Mike Trout, the best player in the American League, won the AL Most Valuable Player award on Thursday. Those two designations have gone hand-in-hand less than you might think. Trout has led the league in Wins Above Replacement every season since 2012, often by ludicrous margins—see his 2.3 advantage over second-place Robinson Cano that year (per Baseball-Reference) or his 1.5 edge in 2013—but prior to this year's announcement he had only one MVP to show for it.
In some ways, the win reads as one more example of Trout's reconfiguring the usual scales of baseball. At age 25, he seems to have already reached the stage of his career where lifetime achievements must be taken into consideration. The obstacles that had kept him from winning in the past remained in place—his two main rivals, Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve, had played for much better teams than his 74-88 Los Angeles Angels—but there were, apparently, only so many times voters could turn away a player of his caliber.
Appreciations of Trout tend to center on the statistical, with good reason. This season's numbers are patently bonkers. He led the league in walks (116) and on-base percentage (.441), and scored the most runs (123). He hit .315, his highest mark since 2013, slugged .550, and hit 29 homers. He stole 30 bases, impressive on its own and doubly so when you remember that he has the dimensions of a fire door, and may well be made of the same material. He does everything, to the point that it is hard to tell which baseball archetype he's a twist on: whether he's a first-rate slugger who happens to be blazing fast and play a mean center field, or an ace leadoff man who also turns baseballs into very impressive projectiles.
Trout is so roundly talented, in fact, that the sum threatens to overshadow any one skill. So for a moment, let's forget the gravity-questioning catches and the baseline daring and the keen eye. Let's look at Trout's swing, which would be a masterpiece on its own. It is balanced, with Trout starting in an upright stance with his hands circling behind his ear, and curiously simple. He lifts his leg up to the right height, sets it back down, and brings the bat through the zone on a low, quick track. It looks like a chip as much as anything, with Trout stopping the motion before it loosens into a one-handed follow-through. And then some poor breaking ball has gone a billion feet away.
It's a pleasure to see, but it's also a little bit frightening that a player who is still so young can seem to have solved the game to such a degree. There's no hurry or stress, only the assurance of proper technique tied to superlative talent. In the right circumstances, it would be the best show in baseball.
Of course, that's the bummer of all this: no number of MVP awards will take Trout away from the Angels, to whom he is committed through 2021. They remain everything their superstar is not: old, one-note, and bad. Thursday was Trout's most newsworthy moment of the year, and it came well after pennant races and a thrilling October and historic World Series. The voters got it right this year, but they can't save him.