Mike Trout was running away with the AL MVP Award, but Alex Bregman’s late surge has made it a race to keep track of in the season’s final week
It’s a debate almost as old as the award itself: what exactly is a Most Valuable Player?
Is it a player who elevates his team to greatness, or is it simply the best player whose talent shines through regardless of who else is on his team?
This debate is the central focus of the 2019 American League MVP race. The Angels’ Mike Trout was considered a runaway winner just a few weeks ago, despite the fact his club was going to finish well out of the playoff race.
But there is a new candidate for MVP, and he actually plays on a club that will be appearing in the postseason. Alex Bregman of the Astros has been the best hitter in the AL the past month and is making a serious challenge to Trout’s hold on the award as the season enters its final week.
Where you stand on the Trout vs. Bregman debate shows what your definition of “valuable” is. Trout’s Angels are 70-86 and on the way to missing the postseason for the fifth straight year. But the two-time MVP has been as great as ever despite his team’s woes, leading the AL in home runs, on-base percentage, OPS and OPS+, the first player to lead in that category for five straight years since Mickey Mantle.
Bregman, meanwhile, has been busy leading the Astros to the club’s third-straight 100-win season and the NL West title. The 25-year-old has already set career highs with 39 home runs and 108 RBI. Over the past month, he leads the AL with a .362 batting average and a 1.187 OPS. He’s third in the AL in OPS behind Trout and Minnesota’s Nelson Cruz, and second to Trout in WAR and OBP. Trout has hit six more home runs, but Bregman has more RBI and runs scored.
The biggest knock against Trout is the number of games he’s played. He went on the IL on Sept. 7 with a foot injury and won’t play the rest of the season. Trout ends the season with 134 games played. Since the division era began in 1969, only five position players have won MVP in a non-strike year while playing that few games: Josh Hamilton (2010), Barry Bonds (2003), Juan Gonzalez (1996), George Brett (1980) and Willie Stargell (1979). No one has ever been MVP who didn’t play at all the last three-plus weeks of the season.
Hamilton’s MVP season is the most analogous to Trout; the Rangers slugger played only three games after Sept. 4, but still won after hitting a league-leading .359 with 32 home runs and 100 RBI. The Rangers also made the playoffs that year, something Trout won’t be able to claim.
Bregman, by contrast, has been the model of consistency amid an ever-changing Astros lineup. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer have all missed at least 30 games this season. Bregman not only leads the club with 150 games played, injuries have forced him to change positions. He’s started 55 games at shortstop this season after only playing there 48 times combined in his first three years.
While he’s been a below-average shortstop, his defense at third base hasn’t suffered as he ranks second among AL third baseman in defensive runs scored behind Oakland’s Matt Chapman. Trout is only 13th among center fielders in DRS and 14th in defensive WAR.
So while Trout will still finish the season as the favorite for his third MVP trophy, Bregman has at least made himself past of the conversation. There are still six more games left for him to prove he’s more valuable, whatever that term means.