For first time ever, none of this year’s MLB MVP finalists made the playoffs

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It’s a debate as old as time—should MVP candidates from non-playoff teams be eliminated from consideration? Some voters will hold players responsible for their team’s lack of success—critics have long diminished Mike Trout’s greatness for precisely this reason. And though MVP discussions—not just in baseball but in all sports—deserve some level of nuance, that argument has often been cited as a tiebreaker, allowing writers to distinguish between candidates with similar resumes. The thinking here is that, if the difference in counting stats is negligible, shouldn’t the player whose team won more games be rewarded for that?

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It’s easy to get lost in the weeds on this and, in the absence of a clear definition, we may never know what truly constitutes an MVP. However, this year’s MVP voters chose to ignore that narrative with all six finalists hailing—for the first time—from non-playoff teams.

Should a player’s worth be determined solely by their statistical footprint, and if that’s the criteria voters are using, is that a dangerous precedent to set? That depends on who you ask, but dismissing Ohtani’s historic season on the basis that his team didn’t win enough games is more than silly—it’s disingenuous and, above all, an inaccurate portrayal of events. You can’t tell the story of the 2021 season without Ohtani, Bryce Harper, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or any of the six finalists revealed Monday.

Unlike basketball or even football, where one player can very easily be the difference between winning and losing, in baseball, a generational talent like Trout often isn’t enough to overcome a team’s shortcomings. Certainly, some players are guilty of posting empty stats, bolstering their production by excelling in lower-stakes settings (late in blowouts or with no one on base) while doing little to actually help their club win. But as voters were able to recognize, that’s not the case for any of this year’s MVP finalists, all of whom spilled blood, sweat and tears for their respective teams, even if it didn’t translate into wins.

Both MVP winners will be announced live on MLB Network a week from Thursday (November 18th). The last player to win MVP without his team making the playoffs was Trout in 2019.

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