There have been—and will be—no shortage of articles detailing the latest in what appears to be an annual injustice perpetrated on Trout.[i] This won't be one of them. Betts, assuming he captures the vote, makes a fine choice as the league's most valuable. His 9.4 WAR (as of this writing) is second-best in baseball, and he's played with an exuberance and flourish that has captivated and energized "Red Sox Nation."
While Trout won't join the list of 30 players who have captured multiple MVPs, he does have an opportunity to become a member of a more elite club: Should Trout finish second in the voting (a distinct possibility), he'll join Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and current teammate Albert Pujols as the only players with four MVP runner-up finishes.
Granted, it's a distinction Trout might rather do without. Unlike Williams, Musial, and Pujols, he doesn't have multiple MVPs to take the sting out of those four second-place finishes. He can take solace, as evidenced by the company he's about to keep, that one has to be an extraordinary player to garner this much recognition from the MVP electorate.
An accounting of these "second-place" seasons:
Williams, along with Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, has a claim as the "most snubbed" player in the history of the MVP vote. [ii]
- 1941: Williams, of course, hits .406 en route to accumulating 10.6 WAR. But DiMaggio (9.1 WAR) has himself a nice little hot streak over the summer, and it earns him the MVP (he also hit .357/.440/.643). This is a perfectly understandable vote: DiMaggio set what many consider to be the game's most glamorous single-season batting record, and the Yankees took the pennant by 17 games over the second-place Red Sox.
- 1942: A terrible vote. MVP Joe Gordon (8.2 WAR) had a wonderful season, but Williams was playing a different game than the rest of the league (.356/.499/.648/216 OPS+; 10.6 WAR). He didn’t just capture the Triple Crown – he lapped the field. His league-leading 1.147 OPS dwarfed runner-up Charlie Keller by more than 200 points. He won the batting title by 25 points; led the league in home runs by nine (36; no other player hit as many as 30); and paced the league in RBI by 23. There was no one within a country mile of his slugging or on-base marks (Williams’ on-base percentage was higher than Gordon’s slugging percentage).
- 1947: At or near the top of any "Worst MVP Votes" list. Williams (9.9 WAR) again captures the Triple Crown, only to see his MVP hopes dashed on the rocks of voter stupidity (and, arguably, voter spite). A sub-par (by his standards) DiMaggio is named MVP when a writer fails to list Williams on his ballot. This vote was a bitter pill that stuck in Williams' throat for decades.
- 1957: Williams, in his age-38 season, is a marvel (.388/.526/.731; 9.7 WAR); MVP Mickey Mantle (11.3 WAR) is even better, ably manning Yankee Stadium's "Death Valley" while hitting .365/.512/.665. For good measure, Mantle leads the league in runs scored and walks.
- 1949: Musial places second to Brooklyn's Jackie Robinson, who rated as the best player in the league (9.6 WAR) while leading the Dodgers to the pennant.
- 1950: In a terrible vote, Phillies reliever Jim Konsanty captures the prize. Musial certainly had the credentials of an MVP, but Robin Roberts, Eddie Stanky and Jackie Robinson can all make a similar claim. The shame here is not that Musial didn't capture honors, but that Konstanty did. The rubber-armed Konstanty appeared in a then-record 74 games, pitching well (151 ERA+ over 152 IP), but certainly not worthy of the game's highest single-season honor.
- 1951: Musial has another wonderful year (.355/.449/.614; 9.1 WAR), but Brooklyn catcher Roy Campanella captures the prize with his .325/.393/.590/33HR/108RBI line. Robinson finishes sixth in the voting, despite rating as the best player in the league as measured by WAR (9.6).
- 1957: Musial's last runner-up finish. A deserving Hank Aaron captures his only MVP (.322/.378/.600/44HR/132RBI).
With hindsight, the Marion MVP appears to defy explanation – but keep in mind this man was nicknamed "Mr. Shortstop" in deference to the wonders he accomplished with his glove. The Sporting News and the Associated Press breathlessly compared him to Honus Wagner, while no less a luminary (and authority) than Connie Mack declared "…Marion is the greatest shortstop I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been around several years. What a ballplayer. My goodness.” It was Marion, not Musial, who was considered the engine that drove the Cardinals' war-time dynasty.
- 2002: One could argue that Pujols' second-place finish was unwarranted, given his level of production. He was an excellent hitter, of course, but not demonstrably better than Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker or several others who finished behind him on the ballot. Pujols' 5.5 WAR rates only 13th amongst position players (and 16th overall, when factoring in pitchers).
- 2003: The only case against Pujols is that he's not Barry Bonds, who is recalibrating what we thought to be the limits of player performance. From 2001-2004, Bonds' average OPS+ (256) is better than the single best seasons of Babe Ruth (255 OPS+ in 1920) and Ted Williams (235 OPS+ in 1941). Pujols is a victim of timing, not voter incompetence.
- 2006: Pujols was the better choice for MVP than winner Ryan Howard, but it's hard to qualify this as anything more than a mild snub. Howard was a wrecking ball at the plate (.313/.425/.659/167 OPS+, with a league-leading 58HR/149RBI). Pujols consoles himself with a World Series title.
- 2010: Pujols is great (.312/.414/.596/42HR/118RBI; 7.5 WAR); MVP Joey Votto is about as good (.324/.424/.600/37HR/113RBI; 6.9 WAR). This one might be attributable to "Pujols Fatigue"; after consecutive MVPs in 2008-2009, the writers may have been looking for an excuse not to give it to the St. Louis slugger. They found a good one in Votto.
- 2012: Trout (10.9 WAR) produced not only the greatest rookie season in the history of baseball, but the best all-around season by an AL player since 1991. That said, how to begrudge the Cabrera pick? The guy hit for the Triple Crown, after all. While leading the league in three arbitrary categories doesn't automatically confer most valuable status, the fact that the he was the first Triple Crown titlist in 45 years was worth something (that something being a plaque bearing the name and scowling visage of Kenesaw Mountain Landis).
- 2013: For an encore, Cabrera exceeds his Triple Crown production in every meaningful way. Trout is the better all-around player, but again, this doesn't fall under the category of MVP robbery.
- 2015: Trout leads the league in WAR (9.4), but Toronto's Josh Donaldson (8.8 WAR) is superb (.297/.371/.568/41HR/123 RBI, with elite defense at third base) in leading the Blue Jays to a division title.
- 2016: Trout notches his second 10-WAR season (no other active player has even one), and, likely, his fourth "MVP runner-up" designation. As noted earlier, Red Sox centerfielder Mookie Betts is producing an MVP-worthy season by any reasonable criteria. Trout is the best player in the league, but Betts is worthy company.
No one plays for the consolation prize, but with a fourth second-place finish, Trout is set up nicely for 2017, when he will once again be the best player in the league, and once again fail to capture he MVP award because he's running on the moribund treadmill that is the Angels franchise. If he's able to secure a fifth second-place finish, Trout will set a record unlikely ever to be broken.
(He'll surely be thrilled).
[ii] For an in-depth look at the MVP fortunes of this holy trinity, read "Baseball's Most Baffling Ballots" (McFarland & Company).
Photo: Keith Allison CC-BY SA 2.0