Cody Bellinger found himself on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bench for the final game of the World Series in 2018. He fueled that snub into the best season of his young career.
Mike Trout has never used that kind of motivation, and not just because he is rarely on the bench. Trout, the center fielder for the neighboring Los Angeles Angels, has been to the playoffs only once, and has never reached the World Series.
Both stars’ seasons ended earlier than they had hoped this year — Bellinger after one playoff round, and Trout with a foot injury in September — but on Thursday they were honored as the Most Valuable Players in their leagues. Bellinger claimed his first National League M.V.P. award, while Trout took his third in the American League.
Bellinger received 19 of 30 first-place votes for the M.V.P. Award from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, with Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers receiving 10 and Anthony Rendon of the Washington Nationals receiving one.
The award represented an emphatic turnaround for Bellinger, who started only twice for the Dodgers in their five-game loss to the Boston Red Sox in the 2018 World Series. The Dodgers did not trust Bellinger against left-handed pitchers, who held him to a .226 average with six home runs that season.
This year, Bellinger punished lefties for a .280 average and 18 of his 47 home runs. In September, he said his struggles in 2018 had been a fluke.
“Maybe it’s just playing the game for the third year,” said Bellinger, who won the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award in 2017. “I never really had problems with lefties. Last year was just a season for me to make adjustments — making some wrong adjustments. I’m just playing the game that I know how to play.”
Bellinger, 24, hit .305 with a .406 on-base percentage and a .629 slugging percentage. Only one National Leaguer had posted a .300/.400/.600 line in the previous eight seasons (Bryce Harper in 2015), but this year Bellinger had company — Yelich, who won the N.L. Hank Aaron Award for best offensive player.
Yelich’s season ended on Sept. 10 when he shattered his kneecap with a foul ball. He hit 44 homers and won the N.L. batting title (.329) while also leading in O.B.P. (.429) and slugging (.671).
Bellinger, however, won a Gold Glove award as a right fielder, helping him lead the majors in wins above replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference. Bellinger had 9 WAR, followed by the N.L. Cy Young Award winner, Jacob deGrom of the Mets (7.9), and Yelich (7).
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw won the M.V.P. in 2014, but Bellinger is the team’s first position player to win it since Kirk Gibson in 1988. That was the last year the Dodgers won the World Series, and their drought has persisted even as they have won seven consecutive N.L. West titles.
Despite needing foot surgery and not playing after Sept. 7, Trout, 28, delivered an overall performance that was too much for voters to ignore: He hit .291 with a .438 O.B.P. and a .645 slugging percentage. He hit 45 homers (a career high) and drove in 104 runs, and his 1.083 O.P.S., which led the A.L., was even better than his mark in his 2014 and 2016 M.V.P. seasons.
Since the M.V.P. Award was first given by the baseball writers in 1931, only one player has won it more times than Trout has: Barry Bonds, who won seven times. Trout became the 10th player to have won it three times, joining Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Mike Schmidt.
Trout received 17 of the 30 first-place votes from the writers, narrowly edging Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros, who received 13 first-place votes.
For all of Trout’s success, though, the Angels have not won a playoff game with him. They have reached the postseason just once in his nine years with the team, when the Kansas City Royals swept them in a division series in 2014. This season — marred by the July 1 death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, a close friend of Trout’s — the team finished 72-90, its worst record in 20 years.
Bregman helped the A.L. champion Astros to the majors’ best record (107-55) by hitting .296 with 41 homers, 112 runs batted in and a major league-leading 119 walks. He made 91 starts at third base and 59 at shortstop, helping Houston weather an injury to Carlos Correa.
Bregman, 25, heard “M.V.P” chants in Houston throughout October, but he was left on deck when Michael Brantley struck out to end Game 7 of the World Series against the Washington Nationals.