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What Does Mike Trout Need to Do to Win an MLB MVP Award?

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What Does Mike Trout Need to Do to Win an MLB MVP Award?
USA Today

Mike Trout's day will come. Sooner or later, he is going to win a Most Valuable Player award.

Just not this day.

If you're just now catching up on the latest, the MVPs were handed out on Thursday. And just like it did in 2012, the American League MVP went to slugging Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera:

Make that two years in a row that the best hitter on the planet has won the AL MVP over the best all-around player on the planet.

Yeah, yeah. Controversial statement and such. Miggy this. Trout that. Rabble, rabble and so forth.

We all know the drill, so I'm going to skip it and just be honest about my reaction to Cabrera beating Trout for the AL MVP award again: I don't like it, but, meh, I'm cool with it.

That's partially because I'm burned out on the whole Miggy vs. Trout endless debate thing. But it's also because I recognize that Cabrera had a better year in 2013 than he did in 2012. The guy increased his average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. I'll take that over a triple crown any day.

With this, let's go ahead and remove the Cabrera vs. Trout debate from the rest of this article's equation. It's about Trout and the AL MVP, but strictly about the young star of the Los Angeles Angels and what he needs to have happen to be worthy enough for the MVP to actually win the darn thing.

It's not complicated, and it's not complicated because Trout really doesn't have to do much besides what he's already doing. In fact, his first goal towards one day winning an MVP should be to...

 

Keep Being Mike Trout

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Hey, why not? In terms of his performance, it's not like Trout isn't already an MVP-caliber player.

In his first full year in 2012, Trout hit .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs and 49 stolen bases, all while playing superb defense (see FanGraphs) in center field. He only hit 27 homers and stole 33 bases while playing less-superb defense in 2013, but he finished with a slash line of .323/.432/.557.

Maybe the other numbers weren't as good as the ones Trout put up in 2012, but on-base percentage is pretty darn important and it's a department that Trout was a lot better in. Hence the reason we can safely say that he was as good, if not better, in 2013 than he was in 2012.

Put the last two seasons together, and Trout is a .324/.416/.560 hitter with 57 home runs and 82 stolen bases. That's a .976 OPS, and a 174 OPS+ that's even more impressive. Over the last two seasons, only Miggy has done better, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Same goes for the more complicated Weighted Runs Created Plus. According to FanGraphs, the only player with a higher wRC+ than Trout over the last two seasons is Miggy.

And yeah, there's WAR too. FanGraphs has Trout as the biggest WAR hero in baseball over the last two years by far. So does Baseball-Reference.com

So yeah, Trout's had a pretty great couple of years. Especially for a guy as young as he is, because...well, because it's just not that often that a guy so young is so good.

Trout is only through his age-21 season. And if we use FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com to check out where he ranks among the all-time greats through the age of 21, what we find is:

Mike Trout's Ranks Through the Age of 21
AVG OBP SLUG OPS OPS+ wRC+ fWAR rWAR
10 4 4 4 1 1 1 1

FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com

Note: For the batting stats, a minimum of 1,000 plate appearances was required.

Trout's name sits next to some pretty great players in some of these ranks. Ted Williams. Jimmie Foxx. Rogers Hornsby. Ty Cobb. Mickey Mantle. Mel Ott. Assorted other baseball titans.

Yet even next to them, Trout stands out as maybe the greatest young player in the history of Major League Baseball. He really has been that good.

Now, Trout's career has a long way to go. Maybe he'll start getting hurt. Maybe he'll forget how to hit. Maybe he'll forget how to field. Maybe his performance will just plain decline. All of the above have been known to happen.

Or maybe he'll just keep on being Mike Trout, in which case, he's going to be an MVP-caliber player year after year after year.

However, there's one thing he could stand to do better.

 

It's the MVP, So More RBI

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

I recall being in the O.Co Coliseum press box last October when I overheard one beat writer say to another, "You know what's a real stat? RBIs."

Regarding the MVP voting, that pretty much says it all.

Whether you want to call it a running gag, a stereotype or whatever, there's no denying that the RBI statistic does have a strong influence on the MVP voting. Get enough of the darn things, and you're a top candidate for the award pretty much by default.

