As Mike Trout and Kris Bryant become the 2016 MVPs, it is seemingly impossible to pinpoint which award-winner is the better ballplayer.
As a number of franchises continue on into the offseason empty handed, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Chicago Cubs celebrate their award-winning superstars. They revel in the unbordered potential of outfielder Mike Trout and third baseman Kris Bryant, who took home the MVP awards in their respective leagues.
Every year, the outcome of baseball’s annual awards arouses controversy and debate around whether the BBWAA chose correctly. The choices for the MVP awards are no exception, however the debate of which award-winner is better is much more difficult to determine.
Big Fish in a Little Pond
Over the course of six seasons, the 25-year-old centerfielder rapidly became the household name of the Angels. Trout’s career began with as the Rookie of the Year and is littered with impressive defensive plays, historic All-Star appearances and, most of all, two MVP awards.
Having only played 40 games in 2011, Trout did not qualify for the Rookie of the Year award until 2012. After hitting .326 with 49 steals and 30 homers, he received 140 vote points, beating Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish as the 2012 Rookie of the Year.
Following an All-Star sophomore season, Trout batted .287 and hit six more homers than he did as a rookie. Combined with his first career postseason appearance, Trout unanimously received the 2014 American League MVP award.
A midst another disappointing season for his team, Trout hit .315 and led the major leagues in runs (123), walks (116), and on-base percentage (.441). What the Millville Meteor lacked in power, hitting only 29 homers, he made up for with 30 stolen bases. Getting caught only seven times, Trout put up the second best stolen base percentage of his career. In the end, Trout won his second MVP award in the last three years, despite the Angels 74-88 season.
In fact, what makes Trout’s MVP experience even more impressive are the years he did not win. When the face of the Angels is not winning MVPs, he is coming in second place. Since 2012, Trout finished second three times in the MVP voting, including 2013 when he lost by only three votes.
I Ain’t Afraid of no Goat
Since being called up in 2015, Bryant has enjoyed two full seasons in the major leagues. And “full” does not only refer to the 150-plus games he played in 2014 and 2015. More importantly, Bryant became the fourth player in baseball history to win a MVP the year after being the Rookie of the Year. He joins Cal Ripken Jr., Ryan Howard and Dustin Pedroia on the elite list of ballplayers to accomplish this feat.
The Chicago Cubs selected Bryant second overall in the 2013 amateur draft, hoping to turn their luck around. Almost immediately after he debuted on April 17, 2015, the third baseman did just that. Leading the Cubs’ to their first postseason appearance since 2008, Bryant batted .275 with 26 homers and 99 RBIs. Furthermore, he hit one home run and drove in two runs in the Cubs failed postseason run. Regardless, his regular season stats and postseason appearance deemed Bryant worthy of the 2015 Rookie of the Year award.
Motivated by his taste of the postseason, Bryant showed his immunity to the “sophomore slump”. In fact, Bryant improved in runs (121), homers (39), RBIs (102) and batting average (.292) compared to 2015. Prior to fielding the final out of the Cubs’ first championship since 1908, Bryant improved an already impressive postseason resume. Within his .269 World Series batting average, Bryant smacked two home runs and scored six times, including a crucial run in Game 7. Adding his extended playoff appearance to his regular season success, Bryant won the MVP after receiving all, but one, first place votes.
Trout vs. Bryant
Even with all of this in mind, it does not make deciding which MVP is better any easier. On one side, Bryant’s rapid rise into superstardom outranks Trout’s first two seasons. He is only two-seasons-old in major league baseball years, yet his trophy shelf features the Rookie of the Year award, an MVP and a World Series ring.
On the other hand, Trout’s experience works in his favor and his career is far more established than Bryant’s. On top of the two MVP awards shining on his trophy shelf, Trout leads Bryant in a number of offensive and defensive categories. Not to mention, he managed to achieve those accomplishments in spite of his stumbling team.
The best answer, while potentially unsatisfactory, is we will have to see. While Bryant is on track to match Trout’s success, the game itself is proof that anything can happen. We may see Trout’s career reach unimaginable heights that could erase any doubt that he is the best in baseball. Likewise, Bryant could usher in a new era of Cubs baseball and become the centerfold of a future dynasty. For now, enjoy the ride, appreciating the excitement and talent both bring to the National Pastime.