June 28, 2018

Going to WAR with Previous MVPs

What do Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Nellie Fox, Robin Yount, Dennis Eckersley, and Vladimir Guerrero all have in common? That's right, they're all in the Hall of Fame.

But there's something else, or at least there'd better be if I'm going to wring an entire post out of it. And that is this: Each was also named AL MVP in a season when they put up 6 WAR or less (per Fangraphs model).

So why is that significant? Well, at exactly the halfway point of the Angels' season, Mike Trout is at 6.1 fWAR.*

* The facts around this post were shaping up to be even more awe-inspiring about a week ago, before Trout sprained his finger, when he was slashing .332/.464/.688 and sitting at the same 6.1 fWAR. While the injury hasn't kept him out of the lineup, it has relegated him to DHing, where it's significantly harder to add value, especially so when you're mired in a (likely) sore-finger-related slump. Over his last 6 games at DH, he's gone 5-for-23 with two walks and nine strikeouts, shaving just shy of 50 points off his OPS since the injury. He's also somehow gone two weeks without an extra base hit, which has to be a record for him.

Anyway, 6.1 is a not-all-that anomalously low fWAR total for an MVP, although every winner since 2007 has surpassed it. Here's the complete list of MVPs that didn't for both leagues, since integration:

Some notes:
  • Vladimir Guerrero's MVP season was actually his best as an Angel and fourth-best of his career. In his age-26 season, Trout has already surpassed him in career WAR (61 to 54.3). 
  • It somehow felt like a disservice to include Mike Schmidt and Mickey Mantle, as both are among the game's all-time greats and led their league in WAR four and five times, respectively. In a weird coincidence, their sub-6 MVP years were each of their 11th-best seasons, with Schmidt boasting nine 7+ WAR years -- including the strike-shortened 1981 season, when he put up 7.8 WAR in just 102 games -- and three 9+ WAR ones, while Mantle had four years over 9, including two over 11 (he was MVP in both). 
  • Yogi Berra's career high WAR was 6.4, the only time in his career that he topped Trout's current half-season mark. He's only one of the three-or-so greatest catchers of all time. 
  • Between Rollie Fingers, Willie Hernandez and Jim(?) Konstanty, it's clear that no reliever should have ever been named MVP, and Konstanty's 1950 win with less than 1 WAR has to be the all-time worst. He finished his career with 3 WAR, just less than half of Trout's current season total.
Other Trout items of interest:
  • This recurring USA Today feature, which chronicles the Hall of Famers that Trout has surpassed in career WAR each month. 
  • This Fangraphs post from May, where it's shown that Trout has already provided the career value of the average Hall of Famer. 
  • Finally, this got a fair amount of play in the last two weeks after being in this ESPN article, but it's still so mind-blowing that I'm going to share it again: The longest streak of games in which Trout has failed to reach base in his career is two. 2! After over 1,000 games, he's never gone three games in a row without reaching base. That's absolutely insane. Just like Mike Trout.