Here's a look at who took home all the 2016 MLB hardware: Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year, Cy Young Award and MVP. USA TODAY Sports
Mike Trout finally overcame his team’s incompetence.
Long regarded as the game’s top player, the Los Angeles Angels center fielder was named the American League MVP on Thursday in a close race with Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts.
It’s the first time a player in either league earns the MVP on a losing team since Alex Rodriguez won it with the Texas Rangers in 2003.
Trout received 19 first-place votes from 30 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to outpoint Betts, 356 to 311. Betts got nine first-place votes to finish ahead of Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (227 points).
The question of whether a standout player from a non-contending team deserves the MVP was at the heart of this year’s ballot once again, with Trout producing another breathtaking season but for a club that finished fourth in the AL West at 74-88.
Trout has finished in the top two of the MVP balloting in all five full seasons he has played but had only won the award in 2014, when the Angels claimed the division title. The three times he was runner-up, they wound up no better than third.
His plight had become cause celebre among many in the analytics crowd, especially those who embrace wins above replacement (WAR) as the ultimate barometer of a player’s worth.
Trout, who led the league in runs scored (123), on-base percentage (.441) and walks (116), batted .315 with 29 home runs, 100 RBI, 30 steals and a .991 OPS. He beat out Betts in WAR in both the Fangraphs.com version (9.4-7.8) and the baseball-reference.com formula (10.6-9.6).
He certainly had less offensive help than Betts, with the Angels finishing 10th in the league in scoring.
Betts, who turned 24 in October, wasn’t even the most prolific hitter in a potent Red Sox lineup that scored the most runs in the majors. That distinction belonged to designated hitter David Ortiz, the only player in baseball with an OPS above 1.000 (1.021) and one of three Boston hitters to drive in at least 100 runs.
But Betts, 5-9 and 180 pounds, put together a sensation year in all aspects – hitting, fielding and baserunning. He batted .318 with 31 home runs, 113 RBI and an .897 on-base-plus-slugging percentage while leading the AL in total bases. He also finished second in runs scored (122), won a Gold Glove in right field and stole 26 bases in 30 attempts.
Advanced metrics show Betts was one of the three top defensive outfielders in the AL last season, and according to some stats the very best one. Those numbers indicate that Trout, known for his propensity to rob home runs with leaping catches, has descended into average territory as a fielder. He did not finish among the three Gold Glove finalists.
It’s not clear how much influence that had on the voters. Even with the development of improved methods to measure fielding, offensive production tends to carry considerably more weight.
Usually, how the player’s team performs in the standings is regarded as a major factor as well, but this year Trout’s magnificent play would not go unrecognized.