It’s awards season, and I’m skipping to the one I usually write about last. I’ll see if I can make time to write about managers and rookies and left-handed right fielders at some point, but for now, let’s talk about one of the more interesting races.
Mike Trout has never lost the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s Stan Musial Award. I suppose that’s not entirely true. In 2011, the summer he turned 20, he played 40 games for the Angels. Those 40 games were basically the only ones Trout’s played in the big leagues in which he wasn’t the league’s best player.
In 2015, Trout had legitimate competition. First off, if MLB gave one award covering both leagues, it would have to be Bryce Harper’s award this year. There had never been a National League position player whose numbers matched up with Trout’s until Harper broke out with a historic 2015. Even in the American League, though, which Trout led in both versions of WAR for the fourth straight year, there’s a valid reason to drop Trout all the way to second on your ballot: Josh Donaldson.
.299/.402/.590, 41 HR, 11 SB
.297/.371/.568, 41 HR, 6 SB
The line on top- the better one- is Trout’s. He walked about 30% more often than Donaldson, who was otherwise the same offensive player.
These are Trout’s and Donaldson’s offensive, defensive, and baserunning runs above average, per fangraphs. Trout plays in a tougher park for hitters, so his offensive advantage is more stark than it may have appeared above. But despite his reputation as a defensive wizard, Trout hasn’t graded far above average since his rookie year in 2012. His 12.4 career DRAA are actually lower than the 13 he earned in 2012 alone. Donaldson, meanwhile has been a stud at the hot corner for the last three seasons, scoring double-digit DRAA each year. Donaldson also gets a slight baserunning edge, due in large part to never having been caught stealing in 2015, something Trout did six times.
We’re pretty close to a draw.
Another checkmark in Donaldson’s favor is WPA, or Win Probability Added. The narrative working in Donaldson’s favor all along was that he put the Blue Jays on his shoulders in August and they never looked back, running away with the division after falling to 50-51 and fourth place in late July. Fangraphs backs this up, as Donaldson led the AL with 5.75 WPA. Second place? You guessed it- Mike Trout, at 5.32.
Donaldson was a major part of Toronto’s playoff push, and was clearly the team’s most valuable player. Let’s not discount trade deadline acquisition David Price’s role in that surge, though, or the play of fellow sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Trout’s Angels may not have made the playoffs, but Trout kept Trouting right down to the wire, putting up bigger offensive numbers than Donaldson or any other AL player during a more closely-contested divisional race than the one Donaldson’s Blue Jays pulled away from late.
By WAR, Trout was the slightly more valuable player this year, whether you prefer fangraphs (9.0-8.7) or Baseball Reference (9.4-8.8). A vote for Donaldson says one of three things: (1) Donaldson’s clutch hits in the pennant race were worth more than Trout’s; (2) Donaldson’s fielding advantage was actually bigger than the numbers suggest it was, perhaps because the league is flush with great defensive third basemen right now and they’re graded against each other (then again, Trout’s being graded against Kevin Kiermaier, Kevin Pillar, and Lorenzo Cain); or (3) the Blue Jays made the playoffs and the Angels didn’t.
Number one above could be valid, depending on how much you value performance in high-leverage situations versus consistent excellence throughout the year. Number two seems like a stretch, as Trout had a major lead in the more quantifiable aspect of performance (batting) and is a strong defender and baserunner. Number three doesn’t speak to me, as Donaldson had several teammates better than Trout’s best, which was probably Kole Calhoun.
Josh Donaldson is absolutely the right answer in this argument. I think Trout may be the slightest bit more right though.
1. Mike Trout
2. Josh Donaldson
3. Lorenzo Cain
4. Manny Machado
5. Kevin Kiermaier
6. Jason Kipnis
7. Nelson Cruz
8. Chris Davis
9. Dallas Keuchel
10. David Price