The Boston Red Sox right fielder was the best player on the best team. That formerly made MVP voting a slam dunk, and it was a dunk for 28 of the 30 voters.
Betts satisfied the old-school voting bloc that believes playing for a winner matters and the voters who are leaning more toward analytics to determine their ballots.
Analytics have added an entirely new perspective on awards voting. For instance, would 10-game winner Jacob deGrom have won the National League Cy Young this year, say, 10 years ago? Maybe less?
Betts, though, had the analytics crowd covered this season as he ranked first in WAR by both the Baseball-Reference formula and the Fangraphs formula. Betts is a worthy pick, and that leads to this question:
Why did I cast the only first-place vote for Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout?
It’s a valid question and, obviously, one I’m not shy to answer. Here it goes:
Trout is the undisputed best player in baseball. Undisputed. And guess what? The undisputed best player in baseball recorded the best season of his career.
He was second in WAR to Betts, who benefits from the defensive metrics that measure him as a better defender than Trout. To me, though, Trout’s lower defensive metrics don’t pass the eye test, and there are enough problems with defensive metrics to bring them into question.
Betts was part of the game’s best defensive outfield this season and won a Gold Glove. Trout has never won a Gold Glove, which is silly.
He catches everything. Every. Thing. His arm is not the strongest around and is one that teams feel they can run against, but Trout throws accurately and makes up for his lack of arm strength with route running and the speed with which he gets to balls.
No one questions the offensive might, and Trout finished ahead of Betts in offensive WAR. The metric that stands out is Adjusted OPS+, which accounts for park factors.
It’s a lot harder to hit in the AL West than it is in the AL East and at Angel Stadium than at Fenway Park.
So, being dubious of defensive metrics and a big fan of Adjusted OPS+ is how Trout, the best player in baseball who had the best season of his career, reached the top of my ballot.
He’s now a four-time MVP runner-up, in addition to being a two-time winner, but I won’t lose any sleep over the deserving Betts winning the award for the first time in his career.