Boston Red Sox: Closer look at Mookie Betts v. Mike Trout for AL MVP

In Part II of a two-part series, I compare the candidacies of the AL MVP, Mike Trout of Los Angeles, and the runner-up, Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox.

Oct 7, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) hits a single against the Cleveland Indians in the sixth inning during game two of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This article is Part II of a two-part series. In Part I, I discuss the MVP selection process in illuminating detail, while in this article, I closely examine the credentials of the winner, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the runner-up, Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox, in order to provide an answer to the simple question, “Did the voters get it right?”

My initial thoughts were to question how much “value” a player on a 74-win team could contribute. However, the 30 voters who determine the award’s recipient are provided with vague and nebulous criteria regarding the quantification of “value.” As a result, one voter’s interpretation of “value” can differ substantially from that held by a different voter.

In addition, I learned that certain historically applied criteria for MVP voting, e.g., MVP award recipients should lead their teams to postseason play, and Designated Hitters are ineligible for the award, are nowhere to be found on the ballot’s instructions. In fact, the ballot specifically states, “Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.”

Now, there is ample cause to believe that the aforementioned misconceptions are components of the selection criteria, because, as indicated in this November 18, 2016 piece by ESPN SweetSpot blogger David Schoenfield, it is stated, “Trout became the first player on a losing team to win MVP honors since Alex Rodriguez in 2003.” In addition, Schoenfield states, “Of the 20 MVP winners from 2006 to 2015, 17 played on playoff teams.” Lastly, although the ballot affirms a Designated Hitter’s eligibility for the award, the fact remains that no player whose primary position is “Designated Hitter” has ever won the MVP award.

Oct 10, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) reacts after scoring a run in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game three of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Numbers:

The offensive numbers of Trout and Betts are eerily similar. Betts produced a .318/.363/.534 slash, compared to Trout’s .315/.441/.550. Betts hit 31 HRs compared to Trout’s 29, and drove in 113 runs compared to Trout’s 110. Betts had 214 hits compared to Trout’s 173. The only significant advantage held by Trout was bases on balls; Trout collected 116 of them while Betts drew only 48 free passes. These walks account for Trout’s significantly greater OBP.

In addition, Trout had an OPS+ of 174 compared to Betts’ 131. In a November 17, 2016 article by Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald, he eloquently points out that offensively, the two compared very similarly with the exception of bases on balls and hits. It should be noted that Betts led the Major Leagues in total bases with 359, while Trout finished with 302.

Trout bested Betts in WAR with a 10.6 to 9.6 advantage.

Perhaps Trout had a better year offensively, although if he did, it was by the slimmest of margins.

Defensively, however, Betts outclassed Trout, and by a substantial margin. According to FanGraphs, Betts saved 32 Defensive Runs; as compared to Trout’s six. Furthermore, Betts had 14 outfield assists while Trout had only seven. Lastly, Betts won a Gold Glove, an award voted on by MLB managers and coaches, while Trout was not even nominated as one of the three center fielders eligible to win the award.

Perhaps the most significant stat of all was that Betts led his team to 93 wins and an AL East championship, while the Angels finished with a mere 74 wins, one spot above the division basement.

Oct 10, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) rounds third base to score a run in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game three of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The “Experts’” Faulty Logic

While the consensus of many “experts” is that Trout’s selection as 2016 AL MVP was the correct choice, the logic utilized in reaching said conclusion appears to be faulty. First, it is important to realize that the MVP is not a lifetime achievement award. In addition, it is not awarded to a player simply because many feel said player is the best baseball player on the planet and, as a result, is deserving of an annual acknowledgement of this fact.

In a November 18, 2016 article written by Sam Miller and retrieved from ESPN.com, Miller states, “On Thursday, Mike Trout won his second AL MVP award. This is the outcome I had hoped for: The best player won the award that most closely corresponds to the question, “Who was the best player?” It’s the outcome that the BBWAA had avoided in three of the previous four seasons, when Trout was (by Wins Above Replacement, and in all three of the most prominent public models of it) the best player in baseball but the runner-up in MVP voting.”

Miller further explains this reasoning when claiming, “…concluding that Mike Trout is the most valuable baseball player in the world should be one of the easiest decisions an MVP voter gets to make in his or her life. It is certainly about time that Trout won a second award. There is no credible argument that would suggest Trout isn’t the best player in his league, or that he wasn’t this year. Over his five-year career, he has led the AL in Wins Above Replacement five times.

This seems to imply that Miller is advocating for Trout, at least, in part, based on what he has produced over the past several seasons. Annual awards are awarded, well, annually, and as such, should be entirely based on a player’s performance within a given season, with no consideration of said player’s performance in previous seasons. It appears that Miller is not basing his selection, entirely, on the player who contributed the most value toward winning games this season. If that’s the case then we have distinctly different definitions of the term “valuable.”

Sep 30, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) hits an RBI single against the Toronto Blue Jays in the seventh inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Final Verdict:

If one has been paying attention up to this point, (while also recognizing that one is visiting a site devoted to the Boston Red Sox), it should be obvious whom I believe deserved the AL MVP award. Yes, Mike Trout had a great year; however, was he more “valuable” to the Angels than Betts was to the Red Sox?

I echo the same sentiments expressed by Nick Carfado of the Boston Globe in his November 18, 2016 article, “I didn’t vote for the award this year, but if I had, the one thing that’s foremost on my mind when voting for this award is what did this “most valuable” performance mean for his team? For the Angels it meant zippo…Betts helped lead the Red Sox to a division title.”

Carfado went on to say, “In this case, yes, the MVP likely should be the best player, but his performance both offensively and defensively had to have meant something for the team…Like I said, use all the numbers, the advanced metrics you’d like. They’re awesome for determining the best player. They’re useful for just about everything except for determining an MVP.”

One can think of this question in the simplest of terms: If the Angels were without Mike Trout, they would still be a bad team. If the Red Sox were without Betts, they do not make the playoffs. From a team standpoint in a team sport, have I not made it abundantly that Betts was the more valuable player in 2016?

Of course, the MVP can go to a player on a losing team. In 1987, Andre Dawson put up numbers that were so superior to those produced by any other player in the league. I have no issues with that. However, if the numbers are virtually identical, it is incumbent upon the BBWAA to reward the player that contributed to a team accomplishment.

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