While the Blue Jays look certain to snap a 22-year playoff drought, there's also another (slightly less important) drought that may be on the verge of ending. A player that wears a Toronto Blue Jays jersey has not won the MVP award since George Bell did it in 1987. That's 28 years. That's a long time. The player that looks likely to be the next Blue Jays player to win AL MVP is obviously the electric Josh Donaldson. As is the case in every season of the past half-decade, there's always the "Trout Question". The star of the Angels consistently puts up MVP-type numbers and forces another American League player to play out of their mind to beat him. In 2012 and 2013 it was Miguel Cabrera (it actually wasn't but we're over that) and now in 2015 it looks like Trout will be the bridesmaid once again to Donaldson.
In previous years most informed fans campaigned in favour of advanced stats breaking through and crowning Trout MVP, as oftentimes the lazier old school stats supported someone else's claim for the award. This year it looks like Blue Jays fans should be hoping for the BBWAA to consider those out-of-date stats for just one more year, since from that point of view Josh Donaldson is the clear-cut MVP.
If you put on your suspenders, grab your morning coffee and pretend you're a 65-year-old baseball writer preparing to make your MVP ballot then the race becomes much more clear. You open your morning newspaper, see Josh Donaldson currently has 111 RBI, which is much more than anyone else (especially Trout) and already are halfway towards making up your mind. Next you see the Blue Jays slugger has 36 home runs, which is third in the AL behind two players who won't feature in the MVP race and start to wonder if there's anyone who is even close to Donaldson this season. The next column you feast your eyes on is the runs category since there's nothing more valuable than scoring your team a run! Mr. Donaldson's name appears at the top again with 104 taps on home plate as he comes around to score, which is 14 more than second place Brian Dozier. 'Holy smokes' you exclaim as you wonder if anyone other than Donaldson was even trying this year.
You check the batting average column and see Miguel Cabrera leading the way with a mark of .359 and wonder if there's any way you could get away with giving him the MVP nod again this year but figure the slugger missing nearly half the season just wasn't that valuable to the Tigers. Donaldson still sits 11th in the AL with a .304 average, so you figure that's good enough. The Blue Jays slugger has also checked the box for the textbook definition of 'valuable' as he's helped his team to a division lead down the stretch run, while Mike Trout has likely failed to get his Anaheim Angels into the postseason. Just before you pencil the former Oakland A's player into the top spot on your ballot you stop to consider if you should take defense into account, but then you remember you approach sports with the same level of understanding as this guy and Josh Donaldson is your runaway 2015 AL MVP.
Now for the rare BBWAA voter who thinks FanGraphs is more than just a bar graph made by a fan, the MVP race isn't quite as decided as your old school counterparts. In a lot of ways, Mike Trout was the better offensive player this year and a good amount of the numbers back it up. The Angels center fielder has an OBP of .397, which is much higher than Donaldson's mark of .372. As you move into the more advanced stats, Trout's offensive season still looks to be better. A wRC+ of 170 is higher than Donaldson's 161, while the wOBA (.408 vs .406) tells the same story. 'Geez whiz' you exclaim as you realize these guys are neck and neck on the offensive side of the ball. Trout features a .342 BABIP on the season, higher than Donaldson's .321 which brings the players even closer together in terms of true performance.
On the bases, the two players are equally as close with the edge going to Donaldson this time. While Trout (10) has stolen double the amount of bases as the Jays third baseman, Donaldson has a BsR (base running) total of 3.2 while Trout trails with a 1.5 figure in part thanks to Trout being caught stealing a ton as well. Your eye test is filled with recency bias as well thanks to things like this:
Now the race is tight as ever with Trout getting the edge offensively, while Donaldson has the edge on the base paths. You turn to defense and aren't quite sure how to proceed. Isn't Mike Trout an amazing center fielder? What's a UZR of -1.2 doing there? It's not just this season either, as Trout was even worse when he won the MVP last year. When you examine the components of the UZR total, you see that his RngR (range runs above average) has been poor for two years running now, which is something that is pretty tough to pick up in the eye test. After two full years of below average play, the sample is becoming almost big enough to be definitive as well. On the other hand, Donaldson boasts some of the best third base defensive numbers in the league. He actually leads the league at his position in RngR, which is pretty self-evident:
Although he's made a good amount of errors this year (18), he seems to be a victim of just overall aggressiveness and on aggregate is still a solid third baseman. The clear edge on the fielding side of the ball goes to the Auburn University product. After careful analysis this also makes the Toronto star your MVP choice for the 2015 season. The tell-all stat of WAR backs your choice as well with fWAR giving the current edge to Donaldson 7.6 vs. 6.9, while rWAR is closer at 7.6 to 7.5 in favour of the Jay.
With about a month in the season, Josh Donaldson is currently at the head of the MVP race and if he continues his form he should break a 28-year MVP-less drought for the Blue Jays. When you consider all the numbers, though, the race is still very tight and could easily swing Mike Trout's way with a good September for the Angels center fielder. What Donaldson does have going for him is the fact that old school stats are clearly favoured by the BBWAA and that is where he shines the most. Long live the RBI...