A large part of New York sports talk radio this past week has been dominated by Yankees fans trying to argue that DJ LeMahieu should be the MVP of the American League, even over the transcendent Mike Trout. Maybe this is just insecurity over Trout recently surpassing Derek Jeter in career WAR in just his ninth season or it could be some good old favorite team bias, but either way, it’s an incredibly bad take.
Let’s get this straight, DJ LeMahieu is having a very good season – he may even win the batting title – but he is not the MVP. He’s not even close. Why is he not even close? Well, because no one in baseball comes close to Mike Trout.
There’s even an argument for LeMahieu not deserving to even finish in the top three due to the presence of Alex Bregman and Rafael Devers, but we’re just going to take a look at one of the more polarizing player-on-player debates that has engrossed the New York area media.
Let’s take a look at their seasons to date. For those who have been following this season closely it will be obvious which player is which, but let’s try to be as objective as possible.
Player A: .332 AVG, .378 OBP, .532 SLG, 22 HR, 87 RBI, 90 R
Player B: .293 AVG, .437 OBP, .638 SLG , 42 HR, 99 RBI, 103 R
Which player would you rather have on your team? Easily Player B, which, of course, is Mike Trout. Sure, LeMahieu does have Trout beat in batting average by a little over 30 points, but despite this, Trout still has an on-base percentage that’s almost 60 points higher and is leading the MLB! Add in his American League-best slugging percentage that is just a few ticks under .650, and you have an OPS that’s almost a full 200 points better than LeMahieu.
Not only that, but LeMahieu has had a season like this before, and it was arguably even better. In 2016 with the Colorado Rockies, he hit .348 and won the batting title. His OBP was significantly better than this year, and while he did hit for less power, his increase this year has largely been a result of playing half his games in Yankee Stadium, with almost three quarters of his home runs coming at home. In fact, his OPS is over 150 points higher when hitting in the Bronx versus anywhere else.
Where did LeMahieu finish in the MVP voting in 2016 you ask? Right behind Buster Posey, at No. 15 in the National League. The actual award went to Kris Bryant, and while his average was noticeably worse than LeMahieu (.292), he beat him in almost every other category. On a side note, if you’re curious who won the award in the American League, it was none other than Mike Trout.
Now that it is established that Trout is clearly having a better overall season than LeMahieu, let’s address the other argument, specifically the “V” in MVP.
A lot of people believe that the MVP award can’t go to a player on a losing team, because if a player can’t get his team to win ballgames, he, therefore, can’t be that “valuable.” However, I look at the MVP as essentially the “best player” award, regardless of the success that the team had. The MVP itself is an individual award that rewards a single player’s performance throughout the regular season. Therefore, the success of that person’s team should not have any effect on who wins the award. Theoretically, a player could have a season where every game they would go 4-4 with four home runs, but if the team surrounding him combines to go 0-27 and give up five or more runs every game, they would still finish the season at 0-162.
Should this imaginary player, who we’ll call Player X, still win the MVP even though he never won an actual game? Absolutely, because he was the best player in baseball.
Why should Player X be denied the MVP award in favor of someone who had an inferior season but was on a winning team? He shouldn’t.
Just as saw with Player X, team wins and player performance can operate at completely different levels independent of one another. Player X did everything he possibly could to put his team in the best position to win, but ultimately his supporting cast couldn’t get the job done.
If Trout does win MVP this season, it would not be the first time that someone on a team with a losing record won the award. Trout himself did it in 2016 when the Angels went 74-88, and Alex Rodriguez did it in 2003 on the 71-91 Texas Rangers. Ernie Banks, Andre Dawson and Cal Ripken Jr. are other big names to win the MVP award despite being on bad teams.
If that didn’t sell you on it, then let’s look at “value” in a different way than it is normally interpreted. If Trout and LeMahieu were to both hit free agency at the same time, Trout would be the more highly coveted player by far. He would easily receive a larger contract than LeMahieu, because he would be the more VALUABLE asset for teams to have. Why is he a more valuable asset? Because he is by far the better player.
If you were to take Trout and LeMahieu from their respective teams and plop them onto a team currently in the playoff hunt, say, my New York Mets for example, who would make a bigger impact and therefore be more valuable? Trout would without a doubt, because he is the better player, and better player equals more valuable.
If none of this is good enough for you, and you’re thinking to yourself, “This is all just if’s, you can only go off of what actually happened,” well guess what, there’s an answer for that too. See, people much smarter than myself have already figured out a way to measure a player’s value and transform it into one number, and that is WAR, or Wins Above Replacement.
On the MLB website, it states that “WAR measures a player’s value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he’s worth than a replacement-level player at his same position.” There’s a whole long formula that uses a bunch of stats that is used to approximate a player’s value, but do you want to know what is not factored into it? Team wins.
While WAR is not a perfect stat, it is by far one of the best tools available for judging how valuable a player is. In case you were wondering, Trout blows away LeMahieu in WAR as well, 8.0 (which leads the MLB) to 5.1.
Michael Nelson Trout is the American League MVP, and it’s not even close.
Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at Jorge.firstname.lastname@example.org.