This Is What An MVP Looks Like

Jeff Sullivan · August 12, 2014 at 8:57 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Let’s just take a quick little look at the American League leaders in WAR:

Player WAR
Felix Hernandez 6.2
Mike Trout 5.9
Alex Gordon 5.3
Corey Kluber 5.2
Jon Lester 5.1

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?

Player WAR
Felix Hernandez 6.6
Mike Trout 5.9
Alex Gordon 5.3
Corey Kluber 4.9
Garrett Richards 4.8
Robinson Cano 4.8
Michael Brantley 4.8
Ben Zobrist 4.8

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.


24 Responses to “This Is What An MVP Looks Like”

  1. sawsatch on August 12th, 2014 10:25 am

    Trout strikes out a lot and is barely hitting 300.

  2. MrZDevotee on August 12th, 2014 10:42 am

    It’s true. And Felix hardly ever strikes out. And his grand slams per AB rate is near the best in the history of the game (especially with his eyes closed, and one foot off the ground). 1 Grand Slam ever 34 AB’s currently…

  3. californiamariner on August 12th, 2014 10:55 am

    I think a lot of people have a hard time separating best player from best season. I’m sure we all still think that Trout is the best player in baseball, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible that Felix could have been better over one season. After all, one season is still a relatively small sample and crazy stuff is going to happen!

  4. sawsatch on August 12th, 2014 10:59 am

    MrZDevotee, I’m just saying that Trout isn’t as dominant in all aspects of his game as Felix is in his.
    p.s. There are better outfield arms than Trout.
    btw- I’m a Trout fan, I’m from N.J.

  5. Edward Baker on August 12th, 2014 12:28 pm

    Verlander won it, his team won the division and he was off the charts, but it seems to me a mistake, because a guy who plays every five days should not contend for MVP. Félix this year is even more off the charts than Verlander was, but he still should not win it.
    Who should? Hint: Trout reminds me a lot of Mickey Mantle at that age.
    All things being more or less equal between now and October 1, Félix is Cy.

  6. sawsatch on August 12th, 2014 12:29 pm

    Felix affects the bullpen the day before and the day after his start.

  7. Westside guy on August 12th, 2014 12:43 pm

    The “pitchers only affect every fifth game” meme doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

    A starting pitcher can have a much larger impact than any position player has in an individual game. The overall weights balance out, in my opinion.

  8. djw on August 12th, 2014 12:52 pm

    The “pitchers only affect every fifth game” meme doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

    Agreed. It’s letting a slogan do your thinking for you. “An offensive player should never win MVP, because he only bats every 9th plate appearance” makes just as much sense. It turns out we can measure reasonably the contributions people make when they’re actually playing and compare them. It also turns out that, generally speaking, a very good position player has a bit more value than a similarly good pitcher. But that doesn’t tell us anything about specific comparisons.

  9. PackBob on August 12th, 2014 1:01 pm

    MVP is subjective and a lot depends on the narrative. Even on the Mariners the MVP could go to different players depending on what is valued. Cano, even Zunino if you place emphasis on catcher defense, game calling, and framing. The best pitching staff in the majors might not be that without Zunino.

    How about an MV2P award? Cano and Seager have the highest combined 2-position player WAR of any team.

  10. Jon S. on August 12th, 2014 1:12 pm

    Felix for MVP! Since I know the argument is coming, I think we should all be prepared:

    2014 Felix batters faced: 686
    2014 Trout plate appearances: 518

    The “plays-every-day” argument is completely bogus. Felix has affected way more plate appearances than Trout.

  11. LongDistance on August 12th, 2014 1:27 pm

    If KenMor and our Amish LF could actually tweak themselves into more consistency, or whatever it is Lloyd & Co. seem to actually believe them capable of somewhere, Felix has a shot at it all.

    Loving. It.

  12. MrZDevotee on August 12th, 2014 1:50 pm

    I wasn’t making fun… I was just playing with Felix’s offensive numbers to say he’s (facetiously) good offensively too.

  13. MrZDevotee on August 12th, 2014 1:53 pm


    I agree the comparison is bunk… But there’s a bit of a flaw in your data… Trout also effects OTHER folks plate appearances, by making plays in the field. And affects other people’s (on his own team) at bats, by being on base a lot.

    I still agree, just thought that was a flaw in your data.

  14. MrZDevotee on August 12th, 2014 1:54 pm

    I could see Felix EASILY winning the Cy Young, AL MVP, and Mayor of Seattle next election.

    Long live the King!

  15. Westside guy on August 12th, 2014 2:04 pm

    BTW, and apropos of nothing…

    1999 Pedro Martinez – 11.9 WAR

    That is INSANE!

  16. Jon S. on August 12th, 2014 2:15 pm


    Yeah, that is a flaw. The other side of the coin is the point brought up by Sawatch, which is that Felix makes everyone on the pitching staff better (specifically the bullpen) by decreasing their load. I’m not sure to what extent each player elevates their teammates, but I imagine that the two sides of the coin cancel out to some extent.

  17. Paul B on August 12th, 2014 2:39 pm

    Likd HOF, MVP is subjective and useless.

  18. DarkKnight1680 on August 12th, 2014 3:20 pm

    MrZ – Last I checked, pitchers had to field too, though not as much. For a more comprehensive look at “number of plays affected” (which of course doesn’t necessarily take into account the prospective value of each play), you can add Batters Faced/Plate appearances to Fielding Chances. For Trout, 518 PAs + 276 FCs=794 Plays Affected. For Felix, 686 BF + 29 FC + 1 pickoff=716 Plays Affected. That’s reasonably close.

  19. MrZDevotee on August 12th, 2014 3:47 pm

    That’s true too… I guess when someone figures out ALL the data to compare, we can call the new stat: Pandora.


  20. MrZDevotee on August 12th, 2014 3:49 pm

    No kidding… Insane!

    Pedro Martinez 1999 = 11.9 WAR

  21. Mid80sRighty on August 12th, 2014 4:08 pm

    Whether or not you think pitchers should win the MVP is beside the point. This article is about WAR and so far Felix has added more wins to his team than anyone in baseball. Ergo, he’s been more valuable to his team. And doing so “only” pitching every fifth day. Imagine what he would do if he pitched every day…

  22. Breadbaker on August 13th, 2014 1:14 am

    I can guaranty you Felix would give up every shot at hardware for a shot at a World’s Championship. Let’s go for both!

  23. heyoka on August 13th, 2014 1:53 pm

    His Royal Majesty demands more jewels for the treasury!

  24. ensignofcommand on August 14th, 2014 12:26 am

    The best argument for position players having more “value” is their ability to both prevent and score runs, whereas American League pitchers have one role. Felix is an elite pitcher, but Trout is an elite batter, and (depending on the metric) a decent fielder at a premium position.

    If I had a vote I’d vote for Felix though, because Felix.

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