Mike Trout Is Worthy of the American League MVP Award Despite a Shortened Season
Mike Trout deserves to be in the conversation for the American League Most Valuable Player award. Any other year, that would be a given -- the 26-year-old is the best player of our generation and will probably go down as one of the most talented players in the history of the game if he keeps up his historic pace.
However, this year is different. Mostly because of his thumb.
Trout has been a model of durability throughout his young career. Entering 2017, the outfielder missed a grand total of 16 games over the past four seasons and never spent any time on the disabled list. That is, until a torn ligament in his thumb cost him 39 games in May and June. Usually, an injury of that magnitude would all but eliminate a player from any consideration for postseason awards because their playing time just doesn't match up with other contenders.
An injury-shortened season does not necessarily eliminate a player from MVP contention, but it is extremely rare that someone wins in that situation, as an exceptional season is needed in order to overcome that disadvantage. It has happened in the past, though.
Mickey Mantle played in only 123 games in 1962, but captured the AL MVP award anyway. He had a robust triple slash of .321/.486/.605 with 30 home runs that produced a 192 wRC+ and a 6.0 fWAR. And since he was so much better than the average player that year, there was no choice but to honor his season with the award.
Rickey Henderson was limited to 136 games in 1990, but still took home the award off the strength of a .325/.439/.557 line with 28 homers, a 190 wRC+, and an fWAR of 10.2. He wasn't forced to the sideline as often as Trout has been this year, but he was well worthy of taking home the hardware.
Possibly the best example we have, though, is what George Brett did in 1980. He appeared in just 117 games, but his performance while healthy more than made up for his absence. He slashed .390/.454/.664, with 24 home runs, a 198 wRC+. and a 9.1 fWAR.
As you can see, it is possible to win an MVP award despite missing a considerable number of games in a single season. It just takes a prolific performance to make it possible, which is exactly what Trout has done.
Trout's Best Season
The Los Angeles Angels outfielder has set a high bar for himself based of the numbers he's posted between 2012 and 2016, but he's somehow found a way to put together a year that's been his best yet. He has a triple slash of .306/.444/.622 entering action on Friday with 31 home runs and a 180 wRC+, and although he's only been on the field for 111 games, he's the current owner of a 6.5 fWAR, which ranks third in the American League.
While the batting average is the second-highest mark of his career, the on-base and slugging percentages are both on pace to be new career highs, as is his wRC+. He's also drawing more walks than striking out -- he's one of five players in baseball to do that, but the only one to do it in the AL.
Above The Competition
Trout's best season has put him at the top of the Junior Circuit in a number of offensive categories, even ahead of Altuve and Judge, who have been generating most of the MVP buzz, as the below chart displays.
Trout leads the way among these three in OPS, BB/K rate, and wRC+, while barely trailing Judge in ISO. He lags significantly behind in fWAR, but it's only because of the time he's missed due to injury. Judge has earned 1.7 extra fWAR in 41 more games while Altuve has earned 1.2 extra fWAR in 39 more. If he didn't get hurt, it wouldn't be surprising to see the reigning AL MVP pacing the league in fWAR, too.
For all of the (well deserved) praise Altuve and Judge have gotten this year, Trout has been better, which is truly impressive.
It would be easy to write him off due to his smaller sample size. He probably won't win this award for the second consecutive year, but he's produced one of the best offensive campaigns we've seen since 1997. We're seeing the best of Mike Trout this year and he deserves to be in this conversation.