With the regular season ending on Sunday and almost all of the playoff spots locked up, there’s really only one big thing left to argue about: postseason awards. Today and tomorrow we will spend some time looking at who should win each of the four major awards and who will win them. Which are often totally different things. First up: the MVP
Who should win the AL MVP Award
This is a two horse race between Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout. You can’t find anyone who knows a lick about baseball who seriously thinks anyone else is in the mix for actually winning the award, even if there are a handful of “[so-and-so] should be in the conversation” deadenders. Screw “the conversation.” I don’t care who should be given downballot consideration. If you’re a voter and your 1-2 isn’t Donaldson or Trout in either order your criteria is sorta wacky. Whether you’re a “the MVP should be the best player” person or whether you’re one of those people who like to parse the meaning of the world “valuable,” it’s hard to make a case for anyone but these two.
And it’s a close damn case. As of this moment Donaldson is hitting .300/.375/.577, with 41 HR, 123 RBI and an OPS+ of 158. Trout is hitting .299/.402/.589 with 41 HR, 89 RBI and an OPS+ of 176. Trout hits in a much tougher park and has almost no one worth a tinker’s damn surrounding him in the lineup, thus explaining the advantage in OPS+ and the low RBI totals. Donaldson is on the best offensive team since steroids went out of style and has had a lot of chances to knock in guys.
However, this is not one of those classic (and frankly tired) old arguments between a SABR-friendly candidate with low RBI totals in Trout and some lucky RBI-gobbler in Donaldson. Donaldson is no Juan Gonzalez here, people. Sure he’s had more opportunities do do damage, but when you dig down into other meaningful stats he closes the gap with Trout a good deal. Trout is a gold glove center fielder but Donaldson is a fantastic third baseman and some defensive metrics (i.e. UZR and Defensive Runs Saved) favor his overall contributions. He’s been a great baserunner this year too. Probably better than Trout actually in terms of efficiency, and that’s saying something.
As for softer factors? Josh Donaldson has hit a bunch of walkoffs. Trout has made some highlight reel catches, robbing homers. Donaldson is on the best player on the best team and many will claim — not altogether inaccurately — that he brought fire and drive and all of that stuff to a perpetually underperforming Jays team. Many will say — almost certainly accurately — that Trout has almost singlehandedly carried a pretty flawed Angels team to the doorstep of the playoffs. You can argue this stuff around and around.
All of which is to say that either guy is a good pick. We’ve had co-MVPs in the past before and this would be a great year to get them again. If I had to vote I’d probably say Trout — I trust the offensive metrics more than the defensive ones and he does have an edge there — but I’d feel really bad choosing one over the other. Thing is, there isn’t a bad choice or a clear choice here and if you come across people arguing on TV or radio shows or on the Internet that there is one and anyone who thinks otherwise is stupid, you’ve encountered either a homer or a hot take artist and that person should not be taken seriously. Flip a damn coin: heads you win, tails you win.
Who will win the AL MVP Award
I feel like Donaldson will win it for a few reasons. None of them fantastic reasons but, because he is deserving on the merits anyway, it won’t be a tragedy. Toronto is a better story this year than Anaheim. Trout is old news who won it last year. There are still some people who will look at the RBI totals as a conversation-ender. There are still some people who like the “best player on the best team” stuff and they’ll be especially emboldened if the Angels fall short of the Wild Card. And I still think there are people angry about past Trout-Cabrera MVP arguments that were really referenda on sabermetrics and they’ll take some satisfaction in picking a candidate other than Trout.
Who should win the NL MVP Award
Who will win the NL MVP Award
Sorry if that’s rather curt, but really, no one is even in the conversation. Harper is hitting .331/.463/.649 with 41 HR 96 RBI and an OPS+ of 196. He’s tied for the lead league in batting. He’s tied for the league lead in OBP. He has nearly 100 points of slugging on everyone else.
Those are stupid numbers to which no one else compares be they on a good team or a bad team. And the two who come closest to him in sheer offensive numbers — Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt, and they aren’t terribly close in some categories — play on bad teams, nullifying any of that “what does ‘valuable’ really mean?” claptrap. The best position players on contenders — Anthony Rizzo and Andrew McCutchen — are really far off Harper’s pace. Like, 200 points of OPS off his pace. That’s an awful lot.
We give the MVP to Bryce Harper for the same reason that we used to give to Barry Bonds even if the Giants missed the playoffs: he’s just way better than anyone else and, even if you think the guy is a jerk for some reason, it’s not worth spraining your brain to make the argument to the contrary.