This Is What An MVP Looks Like
Let’s just take a quick little look at the American League leaders in WAR:
Felix would lead the National League, too, but for MVP purposes, we split the leagues apart. How about a closely-related alternative, where we use a pitcher WAR that gives more direct credit for runs allowed or prevented?
Hey, another Mariner. Anyhow, Felix’s WAR is the highest in the league. Felix’s RA9-WAR is the highest in the league. By those measures, Felix has been the American League’s most valuable player to date, and while this is more of a starting point than a definitive conclusion, this really gets to the core of things quick. You start with WAR and argue around it, and there’s only so much room to budge.
There is room to budge. Trout has been insanely good. He’s even been clutch, somehow. Most of the time, Trout’s a shoo-in. Maybe Trout still is a shoo-in, despite the current landscape. The whole precedent here for Felix would be 2011 Justin Verlander, who’s the only pitcher to win a league MVP in the last 20+ years. Verlander’s main competition, statistically, was Jacoby Ellsbury, who was amazing, but that was the year that the Red Sox collapsed down the stretch and they ultimately barely missed the playoffs, while the Tigers won their division. Voters, apparently, hate collapses. We know they reward playoff berths. Trout vs. Felix looks a lot like Ellsbury vs. Verlander, except that Felix’s team is currently out of the playoffs and Trout’s team is somewhat safely in. Presumably, if the voting happened today, Trout would win by a landslide.
But, I don’t know for sure. I’m guessing Felix would end up splitting some votes with Robinson Cano — Cano’s been great, and in some voters’ minds, he’s the difference here. The Mariners have had awesome Felix, and they’ve been terrible. Now they have Cano and they’re competing. Okay. What Felix really has going in his favor, aside from his overall numbers, is that he has a thing. He has this ongoing streak. Felix has made those 16 consecutive starts of 7+ innings and no more than two runs, and that’s the longest such streak ever, and that might gain him a little more purchase. He’s done something no one’s ever done, and it’s taken place into the stretch run with the Mariners turning their season around and getting deep into the race. Who knows how much longer it could continue? Voters love high-leverage performances, and they love consistency, and Felix is breaking baseball in his first playoff chase since blooming.
Plus, there’s the whole sub-2 ERA thing. If that keeps up, it sure is mighty hard to ignore a sub-2 ERA from a starting pitcher. That’s one of Felix’s other things. And maybe there’s a little Mike Trout fatigue? I’m just flailing around and grasping at anything right now, but I think that’s also how some of the voting takes place.
Today, Mike Trout would almost certainly win the AL MVP, and he’d almost certainly win it by a lot. But for one thing, the season isn’t over, and Felix might get into the postseason yet. He can still gain even more momentum. For another thing, even if Felix doesn’t win, that doesn’t mean he won’t have been the most valuable player in the league, or at least basically tied for it. The headline reads “This Is What An MVP Looks Like”. That’s true. This is how an MVP looks and feels. You have more confidence in the player than you have in all the other players combined. An MVP leaves baseball in ruins behind him, and by certain criteria, Felix has put together the longest dominant streak in baseball history. Impossibly, he’s raised his game to a level we couldn’t have dreamed would exist. If you were building a 2014 baseball team from scratch, you very well might select Felix Hernandez first.
Within the last few years, we’ve gotten to care about the Cy Young. This year, we get to care about both the Cy Young and the league MVP. And also a run to the playoffs. Nothing quite like caring about a run to the playoffs. The Mariners wouldn’t be in this position were it not for the King, who has become in every sense the perfect player. Sure would be great for him to get an MVP. Sure would be great for him to get something better.