A cogent argument could be made for Clayton Kershaw, undoubtedly the best pitcher of his generation, but the consensus is that Trout’s unparalleled ability to consistently hit for average and power, while (usually) providing above-average defense in center field puts him at the top of the list.
Trout has been hitting the cover off the ball since his first full season in 2012, and in his first five seasons, he never finished worse than second in AL MVP voting, winning the award in both 2014 and 2016. But his ludicrous run of top-two finishes came to an end this week when Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Jose Ramirez were named as the 2017 finalists.
At this late stage – when the votes have been cast but the winner has yet to be announced — Altuve is the favorite, followed by Judge, and then Ramirez. In all likelihood, Trout was the player that most people were betting on in the MLB futures (which you can learn about here) at the start of the season, and they will be bitterly disappointed that he didn’t even make the top three.
Should his run of top-two finishes have ended so abruptly? Probably, since he only played 114 games for a non-playoff team, while the three finalists all played at least 152 for squads that made the postseason. But let’s play Devil’s advocate for a minute. Trout’s 114 games were arguably the best 114 games of his already storied career. He posted a career-best .442 on-base, .629 slugging percentage, and an ungodly 1.071 OPS. Each one of those led the AL. To put it another way: he’s been the best player in baseball for the last five years, and this year he was even better.
Should the fact that he missed so many games put him behind the other three? It would be somewhat unprecedented if it didn’t.
Excluding pitchers and the strike-shortened 2014 season, the fewest games-played for an MVP in the last 30 years is 130 by Barry Bonds in 2003, back when the juiced-up slugger was in the process of breaking baseball. Bonds racked up a 9.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in his 130 games that year and had an OPS of 1.278.
Trout’s 2017 WAR of 6.7 is really friggin’ good in today’s game, and he probably would have outpaced Altuve (8.3 WAR), Judge (8.1 WAR), and Ramirez (6.9 WAR) if he’d played the whole season. But he didn’t, and by that metric, the other three helped their teams win more games, which seems like a pretty good metric for deciding who was “most valuable” to their team.
So while it’s sad to see Trout’s MVP run come to an end, especially in a year when he actually played his best and treated fans to a whole new level of amazing, it’s hard to say that the voters came to the wrong decision.