Mike Trout missed 39 games in the middle of this season due to a torn ligament in his thumb from sliding into 2nd base. At the time of the injury, it presumably knocked him out of the American League MVP picture, which seemed fair given the precedent set by previous MVP winners. Fangraphs very own Craig Edwards examined this exact precedent earlier this week and, based on his data, Trout would end up receiving the 2nd lowest amount of plate appearances for any MVP winner in baseball history(in a non-strike shortened season). Given the vast amount of data available now and, quite frankly, the integrity of the writers, the Trout MVP case isn’t as far fetched as some may believe.
Right now, Mike Trout has the 4th highest fWAR(Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement) among all position players(5.1 fWAR) and ranks 3rd in the American League behind Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve, who both have 5.9 fWAR, respectively. WAR is not the be all end all stat but it does a good job of combining every element of a player’s game and Trout has somehow racked up 5.1 fWAR in just 70 games. For those curious, that would put him on pace for 11.8 WAR over a full 162 game season, which would rank as the 12th most valuable season in Major League Baseball history, and rank only behind some dudes named Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and Honus Wagner. Mike Trout has already has a historic start to his career, putting up 7.9 fWAR in his first 5 full big league seasons and 9+ WAR in 4 of those 5 seasons, but his 2017 season has been on a completely different level.
If you’re not a WAR believer(cue chorus from ” War” by Edwin Starr), then let’s just break down the individual elements of Trout’s game. Offensively, Trout has been absolutely smashing baseballs and getting on base at will in his 70 games. His current slash line is .347/.468/.710, which essentially looks like an average Babe Ruth season(.342/.474/.690). If he qualified, Trout’s batting average would rank 3rd in baseball and he’d boast the highest on base percentage and slugging percentage in both leagues. Trout is walking a career high 17.7% of the time and is striking out in a career low 19% of his plate appearances. He’s on pace to hit 38 home runs, which would be the 2nd highest total in any season despite the fact that he missed a quarter of a season. Trout’s current 208 wRC+(108% better than the league average hitter) is far and away the best in baseball and well above his career 171 wRC+. If Trout maintains a 200+ wRC+, it’d be only the 5th time that has happened in this century and the other 4 instances were accomplished by Barry Bonds from 2001-2004.
Defensively, Trout has more or less been slightly below average in center field this season based on the metrics. He’s currently at -1 defensive runs saved(DRS) and -2.3 UZR(Ultimate Zone Rating). Statcast has essentially backed up this claim as Trout has had zero 5 or 4 star catches but has caught a vast majority of his 1-3 star opportunities. This isn’t necessarily a knock on Trout either: performing as the league’s best hitter while playing near average defense in center field is uber valuable. On the bases, Trout has continued to run the bases with the best of them as he is on pace to swipe 20+ bags again and will end up with 3+ Baserunning Runs(BsR) despite missing 39 games. All around, Trout has been an absolute monster yet again.
While it seems more likely that Trout doesn’t win MVP this year, there is a real case that he will be competing for a top 2 or 3 spot again in the race. If Jose Altuve hits .350+ with 7+ WAR on the best team in the American League, it’s going to be hard for the writers to pass that up. Aaron Judge is struggling since the break but he’s still on pace to hit 45+ home runs and post a 7+ win season while manning right field for the New York Yankees. Chris Sale is having a season of historic measures and may represent Trout’s biggest rival for the award as the terrifying lefty has already hit 7 fWAR and has a 2.57 ERA along with his sub 2 FIP. As of now, there’s a pretty clear top 4 and it looks like Trout will squarely be in the mix of things.
Mike Trout might be one of the select few players in baseball who can miss 1/4th of a season and still be in the conversation for being the league’s most valuable player. Clayton Kershaw threw 149 innings of historic baseball last season and finished 5th in the Cy Young voting so we don’t have to look back too far to see how writers will penalize players who miss time. Kershaw’s 237 ERA+ and 15.64 strikeout-walk ratio were legendary numbers but they still weren’t enough to get him a top 3 finish. The writers could penalize Trout the same way but if this pace keeps up, it’s going to be impossible for the writers to ignore him. If the Angels somehow sneak into the playoffs, that will likely boost his case even further for the writers.
Whatever ends up happening with the MVP voting, enjoy Mike Trout. The fact that we can even have this discussion speaks volumes to the incredible talent that Trout is. If he doesn’t win MVP, he’s still likely had a legendary season that was hurt by a fluke injury. If he does end up in fact win the award, then this is going to be a season that is talked about for a very long time. Long live Mike Trout.