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Mike Trout is far and away the best player in the major leagues today. He could be the greatest player of all time when he's done. He could announce his retirement tomorrow morning and he'd be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Despite that, according to many casual fans, Trout has never been the best player in the league. He's on par with guys like Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle, and passes Hall of Famers in career WAR almost every week, but people always say that some player is better than Trout. The Baseball Writers Association of America agrees, holding every other player to a lower standard and opting to award the American League MVP to, well, any other player. However, every player who's been "better than Trout" and has won an MVP over Trout has become much, much worse since.
2012-13: Miguel Cabrera
This is probably the only player on this list who's had an actual argument to be better than Trout. That's not to say he was better than Trout looking back on it, but at the time, it was understandable to say that this future Hall of Famer was better than this mostly unknown rookie and sophomore, in spite or Trout's rookie season for the ages. Cabrera did win the first Triple Crown in 55 years in 2012, and his 2013 season was statistically even better. Cabrera was named back to back MVP, adding to his already impressive legacy. Since then though? It's been a decline. In 2014, he hit only 25 home runs, the first time since 2006 he failed to hit 30 homers in a season. He'd bounce back in 2015, winning the batting title despite hitting fewer than 20 homers for the first time in more than a decade, but the Detroit Tigers went from AL Central Champs to last in the division. Miggy would return to form the next season, hitting 38 homers and OPSing .956, but once again the Tigers missed the playoffs. Since then, Cabrera has been injured often, and a bad player when healthy. The Tigers have been one of the worst teams in all of baseball as well. Trout would win MVP in 2014, which was (statistically) his worst season. After that though….
2015: Josh Donaldson
Donaldson had a great 2015. Donaldson also won the MVP on 33 RBIs. Both these things can be (and are) true. In 2015, Donaldson led the Blue Jays to their first playoff appearance since winning the World Series in 1993 and they were only two wins away from winning another American League Pennant. They lost to the Royals in six games. Donaldson would put up another All Star campaign in 2016, and the Blue Jays would once again make it to the ALCS. After a solid 2017 season (even if he would miss the All Star Game) where the Jays finished below .500, and then the injuries came on. He was limited to fewer than 200 at bats in 2018, split between the Blue Jays and Indians. With the Indians, Donaldson would struggle to a .258 OPS in their Divisional Series loss against the Astros. With the Braves this season, he's mediocre at best. Trout would win MVP in 2016, and in 2017 he'd get injured and "struggle" to a 4th place MVP finish.
2017: Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Jose Ramirez
Yes, an injured Trout finished 4th in this MVP vote. All three of the players above him have gone downhill since then. Firstly, the 2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve. While Altuve would go on to win the World Series with the Astros, he'd do it by only putting up a .670 OPS in those 7 games. His batting average would drop 30 points and his OPS would drop 120 from 2017 to 2018. Also in 2018, he'd fail to lead the league in hits for the first time since 2013. He'd still be named an All Star, but in 2019, he has a hard time even making the cut. He hasn't played since May 10, but even when he played, he wasn't close to the Jose Altuve everyone knows. He's hitting only .243, and he's put up only an .801 OPS. Fortunately for the Astros, this still hasn't stopped them from winning. Next up is Aaron Judge. Judge had one of the best rookie seasons since Trout, and finished just behind Altuve in the vote. Unfortunately for the Yankees, they would lose to the eventual World Champion Astros in the ALCS. Judge did follow up his rookie season with another All Star appearance his sophomore season, but would miss nearly a month and a half over the summer with a wrist injury. Once again, Judge and the Yankees would lose to the World Champs in the playoffs, this time to the Red Sox. In 2019, Judge was solid when he played, OPSing .925, but he hasn't played since April. Finally, Jose Ramirez. Probably the most drastic decline, Ramirez went from historically great to bottom of the major league barrel in less than a calendar year. Ramirez would slash .318/.374/.583 with a .957 OPS, would start at third base for the American League All Star Team, and would finish third in MVP voting. His 2018 would be even better. On August 14 he had .305/.414/.640 slashline, a 1.054 OPS, 36 homers, 27 steals, he was a legitimate threat go 40/40. Then he dropped like a rock. For the remainder of the season, Ramirez would slash only .166/.307/.290 with only a .597 OPS, only 3 homers and 7 steals over the last 40 games as the Indians backed into the postseason. This season, he's barely over the Mendoza line and he can't break a .600 OPS.
2018: Mookie Betts
Betts probably had the best season by any Red Sox position player since Carl Yastrzemski back in 1967. He distracted everyone from Trout's nearly as great season. Betts and the Red Sox would go on to win the World Series, but aside from getting everyone free Taco Bell in the first game of the Fall Classic, he was largely a non-factor throughout the Red Sox playoff run, posting a .639 OPS in the 2018 postseason. That number is inflated slightly thanks to an OPS of .699 in the World Series, but even with that "better" performance included, Betts still did next to nothing at the plate. This season, he's regressed back to what he's always been: a good, but not great, player.
There's no logical explanation for this. But part of the fun of baseball history is because you can be completely illogical with these type of things. How do the Red Sox go 86 years without a World Series? Because they traded Babe Ruth. How do the Cubs go 108 years without a World Series? Because they kicked a goat out of Wrigley. And how do these stars go from shining so bright to being mediocre to bad? Because they beat Mike Trout for an MVP.