Just two weeks ago, baseball fans and experts alike had made the somewhat safe assumption that New York Yankees rookie sensation Aaron Judge could be penciled in as the American League’s Most Valuable Player. Heralded for his power and discipline, Judge’s case for MVP is extremely strong; he has contributed mightily to the Yankees’ turnaround from fringe postseason contenders to potential AL East winners.
Judge would be the first rookie to win the MVP award since Ichiro Suzuki captured the accolade in 2001 with the Seattle Mariners. It’s easy to root for Judge, a massive, fresh-faced outfielder in the biggest market in American sports. No one would be disappointed, shocked, or upset if Judge walked home as AL MVP.
But, there is one man flying under the radar, and he happens to be the best contact hitter in baseball by a mile. Jose Altuve is leading the youthful, first-place Houston Astros to perhaps their best World Series shot in franchise history with timely, consistent hitting and superb defense at second base.
Altuve leads the MLB with an outstanding, borderline absurd .367 average, which is .65 points better than Judge, whose name appears on ballots mostly for his 33 home runs and 74 walks, both tops in the AL. However, Altuve has raised his batting average from .319 to the current .367 average he holds now over a span of just 26 games; through this duration, Altuve is 54-for-110 (.491).
Altuve has stepped up at the right time for the Astros, the club that recently lost their starting shortstop and former Rookie of the Year, Carlos Correa, to thumb ligament surgery and until recently were dealing with the absence of 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel.
Altuve, a five-time All-Star, has been one of the most frequently underrated players in baseball for his whole career. With 146 hits (20 more than second-place Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez), Altuve is on pace for his fourth consecutive season leading the AL in hits. His 5.5 wins above replacement leads all of Major League Baseball.
Imagine being 5’6″, having just 75 career home runs, and measurably being the best player in baseball as of right now. An MVP finalist last season without qualifying for the American League playoffs, Altuve is having a career year for perhaps the best overall team in the majors.
What might hurt Altuve’s MVP-level statistics is the criteria on which the Baseball Writers Association of America decides the most valuable player. As the Houston Astros pace the American League West by 17 games over Seattle, the argument of Altuve not actually having to do much to contend for a title could be made. When you factor in Judge’s undeniable impact on changing the Yankees’ fate this season, over Altuve succeeding with a stacked lineup of Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, and others, it will come back to bite Altuve in the most unfair way.
The BBWAA’s voting process actually defines this theory — the player being most valuable to your team, rather than most valuable for any team to have — here:
There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:
1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
Judge is not only best in the American League in a myriad of offensive stats, but he’s far and away the best statistical player in the Bronx in the 2017 season. Whereas Altuve, as mentioned, has an impressive supporting cast behind him.
The Astros are seemingly a lock for the postseason, with Altuve leading the charge, but his already stout team might wreck his chances at winning the MVP. While his numbers are first in a variety of categories that represent overall versatility and skill, and Altuve plays the tougher defensive position, Judge has nearly singlehandedly put the Yankees in a playoff position.
With stats like what Jose Altuve holds now, you would win the MVP in almost any other MLB season. It would shine yet another light on the fundamentally flawed voting process if Aaron Judge, as good as he has been, captures such an award.