Mike Trout is the best all-around player in Major League Baseball. There are decent arguments he should have won the American League MVP during his first two full big league seasons, which is remarkable, and he’s probably the front-runner in 2014. But my vote this season goes to Victor Martinez.
When he wasn’t being chirped at by Chris Sale Wednesday afternoon, Detroit’s first baseman/designated hitter had an off day. He struck out for just the second time in September and the 41st time the entire season (in more than 600 plate appearances). Those are incredible in an era where 150 to 200 strikeouts in a season is a common occurrence.
Trout, who leads the AL with 181 whiffs, is actually having a down campaign in every category but home runs and RBI. The Angels are much better this season mainly due to an improved bullpen, some surprising young starters, a healthy and productive Albert Pujols and other role players (Erick Aybar, Kole Calhoun, Howie Kendrick) stepping up. Trout is not as “valuable” in 2014 as he was in 2012 and 2013. While the media might vote him MVP rather than give it to a Tiger for the third straight season, Martinez deserves it.
In addition to his innate ability to avoid baseball’s worst feat, the 35-year-old is having his best season. He’s nearly 50 points ahead of Trout in batting average, his .970 OPS leads all of baseball, and he only has 10 fewer RBIs than Trout (110 to 100), and just four home runs behind the Angel (35 to 31).
Since leaving the designated hitter role to man first base most games for the ailing Miguel Cabrera, Martinez has been at his best. With little fanfare, he has a batting average near .370 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs since Aug. 1. Many of those came as clutch hits when Detroit dominated division rivals Cleveland and Kansas City during September. Though Trout has 11 home runs and 34 RBIs during the same timespan, he hit roughly 100 points lower down the stretch at .267.
I’d even consider Jose Abreu and Michael Brantley for AL MVP before Trout. On two subpar offensive teams, they’re as valuable as anyone, putting up monstrous offensive numbers in all categories. “Smooth Operator” Brantley, who reached the 20/20 mark last week, currently has 199 hits and 97 RBIs this year, with a .329 batting average (.436 in September). He and AL Cy Young contender Corey Kluber have matched Abreu and Chris Sale in Chicago — a hitter and pitcher carrying a team — though the former kept the overachieving Indians in the AL playoff chase.
Scant media attention was granted to the aforementioned feats. Let’s see if the national media (once they pry themselves away from Derek Jeter worship) is cognizant of the phenomenal season Victor Martinez is enjoying.