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Will Felix Hernandez Be the Latest to Steal AL MVP from Mike Trout?

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Will Felix Hernandez Be the Latest to Steal AL MVP from Mike Trout?
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Mike Trout is 23 years old. He's playing in just his third full big league season. He couldn't love the '80s, because he never knew them.

So it's probably unfair to say he's overdue for an MVP Award. You could make a case, though, that the Los Angeles Angels outfielder has been robbed of the honor.

In 2012 and again last season, Miguel Cabrera took home the prize. It's hard—no, make that impossible—to say the Detroit Tigers slugger wasn't deserving.

Cabrera won the Triple Crown in 2012 with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI. He followed that up with a .348 batting average, good for another batting title, plus 44 home runs and 137 RBI in 2013.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Yet Trout was arguably the more complete player each year.

He didn't match Miggy's Triple Crown stats in either 2012 (.326 AVG, 30 HR, 83 RBI) or 2013 (.323 AVG, 27 HR, 97 RBI). But he did other things better each season—like playing good-to-great defense and stealing 49 and 33 bases, respectively—and posted a higher WAR than Cabrera in 2012 (10.8 to 7.2) and 2013 (8.9 to 7.5).

Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto told Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com in 2012, "If there is a definition of the Most Valuable Player, I think Mike Trout's picture would be next to it."

That's not to claim that WAR (or stolen bases, or glove work) are the ultimate measure of a player. Or, again, that Cabrera didn't earn his trophies.

But Trout supporters have a legitimate gripe. Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan spelled it out last November after Cabrera's second win (Trout finished second both times):

My case for Trout has nothing to do with WAR. It has to do with tangible facts that modern metrics have helped teach us. Like, fielding does matter, and even if we cannot measure it with exact precision, some combination of scouting reports and metrics gives us an accurate hierarchy. And accordingly, position matters as well; a center fielder provides greater value than a third baseman, who is more important than a first baseman, and so on. Keeping track of every baserunning intricacy lets us know it wasn't just Trout's steals that dwarfed Cabrera's impact on the basepaths. Trout took an extra base on teammates' hits twice as often as Cabrera did, and those bases add up to runs.

OK, that's the past. In the here and now, Trout is again squarely in the MVP conversation. His .289 batting average entering play Monday doesn't jump out, but he's among the American League leaders in home runs (27) and RBI (86).

And he leads the AL with a 166 OPS+ (a stat that adjusts for a player's ballpark) and leads all of baseball with 257 total bases.

He's been, in other words, a total player. Yet—cue deja vu—it might not be enough.

Cabrera won't stand between Trout and an MVP this year; he's having another All-Star campaign, but his numbers are down across the board.

Felix Hernandez, on the other hand, might.

Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Seattle Mariners ace surrendered two runs in five innings in his most recent start, a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers. It ended an MLB record-setting streak of 16 starts with at least seven innings pitched and two runs or fewer allowed, per SportsCenter.

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Even with that "hiccup," King Felix is enjoying a stellar season.

His 1.99 ERA and 0.87 WHIP pace the AL. And his 6.0 WAR is identical to Trout's.

The usual caveats about pitchers—they only contribute every five days, they already have their own award—apply. But pitchers have won the MVP before, most recently another Detroit Tiger, Justin Verlander in 2011.

Dave Cameron at FanGraphs thinks Hernandez has a convincing MVP case, even if he's not sure the dominant right-hander will win:

While Trout has been the endorsed candidate of the nerd crowd for the last few years, I'm guessing most of us are probably more interested in rewarding starting pitchers as MVPs than the BBWAA has historically been, and if the gap between Felix and Trout grows, we could be the ones arguing against Trout as MVP this year, with the voters giving him a trophy in a year where he's maybe not the most deserving candidate.

There are other names in the mix, like Hernandez's teammate, Robinson Cano, and Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox. Right now, though, Trout and Hernandez are the front-runners.

One edge Trout enjoys over seasons past? The Angels are winning.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Halos finished in third place in the AL West in both 2012 and 2013. This year they're tied for the best record in baseball and sit percentage points ahead of the Oakland A's entering play Monday.

Whether they win the division or claim a hard-luck wild-card berth, the Angels will almost certainly be a part of the postseason picture.

Fair or not, MVP voters like a guy who plays for a winner. Trout does. Then again, so does Hernandez; if everything were settled today, the Mariners would also be in the playoffs.

Mike Trout is 23 years old. He's got time. The question is whether that time is now.

 

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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