Mike Trout, the 2017 AL MVP, and Barry Bonds

Mike Trout started the 2017 season hitting .337/.461/.742, a 210 wRC+, and 16 HR in 206 PA before getting injured and missing a month and a half. This was not only a devastating blow to the Angels playoff chances, but to Mike Trout’s legacy as he had the lead over everyone going for yet another MVP award.

Taking a quick look back in his first five full seasons, 2017 being his sixth, Trout has finished 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, and 1st in MVP voting. All of this was done through 25 years old. Through just five full seasons, Trout has acquired 3.96 MVP shares, 17th all-time. Just some of the Hall of Famers he is ahead of are Hank Greenberg, Pete Rose, George Brett, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Johnny Bench, Roy Campanella (3-time winner, by the way), and again all but 16 others who have ever played in the MLB.

Essentially, Trout has been absolutely other-worldly to this point in his career. 2017 looked like it would add greatly to his already staggering resume, but the injury and time missed looked like it was going to put a damper on things. However, since returning to action on 7/14, Trout has continued what he started hitting .363/.469/.663 with a 204 wRC+ and 7 HR in 96 PA. Overall his offensive numbers are the best in his career to this point.

Trout’s Career Highs

One thing that is clear is that Trout will finish with the lowest amount of games played in his career this season, taking away the 40 games he had in his debut season. With that aside, here are his pre-2017 career highs in offensive categories compared to his 2017 numbers along with his 2017 pace:

Stat Year 2017 2017 Pace
BA 0.326 2012 0.346 0.346
OBP 0.441 2016 0.464 0.464
SLG 0.59 2015 0.716 0.716
HR 41 2015 23 39
2B 39 2013/2014 17 29
3B 9 2013/2014 2 3
wOBA 0.423 2013 0.472 0.472
wRC+ 176 2013 208 208
fWAR 10.5 2013 5 8.6
G 159 2015/2016 68 117

Some things stand out immediately:

  • At the very most, Trout can only play 117 games this season. It’s likely he will sit some out for rest but should play 112-117 total.
  • Because of the lack of games played, it’s unlikely he will set career highs in any of his HR, 2B, or 3B.
  • He has a .020 point lead in BA, .025 point lead in OBP, and a huge .126 point lead in SLG so far this season over his previous career highs.
  • With the career highs in OBP and SLG, this has his wOBA nearly .060 points higher than his career high as well.
  • Lastly, we come to his wRC+, which is sitting at a mighty 208 at the moment. This dwarfs not only his career high of 176, but leads the MLB this season by 33 points.

Mike Trout, Barry Bonds, and wRC+

The 208 wRC+ Trout is currently sporting is more special than many may realize. In the last decade, minimum 250 PA, there are only four players (2017 Trout, 2015 Bryce Harper, 2013 Miguel Cabrera, and 2013 Hanley Ramirez) to have better than a 190 wRC+. None of them outside of Trout broke the 200 mark.

Going back further to the year 2000, minimum 250 PA, there are only five seasons with at least a 200 wRC+. Four of these (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004) belong to Barry Bonds, and the other to Mike Trout this season.

If we go alllll the way back to 1918, we find only 32 seasons of hitters breaking the 200 wRC+ mark. It took 12 players to get those 32 overall seasons, with only five of them able to do it multiple times. Of the 12 players on the list, the only ones not in the Hall of Fame are Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Mike Trout, and Gavvy Cravath.

Both Bonds and McGwire are not in the Hall of Fame because of a scandal involving performance enhancing drugs. Gavvy Cravath played just 83 games in the 1919 season he had a 214 wRC+, and only played 1220 in his career. Meanwhile, Trout is still three seasons short of qualifying.

As far as his overall position on the list, with his 208 wRC+ Trout sits at 20th at the moment. Bonds and Trout are the only players to make the top 20 since Ted Williams in 1957 at a 223 wRC+ himself. Based on all of this information, it’s safe to say that Trout is in the most elite of the elite company in MLB history. But what does this mean for 2017?

The 2017 AL MVP Race

As of today, the 8th of August, the two leading the AL MVP race by a country mile are Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve.

