I need to preface this with the following – I have no idea who the BBWA will chose for AL MVP. The have been known to make bad decisions for this award in the past (see: Gonzalez over Griffey, Cabrerra over Trout, etc.) and generally overvalue players who make the playoffs and have high traditional counting stats like HR, RBI, W, and SV.
I’ll try to frame this discussion instead around who is deserving of the award and try to look at individual statistics on both offence and defence. I think the BBWA will select Trout in every situation, except for if the Angels fail to make the playoffs and the Blue Jays win the AL East. This is because they place far too much emphasis on the outcome of the team, even though it is an individual award. Trout also has the momentum (again, silly) from winning last year and has put up another terrific year.
Lets dig into the numbers a bit and see if Donaldson has a solid case here.
Alright! This is all Donaldson’s! Well, not so quick. They are both terrific lines, absolute models of consistency, but RBIs and Runs are only partially attributable to the individual player. Right now, Donaldson is surrounded by Tulowitzki, Bautista, Encarnacion, and a handful of other very good hitters. Trout has Pujols and Calhoun. It stands to reason that Donaldson would have more RBI and Runs, partly due to batting 2nd for the most potent offence in baseball. Let’s look at stats that more accurately capture the individuals performance.
Again similar lines, but Trout clearly edges out Donaldson here. Perhaps most amazing is that Trout has managed to combine such power – 33 HR – with an ability to get on base in almost 40% of his at bats. These stats give us a much truer picture of individual performance and to sum it up, Trout is 79% better than a average hitter, while Donaldson is 53% better.
We should also consider defence in any analysis about the value of a player. Both players play a premium position that only makes each of their elite bats that much more valuable. The positional adjustment used for WAR is about the same for 3B and CF and both of these players are considered to be good defenders. However, they have been very different in how they have achieved ‘good’ status this year. Donaldson is very rangy, making highlight reel plays quite regularly, while Trout has become a much more consistent defender but not robbing home runs and diving as much as in prior years.
Let’s take a look at the stats, but remember, less than a year of defensive statistics is a small sample size and the eye test is really needed in conjunction with these.
This one is a clear win for Donaldson. He has created real value with his glove in Toronto this year. His only defensive downfall is the errors, of which he has 15 (10 throwing) so far in 2015. This is the 3rd most in the AL for third basemen, but you will certainly take those considering he is getting to balls that most others don’t even try for. According to Inside Edge Fielding, Donaldson has reached and made plays on 17.4% of balls that were expected to be fielded 1-10% of the time, which is easily the highest rate in the MLB for 3B.
The last big facet of the game that can create value for a player is base running. This is part speed and part intelligence. Trout is the speedier player, but neither are stealing many bags – a 10 to 4 lead for Trout. However, they are both smart on the base paths and will take the extra base whenever it is available. They have both created positive value with their legs, but the edge goes to Trout here.
When we add all of this together, we get Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Currently Trout is ahead of Donaldson, 6.7 to 6.1. However, Donaldson has been gaining ground lately and 0.6 WAR is definitely not enough to crown an obvious victor. If the season were to end right now, I’d say the award should go to Trout. Donaldson has made a nice run and with 50 games to go, he can certainly still pull ahead.
As for the actual award as voted on by BBWA members, Donaldson might need some help. He should hope the Angels fall out of the playoffs, Toronto finishes strong with a playoff birth, and for the less educator voters, he should finish with more HR than Trout.