Mookie Betts or Mike Trout: Who gets the nod?
ANAHEIM, Calif. – One is jacked, the other is chiseled.
One has two MVP awards, the other should have one.
One has shown who he is and what he is, the other is about to get there.
Mike Trout vs. Mookie Betts. Which player would you rather have?
Any player would want to be Trout, perhaps the best player in baseball (though Bryce Harper might pose an ever bigger threat than Betts). But after you give Trout his obvious accolades, who wouldn’t want Betts?
Both are excellent athletes who can change a game with their power, speed, and defensive ability. Betts is probably the better defender, though he’s playing right field and Trout is a center fielder. Trout has proven himself as a consistently great performer over a longer period of time.
Betts finished runner-up to Trout for the 2016 American League MVP. I think Betts got robbed. As a voter, I place great value on a player who helps lead his team to a first-place finish. Betts did that in 2016. Trout’s Angels were awful, and it’s tough to gauge the value of a player under those circumstances. Where the stats lean in favor of Trout, that’s where the majority of the votes went.
Which brings us to a topic that will never die: Should the MVP award be based on the best player, or his value to the team? It seems they’ve become one and the same. But that shouldn’t be.
While Betts dropped off last season, Trout continued to excel. It’s funny that Trout, off to another great start and helping his team to a 13-3 record (the best in Angels’ history), has been overshadowed by Shohei Ohtani, who started Tuesday night’s game against the Red Sox.
Trout has reached base safely in half of his 34 plate appearances over the last seven games. He batted .385 ( 10 for 26) with four homers, 8 RBIs, and 8 runs scored during that stretch.
Betts was hitting .353 with two homers and 10 RBIs with a 1.059 OPS going into Tuesday night’s game. Trout had a .973 OPS. Betts was tied for the league lead in doubles (7), second in runs (16), second in average (.353), and fourth in OPS.
Ohtani has drawn huge numbers of Japanese media to his games, which have become events — particularly when he pitches. When he hits, it hasn’t been as pronounced, but he’s taken baseball by storm as a hitter as well.
Trout doesn’t mind the media attention shifting away from him. In that way he’s very similar to Betts, who shuns the spotlight and wants little to do with the attention paid to him.
But to see two outstanding all-around players going head to head is an event in itself. Betts’s skill set is often taken for granted, because he has shown he’s human with slumps, as he often endured in 2017.
So I asked 10 evaluators (a combination of scouts and GMs) to choose one over the other, and the answer was predictably in favor of Trout. I thought he would get all 10 votes. He got seven of the 10. Here are some responses:
■ “You could make a case for either, but Trout by a hair,” said one National League executive. “Trout is more physical and should be in a better position to maintain his power value as he ages. Betts would need to continue performing like a freak to keep up with Trout.”
■ “Wow, I’m going with Betts!” said one American League scout. “More versatile. The power numbers go to Trout, but I like Betts all around.”
■ “Haven’t seen Trout play in person since 2011, but with that in mind, I’ll go with Betts,” said an American League scout.
■ “Trout,” said a longtime National League scout. “Analytics may favor Mookie, I love both, but Trout never cools.”
■ “I’d go with Trout,” said a National League evaluator. “Close though. Betts is a year younger and has a better OPS over the last two years.”
■ “Trout’s ahead of him, no doubt,” said one American League executive, “but Mookie has the ability to catch up if he has a couple of really consistent years, which he appears to be on his way to doing.”
Betts was flattered to be in the same conversation as Trout.
“He’s a great player and I think everybody loves watching him play,” Betts said. “To be in the same conversation as a great player like that is an honor. He plays the game the right way and he plays it in an exciting way.
“I think we’re both team-oriented in that we do the things we do to put our teams in position to win. I think any player would want to achieve what he’s achieved and be recognized as one of the best to play our game.”
Betts has engaged with manager Alex Cora on trying to be a more aggressive hitter —
more like Astros leadoff man George Springer. Cora believes Betts can be a leadoff hitter with power and could be a 30-plus home run guy every season.
Trout is a hard man to pin down, but in the past he’s commented on how much he respects Betts’s game and what a great all-around player he is. There is a mutual admiration between the players. Former Red Sox and Angels coach Gary DiSarcina coached both, and always remarked how different they were body-wise, but how they could basically win a game in so many different ways.
Betts returned to the lineup Tuesday after suffering a foot contusion on a collision at the plate in Saturday’s game against the Orioles.
The Betts-Trout debate will continue over the next three games here. Trout has the edge for sure, but Betts is closing fast.