Boston Red Sox: Mookie was MVP caliber, Trout was MVP

Mike Trout wins the game of averages while Mookie Betts wins the game of aggregation. The reason why Trout deserves the MVP boils down to what the MVP means.

It may not be a popular sentiment among Red Sox Nation, but Mike Trout deserved the AL MVP over Mookie Betts. Let me first preface by saying that I’m as big of a Mookie fan as they come, and what he did in 2016 at age 23 was nothing short of remarkable. But it boils down to this: Betts was an MVP caliber player, Trout was the MVP.

When comparing the two young superstar outfielders on a purely numbers basis, even the most staunch pro-Betts supporters will have difficulty not favoring Trout. For the WAR junkies out there, Trout’s legendary 10.6 WAR is simply too much to ignore (not to discredit Betts’s otherworldly 9.6 WAR).

For those who think WAR is overused and overstated, don’t worry, because the argument doesn’t end there. Trout beat Betts handily in OBP (.441 to .363), slugging percentage (.550 to .534), OPS (.991 to .897), and OPS+ (174 to 131). Betts managed to lead most of the counting stats like hits, doubles, home runs, and RBIs; however, there’s a simple explanation for that.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

For one, he spent the vast majority of the season hitting leadoff before a late-season move to the third spot; meanwhile, Trout was steadily hitting third in the Angels lineup. That resulted in Betts receiving 49 extra plate appearances that Trout didn’t get the chance to hit. And secondly, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Betts was hitting in baseball’s most potent offense, while Trout was essentially an island of production surrounded by an ocean of futility. The Red Sox outscored the Angels 878 to 717, and a disparity this big is much like crediting a pitcher with the highest run support in the league for all 22 of his wins (sorry Rick Porcello, no disrespect intended, you deserved the Cy Young). Sure it’s incredibly impressive, but it’s a lot easier to do when you’re surrounded by All-Star caliber teammates.

Trout wins the game of averages and Betts wins the game of aggregation, and the reason why I think that Trout deserves the MVP because of it boils down to the way I interpret what the Most Valuable Player award means.

The MVP is an individual award that is based on individual production, completely isolated from what the rest of the 24 players on the active roster do. I take a strict interpretation of the award name; the Most Valuable Player is the most valuable player. There’s no asterisk that says “only qualified if his respective team makes the playoffs.” And that’s what I believe the main argument on the pro-Betts side of the coin to be. Mookie Betts deserves the AL MVP because his team made the playoffs and Trout’s didn’t.

I understand the argument, that Betts’s numbers, while not as prolific, hold more weight because they were accumulated under the pressures of a tight pennant race. But if we’re talking mental toughness here, doesn’t Trout deserve some credit as well?

For a competitive player, and there’s no doubt that both of the players in question are ultra-competitive, giving your best efforts day-in, day-out is second nature when the playoffs are in sight. But how about when your team is 14 games under .500, with no playoff hopes in sight? Coming to the ballpark with little purpose, Trout could have easily phoned the season in and coasted to the finish with stellar but not elite numbers.

Why shouldn’t we consider a team’s record when crowning the MVP? Because of the nature of the sport.

Baseball is a team sport, where each individual player is confined to their position and their spot in the lineup. This isn’t basketball where LeBron James can take the ball down every time, or football where Tom Brady is slinging every throw. Mike Trout and Mookie Betts get one position and one lineup spot and must wait their turn. Even the best baseball player of all-time can’t guide his team to the playoffs if the other 24 players on the roster aren’t doing their part.

In short, the argument for Trout is this: what more could he possibly have done? How could he have prevented the Angels’ 4.28 team ERA? Or their bullpen’s save percentage of 58%? Trout is a center fielder and a hitter, and in that capacity, he is the best in baseball. He is the deserving AL MVP.

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