MVP de­bate to be a WAR

Trout’s time on the dis­abled list and An­gels’ record could af­fect him in con­sid­er­a­tion for the award.

Los Angeles Times - - INSIDE BASEBALL - BILL SHAIKIN ON BASE­BALL bill.shaikin@la­times.com Twit­ter: @Bil­lShaikin

We thought a rite of sum­mer had been ex­hausted and re­tired. Lit­tle did we know.

We thought Mike Trout’s rous­ing vic­tory in the Amer­i­can League most-valu­able-player race last year had put an em­phatic end to the in­creas­ingly te­dious an­nual de­bate over whether a player from an in­fe­rior team should win.

Yes, if he were de­cid­edly bet­ter than the can­di­dates from con­tend­ing teams.

Brace your­self for the mother of all MVP de­bates. Could Trout be the most valu­able player if he does not ac­tu­ally play for a third of the sea­son?

Trout, the An­gels’ cen­ter fielder and the best player in base­ball, is ex­pected to sit out six to eight weeks af­ter thumb surgery last Wed­nes­day. Let’s as­sume he re­turns in seven weeks and plays ev­ery game the rest of the sea­son.

That would give him 113 games. No po­si­tion player has won an MVP award with so few games, with the ex­cep­tion of seasons in­ter­rupted by strike.

The Trout-driven ar­gu­ments in pre­vi­ous sum­mers have re­volved around how best to de­fine value, and which sta­tis­tics best sup­port your def­i­ni­tion. The MVP bal­lot in­structs vot­ers that “there is no clear-cut def­i­ni­tion of what most valu­able means” and does not man­date or even men­tion any par­tic­u­lar sta­tis­tics for vot­ers to con­sider.

Ex­cept one: “num­ber of games played.”

Trout is atop all the WAR (wins above re­place­ment) charts this sea­son, and his back­ers com­monly cite that statis­tic — a pur­ported catch-all num­ber that val­ues of­fense, de­fense and baserun­ning — in pro­claim­ing his dom­i­nance. So we asked Mike Petriello, so skilled at trans­lat­ing an­a­lyt­ics into English for MLB Net­work, if Trout could pos­si­bly end the sea­son atop the WAR charts de­spite such a lengthy ab­sence.

“Will he lead the AL in WAR this year? Doubt it,” Petriello said. “Will he still rank in­sanely high for a guy who missed two months? As­sum­ing he comes back at full Trout, hell yeah.”

That would make it easy for the Trout par­ti­sans to ar­gue that he is the best player in base­ball yet again. And that would again trig­ger the ques­tion of whether the best player is the most valu­able, this year in the con­text of games played.

“There’s some­thing be­hind that guy who is play­ing 158 games a year, grind­ing it, hot and cold, dead tired,” said Tim Salmon, the for­mer An­gels star and cur­rent tele­vi­sion an­a­lyst.

“To me, that’s a huge dif­fer­ence. That might be the case with Mike if he misses 50 games.”

Said An­gels re­liever Hus­ton Street: “Games played does ab­so­lutely mat­ter. It’s how many games you have an in­flu­ence on the out­come.”

But Trout was putting up a ca­reer year, in a ca­reer in which he has won two MVP awards and could have won five. He was on pace to bat .337 with 49 home runs, each of which would be a ca­reer high, and lead the league in on-base per­cent­age and slug­ging per­cent­age.

“He was on his way to a truly his­toric year,” Street said. “There’s a cer­tain level of dom­i­nance that al­ways mer­its dis­cus­sion, but it’s got to be that level of dom­i­nance. If he keeps up that pace, he’s def­i­nitely in the dis­cus­sion.”

In 1980, Ge­orge Brett car­ried a .403 av­er­age into Septem­ber and fin­ished at .390. He won the MVP award de­spite play­ing in only 117 games. His Kansas City Roy­als went to the World Se­ries.

In 1962, Mickey Man­tle led the league in on-base per­cent­age and slug­ging per­cent­age. He won the MVP award af­ter play­ing in 123 games. His New York Yan­kees went to the World Se­ries.

Trout over­came the hur­dle of play­ing for a fourth-place team last year. Could he over­come twin hur­dles this year: the An­gels’ record and close to two months on the dis­abled list?

“It can still hap­pen,” said Hall of Famer Paul Moli­tor, the Min­nesota Twins’ man­ager. “My vote would not be overly bi­ased by the fact that a guy played 40 less games if his im­pact was that great, which he has the po­ten­tial to be.

“If the An­gels find a way to hang on the pe­riph­ery in his ab­sence, and all of a sud­den they have a tremen­dous last two months with a healthy Mike Trout push­ing them over the top, that’s go­ing to have a lot of value.”

The is­sue ought to re­main dor­mant now, un­til the An­gels get a sense of whether Trout can re­turn on sched­ule and how he looks when he does.

“Hope­fully, he’ll pick up ex­actly where we left off,” An­gels man­ager Mike Scios­cia said. “If that hap­pens, we’ll see some num­bers that are still go­ing to be pretty in­cred­i­ble.”

That would be half the bat­tle. The other half: beat­ing back the com­pe­ti­tion.

“I think it comes down to who the other play­ers are in that con­ver­sa­tion, and what kind of years they had,” Salmon said. “You would have to have a class, I think, that is kind of medi­ocre.”

Can the Yan­kees’ Aaron Judge keep hit­ting a home run ev­ery other night? Can the Tampa Bay Rays’ Corey Dick­er­son keep record­ing two hits ev­ery other night?

Does an­other con­tender de­liver a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to Trout from a more likely group of can­di­dates that in­cludes Jose Al­tuve and Car­los Cor­rea of the Hous­ton Astros, Mookie Betts of the Bos­ton Red Sox, Fran­cisco Lin­dor of the Cleveland In­di­ans, and Miguel Sano of the Min­nesota Twins?

Those an­swers will come in time. For now, let us ap­pre­ci­ate how im­prob­a­ble it is that Trout still can be con­sid­ered an MVP con­tender when a third of the sea­son will go on with­out him.

Street, search­ing for a com­par­i­son of dom­i­nance, threw out the name of Sandy Ko­ufax, who was elected to the Hall of Fame based on his per­for­mance over five seasons — five of the most spec­tac­u­lar seasons any­one ever will see — be­fore his el­bow could tol­er­ate no more and he re­tired at 30.

“Sandy Ko­ufax makes the Hall of Fame right af­ter the bare min­i­mum of time,” Street said, “but it was so dom­i­nant and so beau­ti­ful and awe-in­spir­ing that you can’t deny that.”

Trout’s ca­reer arc has as­cended to that rar­efied level. It sounds crazy to say an MVP could play barely more than 100 games.

“He’s still Mike Trout,” Street said. “I’m not go­ing to doubt him.”

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

MIKE TROUT of the An­gels is ex­pected to sit out six to eight weeks be­cause of a thumb in­jury that re­quired surgery, po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing his chances in the derby for Amer­i­can League MVP.

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