Los Angeles Angels: Who can challenge Mike Trout for MVP? Nobody

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 10: Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels looks on before a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on August 10, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 10: Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels looks on before a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on August 10, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is building a compelling case to be a unanimous choice as the AL MVP for 2019.

With six weeks remaining in the regular season, only one question remains unanswered with respect to the American League Most Valuable Player Award: Will Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout be a unanimous selection.

The answer is probably yes.

Based on the data that tends to appeal to MVP voters, the Los Angeles Angels star is building a compelling case to win his third award, following up on the trophies he earned in 2014 and 2016. (He’s also a four-time runner-up).

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Trout leads the majors in on-base average at .440 and leads the American League in slugging average at .659. That gives Trout an American League-best 1.099 OPS. His 7.1 WAR also leads the majors.

If all that weren’t enough, Trout’s only plausible competition – Minnesota’s Nelson Cruz – recently went down with a wrist injury that is expected to sideline him until September.

There is a simple, straightforward and objective way to remove the sensory aspects from a measure of any player’s value relative to all other MVP candidates, resulting in an utterly objective finding. That method involves looking at the percentage and magnitude in each candidate’s “victories” in individual player-pitcher matchups, those micro-showdowns that are the heart and soul of baseball.

This formula has the salubrious side-benefit of allowing a fair comparison of the relative performances of both batters and pitchers, a challenge that often eludes MVP voters.

The formula for calculating this percentage is not at all complicated: divide total bases by plate appearances (assigning one base for walks and hit batters), and calculate the percentage of batter (or pitcher) “wins” in such matchups. When rating pitchers – who obviously are in the business of preventing the reaching of a base, not achieving same —  reverse the polarity of the result by subtracting it from 1.000.

Pitchers often get short shrift from MVP voters on the theory that “they have their own award.” However valid or invalid, that objection will be moot in 2019 since the data suggests that no pitchers merit serious MVP consideration. The ongoing tendency of managers to reduce pitcher workloads is having the side effect of weakening their relevance, and hence their award candidacies.

Among pitchers, the strongest candidate is Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton, with a 61.95 “win” percentage. That ranks him fifth, more than 10 percentage points behind Trout. The only other pitcher deserving of top 10 consideration is Mike Fiers, who currently stands 10th.

However, nobody is going to catch Trout this season anyway. Through Tuesday he had made 511 plate appearances, accumulating 375 total bases. That’s a 73.39 percent “win” rating based on the formula outlined above.

Only Cruz, at 69.17 percent when he was injured, was meaningfully inside 10 percentage points of Trout.

Trout has one other advantage: workload. His 511 plate appearances is 138 more than Cruz and also more than any plausible contender other than Rafael Devers (527). In award consideration, showing up counts.

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Here’s the data on the 10 strongest AL MVP candidates through mid-August.

Player, team                    Bases     PAs        Pct

Mike Trout, LAA               375         511          73.39

Nelson Cruz, Min             258         373          69.17

George Springer, Hou     254         398          63.82

Alex Bregman, Hou         317         507         62.52

Charlie Morton, TB          234        615          61.95

Carlos Santana, Cle         313         508         61.61

Gio Urshela, NYY             218         356         61.24

J D Martinez, Bos            308          504        61.11

Hunter Dozier, KC            253         417        60.67

Mike Fiers, Oak                243         614        60.42