Mike Trout's MVP Road Should Be Easier Than Expected in 2015

Anthony Witrado@@awitradoFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2015

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In the movies and on TV, the cool kid who transfers into a new school mid-year is always a point of wonder—the girls swoon over him, and he immediately becomes popular simply because he has the mystery of being new.

Baseball award races can be that way sometimes. You don't necessarily have to be the best in order to win. You just have to show up at the right time—sort of the way R.A. Dickey swiped Clayton Kershaw's Cy Young Award in 2012.

That is happening again in the American League MVP race this season.

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson is the newcomer, turning heads and forcing his peers to do double takes in his direction. He is certainly worthy of consideration, and in many other years before 2012, his season would have won the award going away.

The problem for Donaldson: Mike Trout is still playing in the same league. Also, Trout is the best player the sport has to offer, and he has been since 2012.

So, as long as the Baseball Writers Association of America's AL MVP voters do not decide they are tired of the Trout storyline, the Los Angeles Angels' 24-year-old center fielder should take the honor for the second consecutive season after finishing second in the two years before that.

MVP race: AL 1) Mike Trout 2) Mike Trout 3) Mike Trout 4) Mike Trout 5) Montel Vontavious Porter

— High Heat Stats MLB (@HighHeatStats) August 9, 2015

Trout went into Thursday leading the league in adjusted OPS (180, which would be the highest of his already dashing career), isolated power (.300), FanGraphs WAR (6.5) and Baseball-Reference WAR (6.9). He was second in home runs (33), slugging percentage (.600), wOBA (.416) and wRC+ (176), third in OBP (.393) and ninth in walk rate (11.8 percent).

In those telling offensive categories Trout did not lead in, Donaldson was not the reason. He does not check in higher than Trout on any of those lists.

Oh, and Trout ranks where he does despite having a crummy August—.159/.275/.250 going into Thursday—since he injured his wrist late last month diving for a ball. That cold stretch is part of the reason the gap has closed and Donaldson is in the discussion.

But Trout has not gone into prolonged slumps in his brief career, so as long as he is healthy, a breakout could be coming soon to truly put this race to bed.

"I still like Mike Trout to win the award. I would not bet against him," Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci said on its website. "But at least now, we have some intrigue."

Donaldson betters Trout in some categories. He has more total bases and RBI (255 and 85, to Trout's 248 and 70), which is more of a product of Donaldson's team, and he rates better defensively, though center field is a far more premium position than third base.

Another thing that has to be considered when discussing the MVP race—and only because BBWAA voting history forces us to—is where the Angels and Blue Jays sit in the standings. Toronto currently leads the AL East, while the Angels have a two-game lead for the second wild-card spot. If the Angels miss the playoffs, it could factor into voting, as it did in the National League's MVP race in 2011 when Ryan Braun beat out Matt Kemp. 

While that should not matter—a single player has little control over the six-month success or failure of his team—it unfortunately does to a certain segment of the voters, especially when a race might be viewed as close.

Also, the voting base is human, and Toronto's recent surge (14 wins in the last 15 games), if it earns a playoff berth, will be in recent memory and could play a factor in Donaldson's receiving votes over Trout.

One more Trout thought for the day: How annoyed are we all going to be if the Angels miss the playoffs and that's why he loses MVP?

— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) August 7, 2015

Then again, if the Blue Jays storm into the postseason, ace David Price could earn some votes. If that happens—which it could, since the Jays were about a .500 team before the Price trade last month—it would steal votes from Donaldson, widening the gap between him and Trout.

For Donaldson to have a real shot, Trout would have to remain pedestrian in his team's final 48 games, and Donaldson would have to remain scorching-hot in his team's next 46. In his 24 second-half games before going 0-for-4 Thursday, Donaldson hit .308/.413/.725 with a 1.138 OPS and 10 home runs.

Reality tells us Donaldson comes back to this planet sometime soon, Trout has a bit of a rebound, and the MVP race will not end up as close as it might seem right now.

This year, there is no Miguel Cabrera Triple Crown to contend with. There are no other players clearly trumping Trout's all-around value. And his team's success/failure might be his biggest challenge to walking away with the MVP award this season, making him the eighth AL player to win it in consecutive seasons.

While Trout might have to swat away the new contender on the block, he is still the best player in the game and the most valuable in this league. Period.

All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.


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