10 Degrees: It's awards time, so that means it's time to talk about Mike Trout

MLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

After two years and thousands of words spent arguing on behalf of Mike Trout’s MVP candidacy, it’s nice to know that there’s really no argument this year, that Miguel Cabrera deigned to have a down season (by his lofty standards) and cede the honor to the best player in the game.

The Trout-vs.-Cabrera fight – and considering the vitriol that still pervades discussion over the last two American League MVP awards, fight is the kindest way to put it – spoke to the chasm that exists not just in pegging value but in what the award means.

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Value remains a nebulous word, one that divides even those who appreciate what advanced statistics explain. Most of the rift involves defensive metrics and just how accurately they peg true value, and in putting together awards this season, there is more of an emphasis on offensive performance and positional value than the defensive component in Wins Above Replacement. This isn’t to penalize the game’s elite fielders – some merit consideration – so much as to admit questions about how to divide the fielding-value pie. Questions that, when answered, may well prompt changes in results.

Until then, it’s best to vote with conviction, and the strongest among them is simple: The MVP is the best player, period. Doesn’t matter what team he’s on. Doesn’t make a difference if he’s going to the playoffs or not. Value exists on bad teams, too, and it’s one of the reasons

Angels center fielder Mike Trout is having another special season. (USA TODAY Sports)
Angels center fielder Mike Trout is having another special season. (USA TODAY Sports)

1. Mike Trout received such strong support in this space each of the past two years. It wasn’t his fault the Los Angeles Angels underachieved in 2012 and 2013. He was the best player in baseball each of those seasons, and even if his 2014 season pales, he’s still the best player this year, too. The American League MVP race isn’t close, something with which my Yahoo colleague Tim Brown agrees. Below are our ballots for AL MVP, and we’ll do the same for the other remaining awards, minus mine on AL Rookie of the Year and his on AL Cy Young, for which we have actual votes this season.

PASSAN

1. Mike Trout

2. Jose Abreu

3. Michael Brantley

4. Victor Martinez

5. Robinson Cano

6. Felix Hernandez

7. Adam Jones

8. Jose Bautista

9. Jose Altuve

10. Adrian Beltre

BROWN

1. Mike Trout

2. Jose Abreu

3. Victor Martinez

4. Josh Donaldson

5. Alex Gordon

6. Michael Brantley

7. Jose Bautista

8. Robinson Cano

9. Felix Hernandez

10. Jose Altuve

Trout plays a vital position (center field), runs well and has turned into the sort of hitter all the Cabreraphiles would love: a home run hitter who leads the league in RBIs and runs. Abreu’s bat has been incredible, and that gives him the edge over Martinez, his equal. Brantley is a wildly underrated hitter who runs the bases as well as anybody and more than holds his own in left and occasionally spells center.

Down ballot we’re similar, with my list missing Donaldson and Alex Gordon, two above-average hitters buttressed by excellent gloves. I’d have Donaldson ahead of Gordon because of third base’s greater value, and in fact, I’d put Kyle Seager ahead of both. The strongest late push to get on the back of the ballot comes from Cabrera, who has been brilliant in September despite injuries that would render most worthless.

Voters tend to like that sort of thing, and those in the Baseball Writers Association of America who determine the annual awards tend to take longer than most to evolve, which might make the candidacy of ...

2. Clayton Kershaw for National League MVP a bit problematic. From here, it’s a fairly simple calculus: Pitchers be eligible to win the MVP award because a ton of value can indeed exist in a player who goes only every fifth day.

This season, Kershaw has faced 718 batters. Ian Kinsler leads all of baseball with 692 plate appearances. Meaning Kershaw has had every bit the opportunity to affect a game with his arm as every hitter in baseball has with his bat. The question, then, is whether holding batters to a .195/.232/.292 line over those 718 plate appearances translates into greater value than the combined plate appearances and fielding efforts of all his position-playing peers. That is more or less the equivalent of 718 straight plate appearances from Stefen Romero.

Turning lineups into that while Pac-manning innings is intriguing enough, and having no surefire challenger makes it all a little easier.

PASSAN

1. Clayton Kershaw

2. Andrew McCutchen

3. Giancarlo Stanton

4. Jonathan Lucroy

5. Buster Posey

6. Anthony Rizzo

7. Johnny Cueto

8. Josh Harrison

9. Justin Upton

10. Carlos Gomez

BROWN

1. Clayton Kershaw

2. Giancarlo Stanton

3. Andrew McCutchen

4. Jonathan Lucroy

5. Buster Posey

6. Anthony Rizzo

7. Anthony Rendon

8. Josh Harrison

9. Carlos Gomez

10. Hunter Pence

Aside from McCutchen and Stanton being flipped, our top six are the same. I loved Cueto’s sneaky-great season on the miserable Reds as did Tim, who avoided the odd feeling I have not putting one player from the best team in the NL on the ballot. That shows just how deep the Nationals really are, and how they may be all that stands between ...

