Thursday, November 13, 2014

LA: City of MVPs

As expected, Trout (left) and Kershaw walked away with league MVP honors (ESPN)
All hail Clayton Kershaw, king of the mound, the City of Angels, and the National League.

Already the best pitcher on the planet, Kershaw raised his game to new heights in 2014. Already earning comparisons to Sandy Koufax, another great Dodger lefty, Kershaw delivered a historic campaign that looks like it was lifted straight out of Koufax's prime. Already a three-time Cy Young recipient, Kershaw added a new piece of hardware to his trophy collection: the National League MVP, something no starting pitcher had won since Bob Gibson in 1968.

Despite missing more than a month early in the season, Kershaw was so dominant in his 27 starts that he still managed to lead all players in the Baseball-Reference version of WAR with 8.0. Though he fell just shy of 200 innings, he still topped the majors in wins (21) and complete games (6) while ranking seventh with 239 strikeouts.

And while Kershaw's counting stats were excellent, his rate stats were off the charts. His 1.77 ERA secured his record fourth straight ML-ERA crown and was the lowest by a pitcher since Pedro Martinez's 1.74 in 2000. His 1.81 FIP and 0.86 WHIP, both best in the bigs, were the fourth and seventh-best marks of the live ball era. His 10.8 K/9 ratio, 197 adjusted ERA+, and .875 winning percentage were all tops in baseball. His 7.71 K/BB ratio was the highest in the Senior Circuit, too.

That's why voters were willing to overlook the fact that he only started 27 games--the fewest ever by an MVP starting pitcher--and spent 41 consecutive days on the Disabled List (between his first start and his second)--also a record for an MVP.

While Kershaw was leading the Dodgers to the NL West division title, Mike Trout was doing the same for the city's American League team. Though he had a down season by his standards, Trout was the unanimous choice in the American League after helping the Angels to 98 wins and the best record in baseball. All Trout did was lead the majors in runs (115), total bases (338), and extra base hits (84), plus runs created (137) and oWAR (8.7) while patrolling center field for the Halos. He also paced the AL with 111 RBI, smashed 36 home runs, and stole 16 bases in 18 attempts. Altogether he was worth 7.9 bWAR this year, most in the American League.

This should be Trout's third straight award, but he had to settle for second the previous two years because of the voting bloc's affinity for Miguel Cabrera's shiny Triple Crown stats. But with Cabrera having an off year by his standards as well, the door was wide open for Trout to run away with the trophy, and that's exactly what he did. He was the clear favorite for most of the season, and was so good in the first half (1.012 OPS through July 20th) that he still won easily despite a poor second half (.249/.333/.485 and 84 strikeouts thereafter, not including his miserable postseason).

Just 23 years old, Trout became the youngest unanimous winner in baseball history and fifth-youngest overall. He is the first American League player to win unanimously since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997. Trout joins Don Baylor (1979) and Vladimir Guerrero (2004) as the only Angels to win the award in team history, which dates back to 1961.

And if Trout keeps playing the way he has, he'll win at least a few more before he's through.

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