With Thursday’s announcement of the Most Valuable Player awards, USA TODAY Sports breaks down the cases for the three American League finalists:
The case for Jose Altuve
Pick a way to measure Altuve’s season – advanced metric or traditional statistic, complex formula or basic counting stat – and the 5-foot-6 Houston Astros second baseman almost certainly towers over the American League. He led the AL in batting average (.346) and hits (204). He ranked first in offensive Wins Above Replacement (8.1) and WAR among position players (8.3). He tied for third in on base plus slugging (.957). His 24 home runs and 32 stolen bases put him atop the power-speed metric at 27.4. And in a season of record-setting home runs and punchouts, Altuve largely avoided the latter, striking out just 84 times – third-lowest total among hitters with at least 24 homers. And perhaps you heard that his success was accompanied by team accomplishments: The Astros won a franchise-best 101 games and, while it won’t factor into MVP voting, the World Series.
The case for Aaron Judge
There’s a reason why Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki are the lone rookies to win MVP honors: It takes a unique talent and a very special season to pull it off. Judge’s certainly merits a spot in the conversation. In a year more home runs than ever were hit, nobody in the AL hit more than Judge’s 52. He led the AL in OPS (1.049) among players with at least 500 at-bats, finished second with 114 RBI and his 8.1 WAR trailed only Altuve. The only performance more stunning than Judge’s were the New York Yankees themselves, winners of 91 games, an All-Star berth and a near-pennant. On a team in which no pitcher exceeded 200 innings and the club had to rely heavily on outscoring opponents, Judge was the definition of valuable.
The case for Jose Ramirez
It was the Cleveland Indians who were World Series favorites after winning an AL-best 102 games, and Ramirez was a huge part of their defining run: An AL-record 22-game winning streak. He batted .423 with eight home runs in 18 games during the streak, with a 1.405 OPS. Ramirez smacked an AL-best 56 doubles, tied Altuve with a .957 OPS and handled the bat even more beautifully than Altuve. He hit 29 homers and led the AL with 91 extra-base hits, yet only struck out 69 times.
How much does consistency count when it comes to determining value? This might be the biggest knock against Judge: He had a grim 46-game stretch from July 14-Sept. 1, batting .176 with seven home runs and 70 strikeouts in 199 plate appearances. The Yankees went 14-15 in August, allowing the Boston Red Sox to extend their East lead from a half-game to 4 ½ games.
It’s true: The Astros had several MVP-type players, from center fielder George Springer, to shortstop Carlos Correa (until a thumb injury) to the late-season boost provided by new ace Justin Verlander. Yet it was Altuve’s reliable greatness that drove this club from the first day, his month-to-month consistency enabling the Astros to jump out to a huge lead and never look back. At 27, Altuve is in his prime, and 2017 may prove to be the centerpiece of a special career. A most deserved MVP award will be the perfect capper.