With just over half the season left to play, Mike Trout looks like the odds-on favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year award. But could he pull a Fred Lynn and win the AL MVP award as well? More importantly, should he?
I have heard the argument that the Angels' season turned around when Trout was recalled, which is so much hogwash. That's the application of a concept that applies to other sports -- that one player can dramatically change a team's fortunes -- to baseball, where the impact of one player on a team's record, even a very good player, is quite limited. The best players in baseball each year are typically worth about 9 wins above a replacement-level player; according to Fangraphs, the last position player to be worth 10 WAR in a single year was Barry Bonds in 2004 (a year in which he was intentionally walked 120 times). So if we assume that Mike Trout is the best player in baseball and that he was replacing a replacement-level player, he might have added just less than three wins to the Angels' total over the 47 games he has played. Their turnaround has been a team turnaround, not just the infusion of a single player.
So the argument for Trout as MVP shouldn't be built around the Angels' record with or without him because it doesn't have to be built on such a fairy tale story. Trout's own performance to date is enough justification to at least put him among the top 3-4 candidates in the league.
Trout's raw stat line heading into the weekend series against the Dodgers is impressive on its own -- .333/.397/.532 with a league-leading 19 stolen bases in just 22 attempts -- and while the batting average may not remain as high, he's a very disciplined hitter and his walk rate is likely to rise even as his BABIP (currently at .395) regresses. Metrics demonstrating his overall value tell an even more amazing story. I tend to prefer Fangraphs' version of Wins Above Replacement, and Trout fares extremely well there despite playing in fewer games than the players surrounding him on the leaderboard, ranking second in the league so far, just 0.1 wins (the equivalent of about 2 runs produced/saved) behind league leader Josh Hamilton. If you prefer Baseball-Reference's flavor, Trout ranks second in the league in WAR behind only Brett Lawrie, who benefits there from an insane (and obviously inaccurate) defensive rating that seems to think he's Brooks Robinson. The rate stat wOBA, which doesn't consider playing time, has Trout fifth in the American League, behind Hamilton again along with three players who offer no defensive value in Paul Konerko, Mark Trumbo, and David Ortiz.
(An interesting side note on Trumbo: While he continues to hit for crazy power, with 10 homers in the last 30 days, he walked just 5 times unintentionally in that same span, covering 120 PA, a sign that perhaps his abnormally high walk rate in the season's first six weeks may have been an aberration.)