MIKE FITZPATRICK, AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Mike Trout has an MVP problem: He needs more help.
Widely considered baseball’s best all-around player, with modern metrics consistently supporting that assertion, the Los Angeles Angels center fielder has been runner-up in the American League three of the past four years.
The only time he took home the prize was 2014, when the Angels won 98 games and the AL West. They came in third place the other three seasons, leaving Trout to finish second despite his outstanding numbers.
It’s a similar scenario this year. Trout led the league in runs (123), on-base percentage (.441) and wins above replacement (10.6), as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com. But he did all that for a fourth-place team that went 74-88 and was never in the playoff hunt.
With other top contenders on clubs that reached the postseason, Trout could be denied yet again — perhaps in favor of dynamic outfielder Mookie Betts or retiring bopper David Ortiz from AL East champion Boston.
“It’s not really defined a certain way, so people are going to have opinions different ways. For me, I think it should go to someone that is on a winning team and has a chance to go to the playoffs,” Cleveland slugger Mike Napoli said. “But then again, you can’t take away from people that really can’t control other people having down years and you having a really great year. So I think you can go either way.”
Over in the National League, it shapes up much the same.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, who led the majors with 103 wins, are joined in the MVP discussion by Daniel Murphy from NL East champion Washington and rookie shortstop Corey Seager of the NL West champion Dodgers. Some of their stiffest competition comes from players on losing clubs: Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto.
Both Cy Young Award races are close, too, with Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer among those in the mix.
Poor teams have produced MVPs before — Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson (1987) and Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez (2003) even won for clubs that came in last place.
But until Washington slugger Bryce Harper was a unanimous winner in the NL last season, nobody in either league had been elected MVP from a team that missed the playoffs since Albert Pujols with St. Louis in 2008.
“Is it the best player in the particular league? When you look at the numbers, Trout obviously is the best player and that’s hard to argue,” said Dave Roberts, a strong candidate for NL Manager of the Year in his first season running the Dodgers.
“But for a winning team, there’s got to be some weight put on that and what that particular person means to that particular winning team. I kind of fluctuate season to season,” he added.
Voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America is conducted before the postseason begins Tuesday, and results will be announced in November.
Here are our choices for all the big awards:
AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP
The nod goes to Trout (29 HRs, 100 RBIs, 30 for 37 in steals, .991 OPS) despite his team’s flaws. He scored 17 percent of the Angels’ runs this season, the highest percentage for an AL player since Rickey Henderson with the 1985 New York Yankees.
Taking nothing away from his achievements, Betts (31 HRs, 113 RBIs, 26 for 30 on steals, .897 OPS) benefited from hitting in a loaded Boston batting order, while Trout had little protection outside of Albert Pujols and Kole Calhoun. It’s not fair to look past Trout simply because the Angels pitched poorly and fielded a thin lineup.
But if Betts wins, no complaints.
NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP
Some of the stats for Bryant and Rizzo are incredibly identical. They both batted .292 with a .385 on-base percentage, while Bryant had 39 homers and 102 RBIs to Rizzo’s 32 homers and 109 RBIs. Bryant also led the league in runs (121) and WAR while providing versatility on defense. He wins MVP honors one season after he was the NL Rookie of the Year. Arenado and Murphy warrant a close look, too, though.
AL CY YOUNG
Tigers ace Justin Verlander (16-9, 3.04 ERA) nips Boston right-hander Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.15) and 2014 winner Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14). Verlander led the league with 254 strikeouts and a 1.00 WHIP while throwing a few more innings than either of the other two. Porcello was fantastic but relied more on his defense, fanning 189.
NL CY YOUNG
Clayton Kershaw’s back injury might be the only reason this is a race — but it’s a close one. Some wonder whether Lester (19-5, 2.44) and Cubs teammate Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13) could split first-place votes and knock each other out after running 1-2 in ERA. Freeman said he favors Hendricks, while Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard went another way and picked Scherzer.
We think Howard’s got it right.
Washington’s ace went 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA while leading the league in strikeouts (284), innings (228 1/3) and WHIP (0.97). He even matched a major league record with 20 Ks in one game. Neither Lester nor Hendricks reached 200 strikeouts or 205 innings.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Two months in the majors are not enough for Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, even with 20 home runs and a 1.032 OPS in 201 at-bats. Detroit right-hander Michael Fulmer (11-7, 3.06 ERA, 159 innings) is the pick — but check out overlooked Houston reliever Chris Devenski (2.16 ERA and 104 Ks in 108 1/3 innings).
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
At one point it appeared this could be quite a race between a trio of talented young shortstops. Seager, however, ran away with it when Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz got hurt.
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Terry Francona wins with Cleveland for the second time in four years. His team overcame several significant injuries in winning the AL Central over World Series champion Kansas City and a Detroit squad that outspent the Indians by $107 million on player payroll.
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Roberts edges Terry Collins of the New York Mets. Both clubs were severely depleted by health problems and still made the playoffs, but the Dodgers were four wins better and won their division.
AP Baseball Writers Noah Trister in Detroit and Janie McCauley in San Francisco, and AP freelancer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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