Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It's been a bit of a dry spell for the Los Angeles Angels and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Eight years have passed since Vladimir Guerrero had his name engraved on the American League MVP trophy.
The Pirates have endured an even longer MVP drought than the Angels have. You'd have to go all the way back to 1992 for the last time a Pittsburgh player was named MVP. That year the award went to a skinny 28-year-old named Barry Bonds.
Andrew McCutchen and Mike Trout hadn't even been born yet the last time a Pirate and an Angel were MVP in the same season. That hasn't happened since 1979 when Don Baylor won AL MVP and Willie Stargel was the National League's co-MVP with Cardinals first baseman Keith Hernandez.
There's still plenty of baseball left to be played in 2012, but if the ballots were cast today, McCutchen and Trout would be heavy favorites to take home MVP honors for their respective leagues.
Neither player entered the season in Yahoo's top-20 fantasy rankings (actually, Trout didn't even begin the season in the major leagues), but if fantasy owners had to do it again, McCutchen and Trout would both be consensus top-10 picks.
In fact, over the last 30 days, this unlikely duo has catapulted to the very top of the fantasy leaderboard. McCutchen leads all players in fantasy production over the last month, while Trout is close behind at No. 3 (the always reliable Ryan Braun has been fantasy's second-best player over the last four weeks).
It's not surprising that McCutchen and Trout have made their way to the top of the fantasy totem pole. We just weren't expecting them to be there in 2012.
Between 2009-11, McCutchen wasn't performing at a superstar level just yet, but he did show some nice potential in his first three seasons as a Pirates regular (.276, 51 HRs, 199 RBIs, 78 SBs in 420 games).
Given his diminutive stature (he's only listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds) and his penchant for stealing bases, McCutchen seemed like a fish out of water batting third. But after finishing fourth-to-last in the majors in home runs with a .244 team batting average in 2011, Pittsburgh really didn't have any other alternatives.
After failing to hit a home run in April, McCutchen responded by knocking eight balls out of the park in May. Though he regressed to only seven homers in June, McCutchen still drove in 26 runs (second-most in the NL), while batting .370. Not content with hitting only .370, McCutchen has exploded for a .545 average in July with four homers and 10 RBIs in only 33 at bats.
Trout's path to fantasy success this season was a bit more complicated. Despite his obvious talent, Los Angeles opted to let Trout get a little extra seasoning at Triple-A Salt Lake City to start the year while Bobby Abreu, Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter, Mark Trumbo and Vernon Wells all battled for playing time in a very crowded Angels outfield.
While Trout was tearing up the Pacific Coast League with a .403 average and 13 RBIs in 20 games, the Angels released Abreu, opening up a spot for Trout at the big-league level. A family incident caused Hunter to miss several weeks of action and Wells went down with a thumb injury in mid-May, which allowed Trout to see even more at bats.
With most of his competition for playing time out of the picture, Trout went bonkers in June (.372, 3 HRs, 16 RBIs, 14 SBs) and so far in July he's been absolutely impossible to pitch to (.429, 4 HRs, 8 RBIs).
The similarities between McCutchen and Trout make it incredibly hard to distinguish which player is actually worth more in fantasy. Both play center field, both hit for a high average and both players possess a rare blend of power and speed.
Though McCutchen has always been a threat to steal 30 bases (he has 14 so far this season), Trout is a once in a generation talent on the base paths. Through 66 games, Trout leads the major leagues with 30 steals on 33 attempts. That's a pretty remarkable success rate.
If he keeps up at this pace, he'll finish the year with 55 stolen bases. If Trout had played a full 162-game slate (right now he's projected to appear in 122 games), he could have swiped 73 bases this season. Nobody has recorded more than 70 steals in a season since New York's Jose Reyes finished with 78 thefts in 2007.
But while Trout may have the edge in speed, McCutchen's outstanding batting average cannot be overlooked. As impressive as Trout's .348 average is (he's 19 percentage points ahead of the AL's second-best hitter for average, Minnesota's Joe Mauer), McCutchen could be poised to join some elite company if he finishes the season at his current .367. The last hitter to finish the year with a batting average that high was Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, who ended the 2004 campaign at .372.
Trout's home run totals (12 HRs in 66 games this season) are very strong for a leadoff hitter. You could even say that they are Rickey Henderson-esque. Trout's current .348/22 HR/74 RBI/55 SB pace compares pretty favorably to Henderson's monster 1990 season when he hit .325 with 28 HRs, 61 RBIs and 65 SBs. It's also worth noting that Henderson won the AL MVP award that season.
You can give Trout a pat on the back for showing some nice power from the leadoff spot, but it doesn't hide the fact that there are still 57 players in major league baseball with more home runs than him this season. Only 13 are ahead of McCutchen (19 HRs) and if he didn't snooze through April, that number would probably be a lot smaller.
As it stands now, McCutchen is a serious threat to smash 40 homers and drive in 120 runs. The last player to hit 40 bombs and drive in 120 runs with a batting average in excess of .360 was Todd Helton back in 2000 (.372, 47 HRs, 147 RBIs).
To me, if I had to pick one, I'd take McCutchen because of his superior power, but if you get your hands on either one of these players, you better hold on tight and never let them get away.
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