Los Angeles is the city of stars, but in 2014 it was also the city of baseball’s two most valuable players.
Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers were named the AL and NL MVPs on Thursday, bringing both pieces of hardware back to Hollywood. Well, Anaheim in Trout’s case, but close enough.
They’re the two best players in baseball — the best hitter and the best pitcher — and while some people in Detroit or St. Louis might claim blasphemy, if you strip away any favoritism, it’s true. Trout is the best run producer in the game, and Kershaw is the toughest in the game to score against. And now the Baseball Writers Association of America have cemented their MVP status. For this year, at least.
Trout was a unanimous winner, making him just the 10th MVP to sweep the voting. The NL vote was closer, but Kershaw still received 18 first-place votes, enough to handily beat Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins.
Each MVP award has even more historical context:
Take Kershaw, he’s the first NL pitcher to win the MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968. In the American League, it’s happened a couple times since then. The three most recent: Justin Verlander in 2011, Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and Roger Clemens in 1986. Kershaw is now the fourth NL pitcher to win the MVP and three of them are Dodgers, with Sandy Koufax (1963) and Don Newcombe (1956) being the others.
There’s a sentiment in baseball shared by some that pitchers shouldn’t win the MVP since they have the Cy Young award. Kershaw won that Wednesday. His 2014 season was so incredible that it overcame the belief that pitchers should exist to reach only the Cy Young. Two position players, each with stellar seasons, just didn’t measure up. Stanton finished second after crushing 37 homers and Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the 2013 MVP, finished third after leading the NL in OPS.
And Trout, at age 23, is the fifth-youngest player to win an MVP. He’s the youngest MVP in 31 years, since Cal Ripken won it at age 22 in 1983. The list of players to be crowned MVP at a younger age than Trout includes not a single slouch: Vida Blue (he’s the youngest in 1971, in his age 21 season), Johnny Bench (1970) and Stan Musial (1943).
Trout earned all 30 first-place votes, finishing ahead of Victor Martinez of the Detroit Tigers (16 second-place votes) and Michael Brantley of the Cleveland Indians (eight second-place votes).
Trout finished second each of the past two seasons, with advanced-stat minded folks arguing that he deserved the award both seasons instead of Miguel Cabrera. Even the year Cabrera won the Triple Crown. This is not to ignite another of those debates, rather to make the point that Trout couldn’t be denied a third time.
His 2014 was maybe his worst season by many metrics, which goes to show how good Trout’s first two seasons were rather than shame his 2014 performance. This year, he led MLB in runs scored and RBIs — a spectacular amount of run producing that helped the Angels win an MLB-high 98 games. The knock on Trout in years past was that he wasn’t valuable because his team didn’t win. But this year it did.
He also had 36 homers with 173 total hits. He led baseball (again) in Wins Above Replacement, an across-the-board stat that measures his value relative to a replacement-level player. The knock on Trout this year is that he struck out more than anybody in baseball. That’s true, his batting average was down, from .323 last season to .287 in 2014, so were his walks. But between his runs and RBIs, he easily accounted for the most scoring in MLB, and that’s the point, isn’t it?
Kershaw’s job, of course, is the opposite. He’s not supposed to allow runs, and for a good stretch, he didn’t. He had a 41-inning scoreless streak at one point and had a 0.94 ERA in June and July.
He finished the season with a 1.77 ERA, the fourth straight season in which Kershaw had the lowest ERA in MLB. No one’s ever done that before. Kershaw won 21 games and lost just three, throwing six complete games, two shutouts and one no-hitter. He struck out 239 batters and walked just 31. Kershaw was so good, he didn’t allow an RBI to a left-handed batter until September.
Neither Kershaw nor Trout delivered the ultimate prize to their cities — a World Series trophy. Both the Angels and Dodgers were bounced out of the playoffs earlier than they hoped. Now that they’ve earned MLB honors, Trout and Kershaw have their next challenge in front of them.
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