Explaining WAR's role in MVP results

Mike Trout and Kris Bryant were named the American and National League MVPs, begging a question: Does this mean that the Baseball Writers' Association of America will judge MVP candidates by different standards in the coming years?

Both vote totals are a victory for the new-age sabermetrics statistic called WAR - wins above replacement. Although debatable about what it means, WAR tries to summarize a players' all-around ability in one number.

Both second-place finishers - the Nationals' Daniel Murphy and the Red Sox's Mookie Betts - had impressive enough statistics while leading championship teams, but didn't fare well in wins above replacement.

The Trout award broke with MVP tradition that usually gives the edge to players that are on winning teams.

It's the classic debate about how to define that one word, "valuable." Is there a difference between the most outstanding player versus the most valuable on a winning team?

If we are picking the best athlete with the shiniest statistics, should the BBWAA set a statistical standard for MVP and vote like that? Who needs all this ambiguity and debate about what the word valuable means?

Trout, 25, played for the Los Angeles Angels, a team that finished fourth in the AL West. And Bryant, 24, was arguably the best hitter on the 103-win Chicago Cubs, but Murphy had better statistics. Voters also said that Bryant had more versatility than Murphy.

How much should Trout be penalized for playing on an Angels team that won 74 games?

Usually, players with MVP-type statistics that play on winning teams - or at least contending teams - get the advantage, even though there's no rule on the ballot stating that has to be the case.

But that's the debate in the MVP world these days. And the debate will intensify. Trout's MVP award gives even more credence to WAR.

Trout had 19 first-place votes and 356 points to beat Betts, who was considered the favorite to win given that he did just about everything for the AL East-champion Red Sox. Betts had 311 points.

Betts hit .318 with a .363 on-base percentage, 31 home runs and 26 steals while playing top-notch defense. That's value to a championship team.

Trout hit .315 with a .441 on-base percentage with 29 home runs, 30 steals and blue-chip defense. That's value to a fourth-place team.

But Trout had a WAR of 9.4 compared to Betts' 7.8. That tells voters that Trout is the better all-around player, so he gets the award.

Would the Angels have finished in fourth place without Trout? Definitely, maybe even last.

Would the Red Sox have won without Betts? Maybe, but maybe not.

In 2012 and 2013, Detroit's Miguel Cabrera beat Trout in the MVP voting, even though Cabrera's WAR statistic wasn't as high.

In 2012, Trout beat him in WAR 10.6 to 7.2. The next year, it was 9.3 to 7.3 in favor of Trout.

In 2012, Cabrera won the Triple Crown, leading the AL in average, home runs and RBIs, even though his defense at third base wasn't as good as Trout's in the outfield.

Trout joins a small list of players from losing teams that won an MVP.

Ernie Banks won back-to-back MVPs for the Chicago Cubs in 1958 and 1959 even though they finished fifth each season. The Cubs' Andre Dawson was the MVP in 1987, even though the Cubs had a losing record.

In the AL, the Orioles' Cal Ripken was an MVP even though the team had a losing record in 1991. It was the same story for MVP Alex Rodriguez in 2003 when he played for Texas.

It was Trout's second MVP award. He's finished second three times. Only Barry Bonds has finished first or second in the voting for five consecutive seasons.

Bryant beat Murphy by a landslide, getting 29 of 30 first-place votes.

Bryant is the fourth player to win a Rookie of the Year Award and MVP in consecutive seasons.

Ripken did it in 1982 and 1983. Philadelphia's Ryan Howard won the awards in 2005 and 2006 and Boston's Dustin Pedroia in 2007 and 2008.

Also, Bryant helped the Cubs win a World Series, just as Ripken did for the Orioles in 1983 after his AL MVP season.

Bryant hit .292 with 39 home runs and 102 RBIs. He scored 102 runs and had a .939 on-base percentage.

Bryant was versatile on defense. He's the first player to win an MVP starting at four different positions.

He was primarily a third baseman, but he also played left field, right field, first base and even an inning each at shortstop and center field.

And even though he was all over the field, Bryant managed to finish in the top four defensively for NL third basemen in assists, putouts and double plays.

Bryant was also the second player in history to have two 5-for-5 games with five RBIs in the same game. The last to do it was another Cub - Phil Cavaretta, who did it during his 1945 MVP season.

Bryant is the Cubs' first MVP since Sammy Sosa in 1998.

Murphy, a second baseman, hit .347 with a .390 on-base percentage. He had 25 home runs and 104 RBIs. And defensively, he was solid and improved over his 2015 season with the Mets.

Murphy seldom struck out. He missed the final 14 games of the season because of injury, but he still led the NL in doubles (47), slugging percentage (.595) and OPS (.985).

But when it came to WAR, Bryant's was 8.4, Murphy's 5.5.

And agree or disagree, that's likely why Bryant is the NL MVP.

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