The American League MVP Chase Is a Two-Horse Race
I wonder what it's like to have people chanting "MVP, MVP, MVP!" whenever you show up to work.
I'm a pretty valuable cog in my job, and I like to think that my co-workers think I do an excellent job. I'm a top performer, and yet, I never hear anyone chanting "MVP, MVP, MVP" whenever I walk into a room. It's a unique job this "baseball player" occupation.
Josh Donaldson heard it a lot during the Blue Jays' three-game series sweep of the Angels in Anaheim this weekend. Jays fans in attendance shouted that little bit of positive reinforcement from the stands on more than one occasion as he went 8-for-15 in the series, with four doubles, one home run and nine RBI, becoming the first player in the Majors to top the century mark in RBI.
And don't look now, but Donaldson now appears to be in a great spot to win the American League Mike Trout Award... uh, I mean, the American League MVP Award.
No, the commissioner didn't re-name the AL award after Trout, who over the last four seasons has unquestionably become the best player in baseball, but he might as well have. A vote for anyone other than Mike Trout over the last few years was worthy of scorn and derision. Oh my, the derision. But in 2015, Donaldson has made this a legitimate horse race.
And it goes beyond this weekend's series in which the two top contenders for MVP went head-to-head. While Trout did not fare as well against Toronto, going hitless in the first two games before notching a 3-for-4 game with a triple in the finale, his overall numbers prove this a race that is still way too close to call.
There are so many numbers at which to look, and no matter how you look at them, it's impossible to pick who is having the better season right now.
Donaldson has a better fWAR and nERD, more homers (by one), more RBI (by a lot), more runs scored (95 to 80), and more doubles (34 to 23). However, Trout has the better bWAR, OPS, weighted on-base average (wOBA) and weighted runs created (wRC+), all of which indicate he's had a better offensive season than Donaldson. And both are plus-defenders.
Donaldson's RBI and runs scored totals are buoyed by the fact that he is part of the best lineup in baseball, filled with mashers and offensive stars capable of getting on base in front of him and driving him in from lower in the batting order. Trout has his running buddy in Albert Pujols, but there isn't much else in the Angels lineup other than that (no offense, David Murphy).
But this hasn't all come out of nowhere.
In 2013, Donaldson was worth 7.6 fWAR for Oakland and hit .301/.384/.499 with 24 homers, 93 RBI and a wRC+ of 148. Last year he hit .255/.342/.456 with 29 home runs, 98 RBI, a wRC+ of 129 and an fWAR of 6.6. But since coming over to Toronto in a trade over the winter, at the top of a lineup filled with sluggers, in a hitter's park, Donaldson has simply not stopped raking.
This is all happening as Trout is having perhaps his best season as a slugger. He's not stealing 30 or 45 bases like he did in 2012 and '13, but his 33 homers are already creeping up on last year's career high of 36, and his wRC+ of 170 is right in line with his career highs. Simply put, he's still perhaps the best run producer in baseball, and he's doing it with far less help than Donaldson is.
Of course, if MVP voters need a tiebreaker, many of them will give this award to the player who makes the postseason. After Sunday's games, Toronto was a half-game in front of the New York Yankees in the AL East and comfortably in position to snag at least a wild card, with a 96.4% chance of making the postseason, according to our algorithms.
Conversely, the Angels are going the wrong way, now in third place in the AL West behind the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, with a 29.6% chance of reaching the playoffs.
None of that will be Trout's fault, of course, but with two players so evenly matched, it's likely writers will use that as a basis to make a decision.
There are still five weeks left, enough time for one of these guys to separate himself from the rest of the pack. But if the vote were held today, my hunch is Donaldson would unseat Trout as the American League's Most Valuable Player.