The MVP races are usually a big topic of conversation in baseball circles every November. There’s talk about who the best player in each league was and who deserves the award. This year in the NL it should be Kris Bryant who wins, topping off the Cubs amazing season. Bryant certainly deserves it and it should be his first nod. The AL race is a lot closer and has more discussion surrounding it this season. The finalists are Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Jose Altuve. Most people seem to think the race will come down to Trout and Betts though. Let’s compare and contrast them.
Well first off, I’ve always heard an argument in baseball circles that the MVP should go to the most valuable player instead of the best. That argument usually is put into place when comparing a player who competes on a team that made the playoffs, like Mookie Betts, to a guy whose team did not make the playoffs, like Mike Trout. I think that you can measure the general valuableness of a player by looking at certain things though. Betts’ team did make the playoffs but that’s just because he has better players surrounding him than Trout did. Nobody on trout’s team has ever won a Cy Young (like David Price), or was close to the level of Rick Porcello this year. Trout didn’t get to hit around David Ortiz, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, and Dustin Pedroia this season either, he just hit around Kole Calhoun and the old version of Albert Pujols (good but nowhere near the 2001-11 version). So if anything I actually think that helps show that Trout was more valuable, but let’s look at further.
Mookie Betts just won a Gold Glove and he deserved it 100%. He also won the Fielding Bible and Wilson awards for being the best defensive right fielder in baseball. In fact, Wilson named him the best fielder in baseball for 2016. He only trailed Kevin Kiermaier in dWAR this season and had a 10.6 DEF according to FanGraphs. Betts also lead the league in defensive runs saved. Trout was just above average when it came to defense. If he had stepped it up a bit, he could’ve probably ran away with MVP, but he only saved 6 runs and had a DEF of 0.7 and dWAR of 1.0, which hurts him compared to Betts, despite being an above average fielder. There’s also baserunning in which Trout had 9.3 BaseRunning Runs according to FanGraphs and Betts had 9.8. According to Baseball Prospectus BaseRunning Runs measure Trout was at 4.8 and Betts at 8.6, leading the AL and only trailing Billy Hamilton in the MLB. Trout did steal four more bases though. Again, Trout is great but Betts just had an awesome season on defense and the base paths, and he has a bright future doing this for years. After looking through these, you have to give Betts the edge. He’s literally a human highlight reel.
Offense usually is a player’s biggest contribution to the game. It’s how guys like Adam Dunn kept a job in the NL for years. They had negative value on defense, but their offensive output had more of a positive impact than their glove did a negative one. When looking at offense, Trout absolutely stole the show following up his 2015 campaign in which he reached the 40 homer plateau for the first time with a season almost as good. Trout had a wOBA of .418, a stat that weighs each hit and walk according to a run value. The only man with a higher wOBA was David Ortiz, by .001. So basically Mike Trout was David Ortiz with slightly less power and amazing defense and baserunning. Trout was just flat out the best hitter on planet Earth this year Trout had 9.9 oWAR compared to Betts very respectable 6.2 according to Baseball Reference. As far as counting stats go, Trout hit a two less homers than Betts, but scored an extra run over Mookie and hit .003 less while leading the league in walks. Betts had 11 more extra base hits too. Trout had 100 RBI, but that was 13 less than Mookie. When looking at RBI percentage Betts drove in 20 percent of his runners on compared to Trout’s 17 percent. Mookie had the advantage of hitting in a better lineup and that lead to him stepping to the plate 49 more times than Trout. That’s 7% more plate appearances, which give him a slight advantage for counting stats. Betts was pretty much the second best hitter in the AL. Josh Donaldson is a close third though. Trout also had an edge OPS+ leading the league with one of 174, Mookie had one of 131. Looking at RC+ Trout also lead the MLB with 171, way above Betts 135. So when you dive deeper into the stats on offense, Trout has a definite edge over a very good Mookie Betts.
Mookie Betts is a very, very good player. I would give Mike Trout a slight edge and give him the 2016 AL MVP if I had a vote though. His offensive edge overtakes the deficits he had on defense and the basepaths. Trout was just the better hitter over the Pas he got this year and offense is the biggest part of the equation. One thing is for sure, either guy is deserving of the award, it just seems to me that Trout was slightly better. The MVP is an individual award though and if Betts wins it, it isn’t because he helped take his team to the playoffs, it will be because the writers thought that he was the best individual player in the AL.