Who Should Win the American League MVP?

Is this the year that Mike Trout finally wins his first MVP, or will Victor Martinez or Michael Brantley steal another one from him?

Mike Trout finished second in the American League MVP voting the last two seasons, losing both times to Miguel Cabrera, despite many arguing that Trout should have won both instances. The Baseball Writers Association of America named Trout a finalist again this season, along with Michael Brantley and Victor Martinez. Is this the year Trout finally takes home some hardware, or will he once again be left empty handed?

I agree with fellow numberFire contributer John Stolnis – who wrote about who should win the NL MVP – that the league’s MVP is the player who had the most impressive season, not how valuable the player was to their team’s roster. In other words, just because Trout and Martinez played on baseball’s highest and second-highest scoring teams, respectively, this (and the accomplishments of their teammates) shouldn’t take away from their personal merits.

Let’s check out some numbers of the three finalists.

How They Stack Up

Michael Brantley3.55 (4)6.6 (2).389 (6)155 (5)20 (25)97 (12)
Victor Martinez3.30 (6)4.4 (18).411 (1)166 (2)32 (8)103 (8)
Mike Trout4.05 (1)7.8 (1).402 (2)167 (1)36 (3)111 (1)

As expected with MVP finalists, all three players are top 10 in almost every category. Trout led the way with a nERD score of 4.05, which means if Trout hit in every spot in the Angels’ lineup, the team would score 4.05 more runs per game than a lineup of league average players. Trout’s score was second best in all of baseball – and best in the AL – yet Brantley (3.55) and Martinez (3.30) were not far behind. A point for Trout.

None of the finalists posted good defensive numbers this season, but Martinez’s FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) was especially hurt by his poor defensive numbers – albeit most of his time was spent as Detroit’s designated hitter. However, Trout’s fWAR of 7.8 was the best in all of baseball this season and more than a full point better than Brantley’s, whose fWAR was second best in the AL. Another point for Trout.

Martinez led the way in weighted on base average (wOBA) as his total was second best in all of baseball and best in the AL. Trout and Brantley also posted impressive wOBA’s, both finishing in the top six in the AL. Since wOBA attempts to measure a player’s overall offensive value using one statistic, it goes to show just how remarkable Martinez was with the bat this season. Point for Martinez.

Trout and Martinez were one and two in the AL for best wRC+, and second and third in all of baseball. A good way of thinking about wRC+ in general is to use 100 as an average score. This means that Trout’s wRC+ of 167 was 67% better than league average. Brantley’s total of 155 seems low when comparing it to the other two finalists, but he was 55% better than a league average hitter this season, which is profound in its own right. This one is close, but another point for Trout.

Brantley’s 20 home runs this season is extraordinary for a player who has never hit more than 10 in a season, yet this total doesn’t come close to matching up with either Martinez’s 32 or Trout’s 36, both career highs for each player. In a season in which only 11 players hit 30 home runs or more, these total become even more noteworthy. Another point for Trout.

While the MVP award is an individual achievement and RBI are dependent on other players getting on base, I still wanted to include it because of where Trout hits in the Angels’ lineup. Trout hit second for the Angels in every game that he appeared in, except for two in which he batted third. Trout managed to lead the AL in RBI, even though, according to Baseball Reference, batters hitting second this season produced just the fifth-most RBI, with only leadoff hitters and players batting seventh through ninth producing fewer. Again, RBI are team dependent, but I found it worth pointing out that Trout still drove in so many runs despite his spot in the lineup. Another tally for Trout.

Who Wins?

Victor Martinez and Michael Brantley had very impressive seasons and are both worthy of being finalists, finishing in the top 10 in almost every category from above. However, aside from his fWAR, Brantley only finished within the top five in one other category, ultimately dooming his case. Martinez has equally impressive offensive numbers to Trout, as they are basically even in wOBA and wRC+, but between Martinez’s inability to play the field or steal a base like the more complete player in Trout, this is where his case is doomed as well.

Competing with Trout is almost unfair as the guy is on another level. In the same categories mentioned, he finished no worse than third best and was either best in baseball or best in the AL in three of them. Trout should easily win the award this season and instead of adding to his collection (he could already have three!), it will be the first of what is likely many more MVPs to come.