys like Josh Hamilton, Derek Jeter and maybe even an A.J. Pierzynski or Alex Rios in the mix. [It] should be a very interesting vote."
Leyland, in the course of politicking for Cabrera earlier this season, went as far as to suggest that track record should give his third baseman an edge over the rookie.
"What's going to be dangerous for Miggy, and I mean this respectfully, he could run into one of those 'Wonderboy' stories," Leyland told WXYT radio in Detroit, as reported by The Detroit News. "Trout, he's one of the best young players I've ever seen. At the same time, when you do it over a period of time, a little bit longer, I think that should have something to say about it. That should be part of it. Although this certainly is a great story with the Trout kid. He's unbelievable."
Said Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe: "Some may favor a guy with a consistent track record like Miguel Cabrera. That's all I can think of. [And] I think it may hurt [Trout] if the Angels don't make playoffs."
Trout has everything it takes to win the AL Most Valuable Player Award this season. Whether he actually ends up with the trophy is the question. If he doesn't, though, it appears it will have more to do with how the Angels fare than his rookie status.