Five years ago, Angels center fielder Mike Trout became the youngest player at the time to be unanimously named most valuable player. He was 23, already two full seasons into his magisterial romp through the major leagues. He had nearly won the American League award the two previous seasons but finished runner-up to Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera each time.
In 2014, members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America finally refused to snub Trout’s dynamic skill set.
Trout is now 28. He is still employed by a team that participated in the playoffs once in this decade and this year finished with 90 losses.
He also remains one of the sport’s most captivating talents. He proved it in 2019 by tapping into his power more often than he ever had without sacrificing the basic tenets of his contact-first philosophy. He continued to enhance his stellar defense, flaunting arm strength he had not previously exhibited.
For all that, the voting body of baseball’s premier awards revealed Thursday that Trout was named the American League’s MVP.
Trout learned he received the honor for the third time in his career while sitting in front of a roaring fireplace in Iowa, where he and close friends and family members had met for their annual hunting trip. He had 17 of the 30 first-place votes. Houston Astros infielder Alex Bregman finished second and had the other 13 first-place votes. Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien finished third.
Trout has presented a strong case to win the MVP award in seven of his eight full seasons. The electorate snubbed him four times, voting him second in favor of a candidate that played for a postseason contender on each occasion. The only season Trout did not finish first or second in MVP voting was when he finished fourth in 2017.
Voters could have dinged Trout this awards season because he missed the final three weeks tending to a nerve issue in his right foot that eventually required surgery.
“I definitely was [nervous],” he said. “I’d be lying to you if I [said I] wasn’t.”
Trout’s numbers were too convincing to neglect.
Trout hit a career-high 45 home runs, drove in more than 100 runs for the first time since 2016 and batted .291 in 134 games. Despite not playing after Sept. 7, Trout led baseball in on-base percentage (.438), owned the highest AL on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.083) and was second in the AL in home runs.
No one in the AL came close to Trout’s first-half production as measured by the advanced statistic weighted runs created-plus, which assesses a player’s ability to generate offense in a formula that can be used to compare all hitters. Per that metric, Trout performed 83% above league average prior to the All-Star break and was at least 70% better than the average hitter on a monthly basis. The 202 wRC+ he produced in July after the death of teammate Tyler Skaggs was the third-highest in the majors.
Bregman had a great season, but he averaged 147 wRC+ in the first half. He didn’t surpass Trout’s production until August, the same month Trout began to deal with soreness in his injured foot.
Bregman took advantage of Trout’s absence to burnish his MVP credentials. While continuing to fill in at shortstop for injured teammate Carlos Correa, Bregman batted .333 with an astounding 1.239 OPS in September. He racked up extra-base hits including nine home runs, but like Trout, rarely sacrificed his selective approach. Bregman drew 22 walks and struck out only nine times in his final 25 games.
When the season was over, Bregman had bested Trout in Baseball Reference’s version of wins above replacement (8.4 to 8.3), batting average (.296), walks (119 to 110) and RBIs (112 to 104).
“You have so much time on your hands when you’re done for the rest of the season,” Trout said. “You just sit back and watch and what [Bregman] did in the second half of the season is pretty incredible. I was rooting for him. I talked to him a lot. It’s pretty incredible what he did.”
That mattered little to the writers who recognized Trout with first-place votes.
Trout didn’t crumple when faced with the tragic death of Skaggs midway through the season. Despite his previous reticence to do so, Trout became the public face of the team and delivered an emotional address when the Angels returned to action July 2. He proceeded to put together his hottest month of the season.
“One of the greatest players I’ve ever laid my eyes on, and one of the better people I’ve also been around inside this game,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said of Trout. “Great ambassador, total role model.
“I’m about as proud of him as I could ever be of anybody.”
Trout’s season put him in envious company. He and teammate Albert Pujols are the only players to finish top-three in MVP voting seven times in their first nine seasons.
Both sit alongside Barry Bonds, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Mantle, Stan Musial, Alex Rodriguez and Mike Schmidt as the only players in MLB history to win at least three MVP awards. Bonds eclipsed them all with seven.
“It’s definitely pretty surreal,” Trout said.
And Trout still has 11 years remaining on the $426.5-million contract he signed at the end of March to blow past those accomplishments.
“Mike is a one-of-a-kind player,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said in a news release. “His complete skill set is generational and stands up to every era that participated in our game.”