Trout proving he deserves another MVP Award
Tied with Donaldson atop Wins Above Replacement leaderboard
If Mike Trout still has an MVP case to make against Josh Donaldson, it's this: The Angels have no business being in the playoff discussion, yet here they are, a half-game behind Houston for the second Wild Card spot after losing, 8-7, to Oakland on Wednesday.
That's not intended to be disrespectful so much as it is an honest reflection of how their year has gone. The Angels rank 23rd in runs scored, a year after finishing first. Albert Pujols has been hobbled by an injured foot for much of the summer, while Josh Hamilton was shipped back to Texas. Starters Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, and C.J. Wilson have all been set back by health issues, as have top relievers Huston Street and Joe Smith, and Garrett Richards hasn't been as effective after last season's knee injury as he was before it.
That confluence of circumstances should have been enough to doom their playoff hopes, and for a while, it seemed like it had. The Angels went 10-19 in August, the worst record in the AL. They dropped 9 of their final 11 to fall 7 1/2 games out of the AL West, and their postseason odds were a mere six percent as recently as two weeks ago.
But before that miserable August, the Angels were 55-47, as Trout was enjoying the best season of his magical career. Since August ended, they're 18-9. You take out that month, and they're 73-56, which would be a 91-win pace over a full season. If you're wondering what happened in August to cause that decline, it's not hard to figure out: Trout, hampered by a wrist injury suffered on July 26, put up the worst month of his career, hitting just .218/.352/.337. As you can see, Trout's ability to hit the ball hard (or not) corresponds pretty well to the Angels' ability to win games (or not), as his Statcast™ average batted ball distance shows:
As Trout has rebounded to hammer the ball again and put up a stellar September line of .316/.432/.653, the Angels have had their best month of the year. He's not the only reason that the Angels win games, because there have been smaller bright spots like Kole Calhoun and Andrew Heaney, but it's pretty clear he's the primary reason this team is even above .500.
That matters, because statistically, Trout and Donaldson are in a virtual dead heat when it comes to the AL MVP race. (The Esurance MLB Award for Best Major Leaguer -- which doesn't factor in league affiliation -- is a different story, as Bryce Harper's statline is a notch above both Trout's and Donaldson's.)
But when it comes to just Trout and Donaldson, check out their full season numbers, including Wednesday night:
Trout: .299/.402/.589 -- 41 HR -- .990 OPS -- 8.7 WAR
Donaldson: .300/.375/.577 -- 41 HR -- .952 OPS -- 8.8 WAR
Since WAR isn't intended to be precise to the decimal point, we can say that these two are having nearly identical offensive seasons, with slight edges to Trout in getting on base and slugging percentage. Though some will point out that Donaldson has 123 RBIs compared to Trout's 89, that fact loses luster when it's understood that Donaldson has also come to the plate with 407 base runners to knock in, compared to just 335 for Trout.
Despite that, the narrative shifted heavily to Donaldson's side when the Blue Jays surged in August and the Angels faltered, as voters have long favored competitors from winning teams. It's a controversial stance that has led to awkward situations such as in 2012, when Trout lost the MVP to Miguel Cabrera in part because the Tigers won their division and the Angels didn't, even though the Angels actually won more games than the Tigers.
If "most valuable" means "the best player from the best team," then by all means give it to Donaldson, who has been phenomenal and has more than earned any praise heaped upon him. But if it means "the best player in the league," or "the player who has done the most to keep his team competitive," it's hard to argue against what Trout has meant to the Angels. After all, an individual award should be decided based on the individuals, not because one of them is lucky enough to have David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion on his side. If the Angels do make it to the playoffs, there's only one man to point to.