3. Clayton Kershaw and a World Series. Kershaw won his 20th ga ... hey. Wait a minute. Kershaw was just the second degree. What gives?

It's almost shocking how good Clayton Kershaw has been. (AP)
It's almost shocking how good Clayton Kershaw has been. (AP)

That’s how good Kershaw has been this season. Two middle-of-10-Degrees-degrees is indeed a rare treat, like cracking a peanut and finding three nuts inside. So why him? Well ...

He leads all of baseball in ERA, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, strikeouts per nine, hits per nine, complete games, Win Probability Added and a whole slew of other advanced metrics that exist mainly as an homage to his awesomeness.

He’s throwing 69.1 percent first-pitch strikes – the league average is 60.7 percent – and when he’s ahead 0-1, hitters are batting .164/.183/.241 against him.

Hitters swing and miss at 14.2 percent of his pitches, 1.5 percent better than the next-best starter (Chris Sale) and better than all but 15 relief pitchers.

He’s working on his fourth consecutive major league ERA title. The last player to do that is no one.

So, yeah, Kershaw wins the NL Cy Young, and anyone who wants to argue otherwise should start a subreddit called I Don’t Know Baseball.

PASSAN

1. Clayton Kershaw

2. Johnny Cueto

3. Adam Wainwright

4. Madison Bumgarner

5. Cole Hamels

BROWN

1. Clayton Kershaw

2. Johnny Cueto

3. Adam Wainwright

4. Julio Teheran

5. Madison Bumgarner

Apologies to Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann, Tyson Ross, Lance Lynn and a plethora of NL pitchers penalized by the short ballot. The back of the AL ballot is similarly crowded, though at the top ...

4. Felix Hernandez stands alone for the second time. Four seasons ago, his triumph was a bellwether for sabermetrics infiltrating the BBWAA’s electorate. Hernandez won the award convincingly despite a 13-12 win-loss record. His other numbers – the league-leading 2.27 ERA spread over the league-leading 249 2/3 innings pitched – more than supported his case, though the specter of the meaningless record cast his candidacy in doubt. He took 21 of 28 first-place votes in a blowout, and his gaudy ERA and innings totals put him in strong position for a second Cy Young before his 29th birthday.

PASSAN

1. Felix Hernandez

2. Corey Kluber

3. Chris Sale

4. Jon Lester

5. Dallas Keuchel

The best case for ousting Hernandez comes from Kluber, though he doesn’t come with the name recognition and may not even place among the top three. He’s got to fight the brilliant Sale, Lester putting together the most incredible walk year in ages, other big names like Max Scherzer and David Price and James Shields, and Keuchel, who has induced groundballs on an absolutely bonkers 63 percent of outs. That’s nearly 20 percent higher than ...

5. Jacob deGrom, which is no insult toward the New York Mets’ right-handed rookie. He does his finest work via the strikeout, with nearly one per inning, and by keeping the baseball inside the park, with a home run rate lower than a half per nine innings.

The NL Rookie of the Year award isn’t so much an actual race as it is a stumble toward the finish. The prohibitive favorite, Billy Hamilton, can’t keep his on-base percentage over .300. The most dominant pitcher, Ken Giles, is a reliever. The one with the gaudiest ERA, Kyle Hendricks, can’t strike anyone out. The best compromise is deGrom, who has thrown the most innings of NL rookie starters by more than 20 and sports an ERA second only to Hendricks’.

PASSAN

1. Jacob deGrom

2. Billy Hamilton

3. Travis d’Arnaud

BROWN

1. Jacob deGrom

2. Billy Hamilton

3. Ender Inciarte

It’s nothing like the American League, where ...

6. Jose Abreu would seem to have a stranglehold on the Rookie of the Year, even if he isn’t the typical rookie. Abreu played 10 seasons in Cuba, starting as a 16-year-old, before defecting to the United States and debuting as a 27-year-old. He has been better than anyone expected, even the Chicago White Sox, and the incredible contest between him and Masahiro Tanaka for Rookie of the Year never materialized after Tanaka’s elbow injury.

BROWN

1. Jose Abreu

2. Matt Shoemaker

3. Dellin Betances

Others worth mentioning in this loaded AL class include Collin McHugh, Yordano Ventura, Marcus Stroman, Jake Odorizzi and Danny Santana, on whom ...

