BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
Special to the Sun-Times
Ever since he became a full-time major-leaguer, Angels center fielder Mike Trout has performed at historic levels.
By the numbers, he has been the American League’s best player for three consecutive seasons, topping the AL in 2014 with a 7.9 rWAR, 7.8 fWAR and 40 Win Shares after also leading in 2012 (10.8, 10.1, 38) and 2013 (8.9, 10.5, 40). Trout made his big-league debut with 135 plate appearances in 2011, but his combined rWAR of 27.5 is tied with Ted Williams as the highest in baseball history for the second, third and fourth seasons of a career.
He has yet to win the AL Most Valuable Player award, having finished second to the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera the last two seasons. Factoring in on-base ability, baserunning and defense, Cabrera was a tier below Trout at 7.2 rWAR, 6.5 fWAR, 32 Win Shares in 2012 and 7.5, 7.6, 37 in 2013, but a Triple Crown in 2012 and his role in two playoff runs lifted him in the balloting.
When winners are announced Thursday, Trout is expected to receive his first MVP award. The other finalists are Tigers designated hitter/first baseman Victor Martinez (5.3, 4.4, 30) and Indians outfielder Michael Brantley (7.0, 6.4, 31).
Trout stands out in an evolving way. He had his biggest home-run season with 36 in 2014 after hitting 30 in 2012 and 27 in 2013, but his stolen bases dropped to 16 after 49 and 33. His batting average dipped to .287 after .326 and .323, but his slugging percentage held steady at .561 after .564 and .557.
A greater percentage of his production is coming from power. That shows up in his career-high .274 isolated power, up from .238 and .234. Isolated power shows the portion of slugging percentage that comes from the extra bases on doubles, triples and homers.
Trout is only 23, so it would be overstating things to say his running days are behind him. Still, the 2014 model was more power-based than before.
In the National League, the MVP finalists are Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen (who won last season), Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
The last pitcher to win the NL MVP was Bob Gibson in 1968. Pitchers get fewer chances to make an impact than position players, and that’s even more true now with expanded rotations and limited innings.
Kershaw appeared in 27 games and pitched 1981/3 innings this season, compared with Gibson’s 34 games and 3042/3 innings in 1968.
But Kershaw made the most of his innings with his major-league-best 1.77 ERA and 1.81 FIP (fielding-independent pitching). His 8.0 rWAR and 7.2 fWAR top Stanton’s 6.5, 6.1 and McCutchen’s 6.4, 6.8, but Win Shares seems to pick up on Kershaw’s more limited opportunities. By Win Shares, it’s McCutchen 33, Stanton 31 and Kershaw 22.
Kershaw has a strong case, but it would be no miscarriage of justice if one of the every-day players won.