ANAHEIM, Calif. — The announcement Monday afternoon that Mike Trout had been voted American League Rookie of the Year was expected (so much so, he won the honor unanimously). But there remains a sense of anticipation about Thursday, when he’ll find out how his incredible summer measures up against the Triple Crown.
The debate over Most Valuable Player still rages — sabermetrics that favor Trout’s contributions to the Angels versus Miguel Cabrera’s historic triple for the Detroit Tigers. But for now, Trout has the one postseason award that was a no-brainer.
His season was something to behold, historic in its own right when you consider the numbers he posted: a .326 average, the first rookie to hit 30 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season, and 129 runs scored, just three fewer than Joe DiMaggio’s rookie record.
In collecting every first-place vote, Trout finished far ahead of runner-up Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A’s and pitcher Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers, who finished third. The Angels’ only other Rookie of the Year, Tim Salmon in 1993, was also unanimous.
But it’s the MVP that remains most intriguing since it pits new-school thinking against the hallowed mark of the Triple Crown — leading the league in batting average, homers and runs batted in — which Cabrera won, the first to do it since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
Trout led the majors in something called WAR — wins against replacement — and there are plenty of supporters who believe it’s a more revealing stat than the Triple Crown.
To win the MVP, Trout said in a conference call with reporters, “would just top it off. Coming into the year, and coming into every year, my goal is to be the best player and make the most impact as a player on the field. Just to be in the MVP talk with these big guys like Cabrera and the Triple Crown, it’s an incredible feeling and hard to explain.”
Even dismissing WAR, Trout’s season was out of the ordinary. He wasn’t called up from the minors until April 28, missing the Angels’ first 20 games because of a spring illness and a bloated outfield. But his impact was fast and furious.
By the end of the season, he ranked in the top five in the AL in average, runs scored, stolen bases, slugging and on-base percentage. At 20 years old, he was the youngest player since 1960 to lead the league in hitting at the break and earned a spot on the AL roster for the All-Star Game.
At 21 years, 58 days old when the season ended, he became the youngest AL player to win Rookie of the Year.
While his teammates, opposing players and everyone else marveled at his talent and drew comparisons to players such as Mickey Mantle and Rickey Henderson, Trout just kept playing. He insisted he didn’t realize he might win the award until the season was drawing to a close.
“All the talk started happening during the end of the year,” he said. “It really came out fast. I was having so much fun during the year that I really didn’t think of the award, so I was just going out there playing every night and doing what I could to help the team win.”
In fact, he almost did. Trout enjoyed a sustained success throughout the season and was more valuable than the Angels’ $240-million man, Albert Pujols, or Torii Hunter, who virtually carried the team over the final month in its failed attempt to reach the playoffs.
He did it with his glove and his bat. According to FanGraphs, he saved 22 runs on defense, fifth-best in the major leagues, and probably should have won a Gold Glove. His leaping, over-the-fence grab of an apparent homer by Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy was arguably the defensive play of the year.
Offensively, he displayed power he hadn’t shown in the minors, hitting 30 homers in 559 at-bats. In 1,117 minor league at-bats, he hit 23 homers.
“The power numbers definitely surprised me a little bit more,” he said. “I knew my power was there, I just didn’t know it would come so quick. Some of it was probably an adrenalin rush and just playing in (a big-league) atmosphere every night and being pumped, having fun and enjoying myself.”
His celebrity status at home in Millville, NJ, has been enjoyable, but he remains a small-town kid. He still lives with his parents, and he said he can’t go anywhere without being asked to sign an autograph or two.
“I get recognized more,” he said. “I think they’ve started carrying balls in their cars because I’d go out to a restaurant and they’d come up to me with a ball. I think it was just preparing themselves if they do see me.”
Cespedes, who played a critical role in the A’s charge to the AL West title, received 19 second-place ballots and six for third. Darvish, a 16-game winner for the Texas, got six votes for second and 19 for third.
But there was never a doubt who would win. It was Trout’s all the way.
The question now is, can he win MVP for an encore?