Twins pitcher Phil Hughes has cut down on walks and had real success this season. (AP)
Twins pitcher Phil Hughes has cut down on walks and had real success this season. (AP)

7. Phil Hughes has relied to Hoover the scant few groundballs he generates. Hughes is and always will be a flyball pitcher, though this year he has added to his resume the sobriquet of ridiculous control artist. In his second season, Hughes walked 15 batters in 34 innings. This season, he has walked 16 in 201 2/3 innings. Considering what a mess he was last season – his 16th walk arrived in his 63rd inning, and he finished the year with a 5.19 ERA – Hughes and his potentially record-setting 11.31-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio this year merit the Comeback Player of the Year Award in the AL.

My pick in the NL is Justin Morneau, who last season looked nothing like his former MVP self after returning from concussion problems only to be a couple points shy right now of winning the batting title. It’s an incredible story, though a little less literal than Tim’s pick, Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee, who literally came back from Japan to prove a productive major league hitter. His AL choice, Seattle pitcher Chris Young, did something few considered possible: stay healthy a whole season. The 35-year-old Young didn’t pitch in 2013 and barely did so from 2008-11. Half a decade of next to no performance usually portends the end, though the warm bosom of Safeco Field and the splendor of his high fastball did for Young’s career what ...

8. Bruce Bochy seems to do every year for the San Francisco Giants. They’re not the most talented. They lost the two linchpins of their World Series rotation, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, to injury and ineffectiveness. And still, they’re all over the quarter-billion-dollar Dodgers, threatening to steal the NL West. No, the Giants aren’t the Little Sister of the Poor, by any means, but they are the team with the least to complain about in the NL.

PASSAN

1. Bruce Bochy

2. Mike Matheny

3. Matt Williams

BROWN

1. Bruce Bochy

2. Mike Redmond

3. Don Mattingly

Now, Cardinals fans love to bellyache about Matheny, and much of it is warranted. One of the considerations I use for Manager of the Year, though, is just how much a team is outplaying its run differential. And considering the Cardinals are more games over .500 than they are runs scored over runs allowed, that qualifies, as does Matheny helping keep his team from going tilt after the shocking (and, inside the clubhouse, disconcerting) trade deadline flip of Joe Kelly and Allen Craig for John Lackey.

Williams, too, gets credit for keeping players happy amid Bryce Harper’s lineup comments that bugged more than a few as well as managing expectations for a Nationals team that has played better down the stretch than any in the NL. Strategically, Williams can be a mess, but his ability to keep distractions from festering is a talent worth a lot in the difficult-to-measure managerial criticism business. Even so, the best job of the season necessitates a 38-mile jaunt up north to see ...

9. Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles. Matt Wieters? Out for the season. Manny Machado? Out for the season. Chris Davis? Out for the season. And here Baltimore is, close to locking up home field in the division series, perhaps threatening the Angels for it throughout the playoffs. It’s a masterful job by a masterful manager, one of those who would be a joy to watch manage in the World Series.

PASSAN

1. Buck Showalter

2. Mike Scioscia

3. Joe Girardi

BROWN

1. Buck Showalter

2. Lloyd McClendon

3. Mike Scioscia

The other shared name on the ballots is Scioscia, the Angels’ manager who last season found his future in question, which is funny to think about now, what with his team threatening to win 100 games and fulfilling their promise even with Garrett Richards done for the season and Josh Hamilton in need of a dozen cortisone shots over the last two weeks. The main criticism of Scioscia was that he had wasted the first two years of ...

10. Mike Trout’s career. Which isn’t totally true. Scioscia could’ve wasted them by burying a young player on the bench. He instead unleashed Trout, and the game hasn’t looked the same since.

Criticism still comes this way all the time for preferring Trout over Cabrera each of the last two seasons, and it’s easy to stomach knowing you’re on the right side of history. Trout’s performance this year stands alone, something the most ardent Cabrera fans would admit. Or maybe not. Their allegiances could well shift to Martinez and his gaudy numbers.

Whatever the case, marveling at Trout is no crime. Here are how his numbers stack up against another young star through his age-22 season

 

Hits

HR

RBI

BB

2B

3B

OPS+

Trout

566

96

303

265

111

25

166

Mystery star

563

91

378

350

120

28

182

 

The mystery man is Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived. And while the slash line shows Williams’ superiority – .356/.475/.640 to Trout’s .306/.395/.548 – their OPS+ says the two aren’t nearly as far apart as those numbers make it seem.

It is worth repeating, because the most stubborn holdouts still refuse to acknowledge a very cool reality: We have the privilege of watching one of the most talented players ever to take a baseball field. Trout could flame out next year and never be the same. He could blow a knee out. He could hurt his shoulder or back. Baseball is a cruel game, and sometimes it doesn’t even spare its best.

For now, though, it’s best to appreciate Mike Trout for what he is: The finest reason to tune in to playoff baseball, an unquestionable MVP gearing up for a coronation due him long ago.

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