Collect anywhere over 100 RBI, of course, and there's a darn good chance you're going to win it. Even in these modern times where the RBI has slipped from its perch as the king of all baseball statistics, the MVP award has still tended to go to great RBI men.

The recent history of the MVP and RBI looks like this:

MVP Winners and RBI, 2000-2013
Year AL MVP RBI NL MVP RBI
2013 Miguel Cabrera 137 Andrew McCutchen 84
2012 Miguel Cabrera 139 Buster Posey 103
2011 Justin Verlander N/A Ryan Braun 111
2010 Josh Hamilton 100 Joey Votto 113
2009 Joe Mauer 96 Albert Pujols 135
2008 Dustin Pedroia 83 Albert Pujols 116
2007 Alex Rodriguez 156 Jimmy Rollins 94
2006 Justin Morneau 130 Ryan Howard 149
2005 Alex Rodriguez 130 Albert Pujols 117
2004 Vladimir Guerrero 126 Barry Bonds 101
2003 Alex Rodriguez 118 Barry Bonds 90
2002 Miguel Tejada 131 Barry Bonds 110
2001 Ichiro Suzuki 69 Barry Bonds 137
2000 Jason Giambi 137 Jeff Kent 125

ESPN.com

A total of 27 position players have won the MVP since 2000, and all but six of them drove in over 100 runs the year they did. Like 20 wins or 1,000 rushing yards, it's still an arbitrary number that somehow signifies greatness.

Maybe this will stop being the case someday soon. But just to be sure, Trout should see about driving in over 100 runs if he really wants to compile a really ironclad MVP case.

The bright side is that, given where his career is headed, this isn't exactly Mission: Impossible.

Trout did up his RBI total from 83 in 2012 to 97 in 2013, after all, and it was no accident. Every single one of his plate appearances in 2012 came batting leadoff. In 2013, over 600 of his 716 plate appearances came batting either second or third.

This was bound to happen eventually. Trout's speed and ability to get on base are great fits for the leadoff spot, but his power is wasted there. Angels manager Mike Scioscia rightfully saw a move down the order coming before the 2013 season even started.

"Long range, he's probably better suited to hit second, third or fourth," Scioscia said, via the Los Angeles Times. Sure enough, he ended up making good on his tease.

Trout ended up collecting all but seven of his 97 RBI hitting out of the No. 2 and No. 3 spots. A full season's worth of plate appearances hitting in either spot rather will more than likely result in over 100 RBI. Since Scioscia knows that's where Trout belongs, 100-RBI seasons will probably be the norm for him starting as soon as 2014.

Trout, with all-world numbers, is a good enough MVP candidate. Trout, with all-world numbers and RBI, is an even better MVP candidate.

But for him to be the best MVP candidate he can be, well, there's one thing he can't do alone.

 

Make the Playoffs

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

I was initially going to put "Play on a Winning Team" here, but then I remembered what happened in 2012. Indeed, Trout has already tried that.

Thanks largely to Trout's contributions, the Angels won 89 games in 2012. This apparently made them a lesser team than Cabrera's Tigers, who won 88 games, just because they made the postseason. 

Them's the breaks with the MVP award. Especially, it would seem, in the American League. You have to go back to Alex Rodriguez in 2003 to find the last AL MVP winner from a non-playoff team. The last one before him was Frank Thomas in 1994, a year when there was no postseason.

Trout's not moving to the National League—a place where MVPs from non-postseason teams have been a bit more frequentany time soon. Not unless Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has too much of the good stuff and impulsively fires up trade talks, anyway. So for him to have the best chance possible at winning an MVP, he and the Angels are going to have to make the playoffs.

For Trout, what that entails is simple. He just has to do all of the above: be himself and drive in some more runs while he's at it.

It's everyone else who has the hard part. For the Angels, making the playoffs will come down to more players than just Trout being their best.

The prime suspects include: Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. The first two will be particularly important, as they'll need to stay healthy and, to put it bluntly, not suck when they are healthy.

Obviously, all Trout can do is keep doing his thing. All his teammates can do is try to do their thing better than they did in 2013. Whether or not they come through is not up to Trout.

But as long as "Most Valuable" is not the same as "best," there's no way around the fact that he's going to need them to come through if he wants to win an MVP.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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