Judge – .299/.424/.627 35 HR .431 wOBA 175 wRC+ 6.0 fWAR in 462 PA

Altuve – .364/.424/.570 16 HR 24 SB .419 wOBA 169 wRC+ 5.7 fWAR in 473 PA

Otherwise, when looking for players qualified for the batting title, no other player really comes close to the pair of Judge or Altuve. The gap by fWAR between Altuve and the next closest player is 4.5 with Andrelton Simmons, then 4.3 with Mookie Betts. The problem these two is that a huge bulk of their value is from their spectacular defense, which voters generally overlook when it comes to this award. After this, Jose Ramirez (4.0 fWAR), Carlos Correa (3.9 fWAR), and George Springer (3.9 fWAR) all look like top five contenders, but they just don’t have the numbers to hold up to Judge and Altuve.

It seems that with the injury to Trout that it will be a two-man race for the MVP at first glance. However, when looking deeper and taking into account just how amazing Trout has been, even in 40 fewer games, Trout is smack dab in the middle of this race.

Trout – .346/.464/.716 23 HR 13 SB .472 wOBA 208 wRC+ 5.0 fWAR in 302 PA.

Despite playing nearly 40 games fewer to this point, Trout remains only 0.7 fWAR behind a surging Altuve and 1.0 behind a slowing down Judge. If we look at the rest of season paces of each player for fWAR, here is where each player would end up:

Judge – 52 games remaining, on pace for 3 fWAR, with a total of 9 fWAR.

Altuve – 51 games remaining, on pace for 2.6 fWAR, with a total of 8.3 fWAR.

Trout – 49 games remaining, on pace for 3.6 fWAR, with a total of 8.6 fWAR.

If these paces do hold, this would be one of the most intense MVP races of this generation. By putting up an fWAR so similar to Judge and Altuve’s, it would give Trout a hell of an argument for the MVP award. The problem, of course, will be the argument against him of time missed due to injury. If we look back to just last season, we have seen something similar with the 2016 NL Cy Young Award.

Clayton Kershaw and 149 Innings Pitched in 2016

In 2016, Clayton Kershaw had all-time great ERA, FIP, and K/BB ratio numbers. He had a 1.69 ERA, 1.80 FIP, and best all-time 15.64 K/BB ratio. If we lived in a perfect world, we would have seen Kershaw play completely healthy all season and been able to find out if he would have been able to do this over 220-plus innings pitched. However, we live in an unfair world at times, and much like Trout this season, Kershaw was injured and miss over a month.

Also much like Trout, although he missed time and pitched only 149 innings for the season, Kershaw was right around the top of the leaderboards, actually tying for the overall lead in fWAR at 6.5 with Noah Syndergaard. The same argument you can make for Trout this season is what supporters of Kershaw made for him. Yes, he pitched fewer innings than his competition for the award, but his rate stats were historic.

Going back to 1970, Kershaw’s 1.80 FIP is third overall behind Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Dwight Gooden in 1984. Kershaw’s 1.69 ERA is sixth overall behind Gooden in 1985, Greg Maddux in 1994, Kim Kern in 1979, Maddux again in 1995, and former teammate Zack Greinke in 2015. As well, his 15.64 K/BB ratio was the best all-time.

Despite all of these things, Kershaw received just two first place votes, getting 14% of the vote share, and finished 5th in Cy Young voting. Max Scherzer took home the award with a great, but not historic season. This is the kind of battle that Mike Trout will be facing in November later this year when he finishes with 150-plus fewer plate appearances and nearly 40 games fewer than Judge and Altuve.

Overall Impact

When it all comes down to it, the hardcore fans of baseball will still remember what Trout does if he keeps the insane pace he’s led to this point. Much like Clayton Kershaw in his 2016 injury shortened season or 2015 when he finished third in NL Cy Young voting with 301 strikeouts. There are plenty of instances in MLB history where a less deserving player ended up winning an award because they had a better story, a playoff team behind them, or just more momentum towards the end of the season. This should not take away from the fact that Mike Trout is doing something only Barry Bonds has done since the late 50s, which is to have a top 20 wRC+ since the Dead Ball era.

MVP or not, Trout is the best player in the game, and all missing 40 games does is level the playing field with the rest of the league.