Keidel: Yankees' DJ LeMahieu Deserves MVP Consideration Along With Mike Trout

Jason Keidel
September 05, 2019 - 11:57 am
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There's long been a debate about each league's MVP award. Some say it should go to the best player. In that case, maybe they should name the AL MVP the Mike Trout Award. Trout is a victim of his vicinity and humility, toiling in Anaheim for an Angels team that doesn't contend. Between the time difference and the deference fans give to the Dodgers, you only see Trout in highlight reels. 

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Which raises the other point of view — that the MVP award should go to the best player on the best team. Give us the guy who plays the hardest when the moment is hottest. 

By that metric, some consideration should go to DJ LeMahieu. Long considered a Coors Field contrivance, whose numbers were spiked by the thin air of the Rockies — Colorado routinely finishes in the top five in hits and runs scored — LeMahieu came to the Bronx during the Summer of the Homer. 

As the Yanks whack their way to a myriad of long-ball records, LeMahieu has proven he's more than a puffed-up product of his old environment, where sluggers regularly put up PlayStation-like stats and never win a ring. 

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman rolled the dice on DJ and he's raked in the pot. LeMahieu is on pace to win the batting title, with a .331 average. It's the second-best average of his nine-year career, behind his .348 in 2016. Even with a month to play, he has career highs in homers (24) and RBIs (90). And with 21 more hits, he will have the most of his career (193). If he scores eight more runs, he will post his career best in that category as well (106). He can also finish with career highs in doubles, slugging percentage and OPS. And if he weren't asked to play three different positions this year, he could have won his fourth Gold Glove. 

Add to that the fact that LeMahieu is playing his first year in the American League, and his maiden season in the Bronx, which often makes mice of men. 

The monstrous roadblock in LeMahieu's path to the MVP is Trout, whose stats are typically obscene. Trout leads the AL in homers (44), walks (108), intentional walks (13), on-base percentage (.437), slugging percentage (.641) and OPS (1.078). And he still has a chance to finish with a .300 batting average. (He's currently hitting .290.) He also leads the AL in runs created (143), WAR (8.3) and offensive WAR (8.0). 

So, it's open and shut, right? Hand Trout the hardware, then rename the award after him. He's so much more gifted than the rest of baseball — remember when some thought Bryce Harper was better? — that it's insulting to anoint any other player.  

But there's one demerit on Trout's jacket, and that's the name on the front of his jersey. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the state of California are not very good this year. At 65-75, the Angels are in fourth place in the AL West, 25 games behind the Houston Astros and 15 games behind the second wild-card spot. They are 2-8 over their last 10 games and have been outscored by 43 total runs this season. Not so good for Trout. 

DJ LeMahieu of the New York Yankees celebrates his first-inning home run against the Toronto Blue Jays with teammate Aaron Judge at Yankee Stadium on June 25, 2019.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

History is on LeMahieu's side. Over the last 15 seasons, 14 of the AL MVPs were on teams that qualified for the playoffs. The only exception? Mike Trout in 2016. The Angels reached the playoffs in 2014, the other time Trout took home the award. 

Though few will ever feel sorry for the New York Yankees, they have endured a laughable litany of injured starters. Last week the Bombers set the all-time record for players hitting the injured list -- up to 37 times now. LeMahieu has played in 128 of the club's 141 games, a marvel when you see their turnstile on the IL. Yet the Yanks (92-49) still have the best record in baseball. 

Then there's the distinction between the most talented and most valuable. Trout is clearly the best player in the AL, if not on the planet. His ticket to Cooperstown is all but stamped and laminated. And he's only 27. But for all of his athletic splendor, Trout shines brightest when his team is better. 

LeMahieu may not have Trout's five-tool arsenal, but he's been the best player on the best team in the league. Baseball has long placed a premium on winning. And if you dig deeper into the archives, before 2016, the last time an AL player won MVP on a team well under .500 was in 2003. The Texas Rangers finished in last place in the AL West, with a 71-91 mark. Yet they gave the MVP to their shortstop, who later played third base for the Yankees and won a few more, on a winning team, and is now engaged to Jennifer Lopez.   

So, this year will be a choice between the AL's preeminent player and the most important player. Trout may have the best summer, but LeMahieu will have a far better fall. 

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonKeidel