On Tuesday morning, the editorial board for the Houston Chronicle made a pretty questionable decision. The decision was to publish this article by sports columnist Brian T. Smith, who suggests that Houston Astros infielder Alex Bregman should take home the American League Most Valuable Player Award by virtue of the Astros’ team win/loss record.
I like the Chronicle, and I love and appreciate their coverage of the Astros. It’s good to get that out there before I head into the rest of this article.
Proposing that anyone other than Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout should win the AL MVP is one of the most preposterous things to possibly argue in the year of our lord two-thousand and nineteen. Trout, who will eventually retire as one of the five or 10 greatest players to ever lace up a pair of cleats, will absolutely win and maybe unanimously (if someone doesn’t vote for Trout, they should not have a say in the award voting).
I mean, the Angels right-hander is so far above everyone else in the AL that there shouldn’t even be a discussion. Across some short stints over the year, analysts have mentioned MVP-caliber seasons from guys like Matt Chapman, Joey Gallo, Jorge Polanco, and DJ LeMahieu, among others, all while Trout runs circles around the whole competition. Let’s take a look at the major-league leaders in FanGraphs wins above replacement.
- Mike Trout (LAA), 8.6
- Christian Yelich (MIL), 7.7
- Alex Bregman (HOU), 7.5
- Cody Bellinger (LAD), 7.3
- Anthony Rendon (WSH), 7.1
- Ketel Marte (ARI), 7.1
- Marcus Semien (OAK), 6.8
- Mookie Betts (BOS), 6.3
- Xander Bogaerts (BOS), 6.2
- George Springer (HOU), 5.9
See! Nobody is even close to Trout! He has almost one full win over last year’s National League MVP, Yelich, and another guy who is having a historic season in the senior circuit, Bellinger. Trout is going to win in a landslide. Baseball analysts are just so obsessed with The Fresh New Thing every year and are always putting someone else on a pedestal as if Trout isn’t the best player alive by a mile.
Bregman has been better than every AL player — aside from the best player since Barry Bonds — in 2019. I contend that Bregman is the best option to be the runner-up to Trout in the AL MVP race, and his 2019 season has proved it. Nobody wants to be second-place, but it’s a major accomplishment to be almost as good as 2019 Mike Trout, and Bregman is deserving of that honor. And that is a big deal, and every Astros fan should be proud of it.
The Astros infielder has had a career-best season to follow-up a 2018 campaign that concluded in a top-five AL MVP finish. He’s hitting .296/.420/.583 with 37 home runs, 105 RBIs, 110 walks compared to just 79 strikeouts, a 1.004 OPS, and a 165 wRC+. He has been stellar defensively, posting seven FanGraphs defensive runs saved at his customary third base position, as well as a .984 fielding percentage in 53 starts at shortstop in Carlos Correa‘s absence.
And yet he trails Trout in many significant statistical categories, most importantly the rate stats seen below.
But of course, the argument in favor of Bregman isn’t really about individual player performance, because I have not seen or heard any mainstream baseball media member who genuinely believes Bregman has been better than Trout this season. It’s about rewarding someone who has more or less carried their team to the postseason (which, of course, makes absolutely zero difference on which player has more value), even though Bregman plays for a stacked team that would probably be top-five in the majors even without him.
The Astros lead all Major league Baseball teams in weighted runs created plus (wRC+) at 125, whereas 100 is league average. This offensive stat is calculated the same way as OPS+, meaning it’s adjusted for park factors and league environments and measures just how dangerous a club can be at manufacturing runs all throughout their batting order.
That 125 wRC+ is not only first in baseball by a large margin (the New York Yankees are next closest at 118), but it’s the second-best mark in the modern history of big-league baseball (since 1901). Only the 1927 “Murderer’s Row” Yankees, at 126, had a better single-season wRC+. Of course, Bregman has been perhaps the biggest part of this historically good offense, but he’s certainly not doing this alone.
Houston also leads baseball in expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP), which is a regular FIP measurement but instead uses projected batted-ball numbers rather than actual statistics. The Astros’ combined team xFIP is 3.83, while also leading the majors in strikeouts per nine innings with 10.24. So not only is their offense the best in baseball; their pitching staff, as a whole, has an argument for being the preeminent collection of arms in MLB.
This is why team record should have no impact on the MVP voting process. Trout or no Trout, the Angels aren’t a playoff team, but if you take Bregman off the Astros, they likely still win the American League West division. Team win/loss shouldn’t be something voters even consider because MVP is an individual award.
For the same reason Jacob deGrom won the National League Cy Young Award on a non-playoff team in 2018, Mike Trout will almost certainly win the AL MVP. When you’re that much better than your competition, it doesn’t matter what your club does over the season.