It feels like an upset that Mike Trout won the American League MVP. That says enough about where the baseball world is.

Or rather, where it’s been.

In the weeks, days and hours leading up to Thursday’s big announcement, it seemed like everyone was bracing for Trout (and fellow finalist Jose Altuve) to fall short of Mookie Betts in the AL MVP vote.

Trout had numbers, as usual. But Betts had numbers and what’s historically a big advantage: His Boston Red Sox made the playoffs and also won 19 more games then Trout’s Los Angeles Angels.

But whaddya know! Turns out the Baseball Writers’ Association of America had a surprise in store. For the second time in his career, Trout is the American League’s Most Valuable Player.

And it wasn’t even close. Trout received 356 points to Betts’ 311 and Altuve’s 227. Trout also received 19 first-place votes to Betts’ nine and Altuve’s zero.

“It’s crazy,” the 25-year-old said on MLB Network, via Austin Laymance of “Can’t take anything away from Mookie and Jose Altuve, great guys, great team guys. I’m speechless, man.”

The Houston Astros would have struggled to get to even 84 wins without Altuve. The tiny-yet-fierce second baseman won the AL batting title with his .338 average and also chipped in 24 home runs and 30 stolen bases.

Likewise, the Red Sox would have been a lot worse without Betts’ .897 OPS, 31 homers and 26 steals. This is not to mention the defense he played in right field, which earned him a Gold Glove and more defensive runs saved than any other defender.

With respect to Altuve, it’s Betts’ performance that stands out. And the fact it was all in service of a winning team would have earned him some hardware on Thursday under normal circumstances.

You know, the same circumstances that contributed to Trout’s falling short in 2012, 2013 and 2015. The circumstances that said, “Sorry, dude. You’re really good, but your team missed the playoffs.”

This year, the writers flipped the script and chose circumstances many have been begging them to choose for the last five years: All that matters is who’s the best.

Because this is an article in honor of Trout’s value, here are the three letters you’ve been expecting: W-A-R. 

Yeah, it just wouldn’t be a proper AL MVP discussion without referencing Trout’s value as measured by wins above replacement. And whether you prefer the Baseball-Reference.comFanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus version, he easily topped both of his competitors:

Betts and Altuve shouldn’t feel bad. Everyone else in the AL finished behind Trout in WAR this year too. That’s the way it’s been for five seasons now.

And no, that’s not normal. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Trout’s five straight seasons leading the AL in WAR is the longest stretch since a fella named Babe Ruth back in the 1920s and ’30s. There’s your daily reminder that when it comes to Trout and WAR, the most relevant names are typically legendary ones.

WAR, of course, is a convoluted stat. But as a measure of all-around value, it usually has the right idea. 

Trout was a monster at the plate in 2016. He hit .315 with 29 home runs and a .991 OPS. He led all of baseball with his .441 on-base percentage and his 174 OPS+, which adjusts his OPS in part to account for the huge dimensions of Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

After a couple of down seasons, Trout also got back to being a monster on the bases. He swiped 30 bases after stealing just 27 in the last two seasons combined and finished barely behind Betts for the MLB lead in total baserunning value.

On defense, the advanced metrics rated Trout’s play in center field as somewhere between acceptable (minus-0.3 UZR) and quite good (six DRS). Given that center field is more difficult and more important than left field and right field, even merely acceptable center field defense is welcomed.

Trout has offered nits to pick in past seasons. In 2014, he struck out too much. Last season, his already declining baserunning got especially mediocre. Et cetera.

But in 2016? A guy who was already regarded as the best player in baseball turned in arguably his best season yet. The best got even better.

The only reason to deny Trout the MVP was the one most everyone expected to be used against him: He didn’t play for a winning team. This is true. The Angels won just 74 games, and even that seems like a lot for a team that was a ghostly shimmer outside of Trout.

But as Dayn Perry did a wonderful job of breaking down at, the notion that MVPs must come from winning teams is manufactured. The voting guidelines mention no such thing, nor are there any ambiguous hints toward such a guideline. The only thing ambiguous is how to define “valuable.”

If we’re being fair, that means voters need not consider only WAR and its assorted parameters when weighing MVP options. It would be perfectly reasonable, for example, to make a case for why Betts deserved extra consideration over Trout because of how he specifically helped the Red Sox get to 93 wins and into the postseason.

Thing is: That case doesn’t exist.

You could make the case that Betts pushed the Red Sox into the playoffs when it mattered most in September. But he didn’t. His OPS in the season’s final month was just .762. Among the many players who outperformed him was Trout, who had a .948 OPS.

You could also make the case that Betts had a lot of clutch hits throughout the year. But he didn’t do that either. He had a .907 OPS in high-leverage situations. That landed far short of the MLB leader in that category.

Who, by the way, was Mike Trout.

His upset on Thursday is therefore of the pleasant variety. This is not a case of the MVP going to the best player who also had X, Y and Z. It’s a case of it going to the best player, period.

What a concept! What’s say we try it again sometime?


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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