The MVP races in the American League and National League aren’t really races anymore.
In the AL, it’s never been a race, as Los Angeles Angels superstar center fielder Mike Trout has been the front-runner all season while putting up spectacular numbers. He’s still expected to win it in a landslide even though he’ll miss the last two weeks with a foot injury that will require surgery.
It would be his third MVP Award in his eight full seasons, to go along with four second-place finishes and one fourth.
That’s why many people consider Trout to be the best player in baseball, period.
In the NL, the unfortunate season-ending injury to reigning MVP Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers almost certainly clears the way for Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the award in his third big-league season.
With two weeks left in the regular season, here’s a breakdown by league:
What Trout did this season before getting hurt was simply remarkable. In August, he passed Derek Jeter in career Wins Above Replacement. His 72.5 career WAR, as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com, is the highest of all time by a position player by their 28th birthday, which for Trout was on Aug. 7. Ty Cobb is second at 69.0. Trout has already passed 27 Hall of Famers in WAR and currently ranks 57th on the all-time list for position players.
According to USA Today, this season alone he’s passed Hall of Famers Barry Larkin, Gary Carter, Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray, Ivan Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, Ryne Sandberg, Craig Biggio, Andre Dawson, and Willie McCovey.
When he was shut down for the season on Sunday, Trout was leading MLB in on-base percentage (.438), OPS+ (184) and walks (110), while leading the AL with a career-high 45 homers as well as in slugging percentage (.645) and OPS (1.083). He was hitting .291 with 104 RBIs.
The eight-time All-Star reached the 100-run, 100-walk, 100-RBI threshold for the second time in his career, and he’s only the 15th player to do it twice before his age-28 season, according to MLB.com.
“It’s my mindset coming in ever(y) year, I want to be (the) best player in the league,” Trout told reporters Sunday after he was shut down for the season. “Ever since I was a kid, that’s always been my mindset, just be the best. Thinking about being done when you have two weeks left, it sucks. I was having my best season.”
The eight-time All-Star will have surgery on his right foot because of Morton’s neuroma, a thickening of tissue around a nerve leading to the toes that causes pain.
Trout told reporters that he knew he’d need surgery when the season ended and that on some days it was tough to walk. He hadn’t played since Sept. 7.
If there’s one rap against Trout, it’s that he’s played in only three postseason games, when the Angels were swept by the Kansas City Royals in the 2014 AL Division season. That’s hardly his fault. The Angels simply haven’t been very good in Trout’s prime. They will finish with a losing record for the fourth straight season and out of the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
When Trout finally does win a playoff game with the Angels, it will be something. He was so convinced that the Angels are trying to build around him and Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani that he signed a 12-year, $426.5 million contract during spring training. It’s the biggest financial commitment to a player in North American team sports history.
At the time, Tyler Kepner of The New York Times called Trout “the greatest and least complicated player in baseball.”
Both Trout and owner Arte Moreno were pleased the huge contract wiped away any uncertainty that would have built had Trout decided to test free agency in two seasons.
“Mike Trout, an athlete whose accomplishments have placed him among the greatest baseball players in the history of the game, has agreed to wear an Angels uniform for his entire career,” Moreno said that day.
“This is where I wanted to be all along,” Trout said.
His teammates were naturally elated.
“I’m really happy and excited to play with such a great player for a long time,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “If anyone deserved such a big contract, it’s Mike.”
“I’m pretty sure I ain’t paying one more dinner for him,” said Albert Pujols, who still has two years left — at $59 million — on his 10-year, $240 million contract. “It’s well deserved. I don’t think there’s anybody in baseball besides him who deserves that.”
Trout has another intangible going for him: He’s simply a good guy.
In April, a strained groin kept Trout from making the trip to face the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who was on the Angels’ coaching staff when they won the World Series in 2002, was disappointed.
“I’ve done this for a couple of years now, and I’ve seen some guys who are a cut above, and he is,” Maddon told reporters after hearing that Trout wouldn’t make the trip. “Like Barry Bonds was — the same way — Ken Griffey Jr., Trout, his whole game is different. The whole game is different. He’s a game-changer on so many different levels. And he’s one of the nicest guys you’ve ever met in your life.”
There are other players having big seasons in the AL, including Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros and Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox.
Bregman is the best offensive player on an Astros team headed for its third straight 100-win season and that’s favored to win the World Series for the second time in three seasons. He’s the only player besides Trout in the 100-run, 100-walk, 100-RBI club.
Bogaerts got his 1,000th career hit and was only the third Red Sox player to do it before turning 27, according to MLB.com. Hall of Famers Tris Speaker and Bobby Doerr were the others. He’s the 33rd player who debuted since 1900 to have at least 100 homers and 1,000 hits before turning 27.
The race between Bellinger and Yelich was tight and intriguing until Yelich fouled a ball off his right kneecap last Tuesday night at Miami.
Yelich was hitting .329 with 44 home runs and 97 RBIs and had 30 stolen bases when he was hurt. He was leading the majors in slugging percentage (.671) and OPS (1.100).
Yelich tweeted this following the injury:
Bellinger has cooled off in the second half but he has an 8.3 WAR, tied with Trout for the best in the majors. Yelich was at 7.1 when he was hurt. Bellinger is still sitting on 44 home runs, same as Yelich. Bellinger is slashing .306/.408/.629.
Manager Dave Roberts said Bellinger’s drop-off could be from both fatigue and dealing with hype while playing for Hollywood’s team, which has clinched its seventh straight NL West title.
“When you’re in — which I’ve never been a part of — an MVP race, that might bleed in a little bit,” Roberts told reporters before a game in San Diego in late August. “It’s certainly not pressure, but I think there’s a thought to when you’re looking at the result of hitting a home run, that just doesn’t happen by trying to hit a home run. Getting back to being a good hitter, he can carry left, center, right by just being a good hitter, and the walks will come. We get back to that, it’s going to help us win more baseball games. If he does that, the MVP will take care of itself.”
Roberts continued, “The thing I see, with Cody coming into the season, his mindset was to be a really good hitter and be consistent in his mindset and approach. For me, when you try to slug, there’s pitches in at-bats that you miss, you foul off, you pop up, you swing and miss. Getting him back to the mindset of being a good hitter, and the fact that his swing has built-in loft, then he’ll, in turn, slug. You can’t expect a .400 average for six months, but I do think he can get back to become a good hitter. The slug, the on-base, will all come together.”
Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon is having a career year and is in the top three in many NL offensive categories, along with Yelich and Bellinger. But Bellinger has a clear edge in WAR — 8.2 to 6.3 — and homers — 44 to 33.