MVP awards preview: Trout and Bryant deserve to win, but will both players do so?
It's difficult to recall a year in which so many of baseball's major awards seemed so up in the air at season's end. However, most of the results that have been announced this week have not reflected that suspense, with last night's AL Cy Young announcement finally causing some debate. On Monday, the Dodgers' Corey Seager received all 30 first-place votes to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award unanimously; in the AL, Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer was tabbed atop 26 ballots to beat out Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. On Tuesday, the Dodgers' Dave Roberts topped the Cubs' Joe Maddon for NL Manager of the Year, and the Indians' Terry Francona handily beat the Rangers' Jeff Bannister.
Yesterday, however, while Washington's Max Scherzer continued the trend with an easy win in the NL Cy Young voting (grabbing 25 of the 30 first-place votes), the AL's honor went to Red Sox righty Rick Porcello despite the fact that he got six fewer first-place votes than runner-up Justin Verlander of the Tigers.
Expect another close vote in at least one of the remaining awards, the AL and NL MVP, which will be announced tonight on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET. Remember that the balloting for all of these awards was completed by the end of the regular season (meaning postseason results are not a factor) and that for each award, two BBWAA-affiliated writers from each city in the league cast a vote. The candidates are listed alphabetically, and unless otherwise indicated, all WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference.com version.
Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros
.338/.396/.531, 24 HR, 96 RBIs, 30 SB, 154 OPS+, 7.7 WAR
At 26 years old, Altuve did more than just win his second batting title and lead the AL in hits (216) for the third straight season. The 5'6″ second baseman showed unprecedented power, setting a career high in homers and finishing fourth in the league in total bases (340), on-base percentage and OPS+. He also ranked second in times on base (283) and stolen bases and third in WAR.
Mookie Betts, RF, Red Sox
.318/.363/.534, 31 HR, 113 RBIs, 26 SB, 131 OPS+, 9.6 WAR
In his third season—one in which he didn't turn 24 until Boston was playing in the Division Series—Betts emerged as a superstar via career highs in every category. He sparked the league's most potent offense from atop the lineup by leading the AL in total bases (359) and finished second in batting average and hits (214), sixth in stolen bases and eighth in slugging percentage. He's second in WAR thanks to an off-the-charts 32 Defensive Runs Saved, the highest single-season total by a rightfielder. (According to FanGraphs, Betts's merely outstanding +18 Ultimate Zone Rating lowered his WAR to 7.8, though that's still good enough for second in the majors).
Mike Trout, CF, Angels
.315/.441/.550, 29 HR, 100 RBIs, 30 SB, 174 OPS+, 10.6 WAR
Trout didn't just lead the AL in WAR for the fifth straight season or turn in his best year since his 2012 rookie campaign (yes, even better than his MVP-winning season of two years ago). He also became just the sixth player since the end of World War II with multiple 10-WAR seasons, joining Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle, Cal Ripken and Carl Yastrzemski. Trout drew a league-high 116 walks en route to the AL's highest OBP in three years, cracked the top five in the other two slash stats, led in OPS+ for the third time and missed his second 30–30 season by only one home run—and he just turned 25 in early August.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
.292/.385/.554, 39 HR, 102 RBIs, 149 OPS+, 7.7 WAR
Bryant followed his NL Rookie of the Year season of 2015 with an even better campaign, helping the Cubs to the majors' best record (and eventually—though it won't have helped his candidacy here—their first World Series title since 1908). He led the league in WAR and runs scored (121) and ranked third in homers, fourth in slugging and ninth in on-base percentage. Along the way, he trimmed his strikeout rate from 30.6% to 22%. Defensively, he showed off his versatility by making 48 starts in the outfield (at least one at each position) and six at first base to go with 100 at third base; he was a combined 10 runs above average according to Defensive Runs Saved.
Daniel Murphy, 2B, Nationals
.347/.390/.595, 25 HR, 104 RBIs, 157 OPS+, 4.6 WAR
Murphy carried the 2015 changes he made in his mechanics and approach—on display during the Mets' run to the World Series—over to his new home in Washington after signing a three-year, $37.5 million contract with the Nationals last January. He finished with the league's highest slugging percentage, its second-highest batting average and in a tie for the second-highest OPS+. What’s more, Murphy had an outsized impact on the NL East race, hitting .413/.444/.773 with seven homers and 21 RBIs against his former team to help Washington go 12–7 against New York en route to winning the division by eight games. But his cringe-worthy defense at second base—he was -9 in DRS—caused him to finish outside the top 10 in B-Ref's version of WAR. (FanGraphs, which had his UZR at -6, had him sixth at 5.5.)
Corey Seager, Dodgers
.308/.365/.512, 26 HR, 72 RBIs, 137 OPS+, 6.1 WAR
Seager was the consensus top prospect in the game coming into 2016 after a terrific final month as a September call-up in '15. He lived up to the hype in his first full season, emerging as an All-Star, a lineup centerpiece and a standout defender (at least according to Ultimate Zone Rating, which rated him at +11 runs, compared to his zero Defensive Runs Saved). Despite a sluggish April, the 22-year-old younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager finished second in the NL in hits (193), fourth in total bases (321) and WAR (FanGraphs had him second, at 7.5) and sixth in OPS+, helping the Dodgers to their fourth straight NL West flag and earning NL Rookie of the Year honors earlier this week.
Trout is the game's best player, but without the best teammates he may well lose out on this award again. The Angels went 78–84 en route to a fourth-place finish in the AL West, which will give some voters an excuse to instead tab Betts, who helped the Red Sox win the AL East. Only five times in the history of the award has a player from a sub-.500 team won it: Ernie Banks in 1958 and '59 and Andre Dawson in '87 for the Cubs; Cal Ripken in '91 for the Orioles; and Alex Rodriguez in 2003 for the Rangers. The bet here is that Trout won't be the sixth, and that Betts will take home the hardware.
As for the NL, Bryant's stellar season on both sides of the ball merits the award. Expect him to win comfortably.