The final balloting says I got it right when I voted Jose Altuve as the American League MVP, but my selection of the diminutive Houston Astros second baseman for the top individual award wasn’t as easy as his winning margin.
Altuve beat out New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge and Cleveland Indians breakthrough star Jose Ramirez in voting revealed Thursday night. Altuve received 27 first-place votes among the 30 submitted by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
I cast the following ballot: Altuve; Judge; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels; Ramirez; Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox, Corey Kluber, Indians; Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners; Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Francisco Lindor, Indians; Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles.
Altuve helped the Astros win the AL West and later the AL pennant and World Series, though votes are based on only the regular season and are submitted before the postseason begins.
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Altuve led the majors with a .346 batting average and 8.3 bWAR. He hit 24 home runs, scored 112 runs, was the only AL player to top 200 hits (204), and swiped 32 bases. His on-base percentage was .410, and he slugged at .547.
A .957 on-base plus slugging percentage is nothing to sneeze at, yet OPS is what had Judge and Mike Trout, the game’s best player, bouncing around the top of my ballot. I spent a lot of time trying to justify Trout as MVP after voting for Joe Mauer in 2009 and Josh Hamilton in 2010 after they played 138 and 133 games.
Trout, though, played only 114 games. Like Mauer and Hamilton, he had enough plate appearances to be a qualifier, and within those 507 PAs he hit 33 homers and led the AL in slugging percentage and OPS.
Trout outslugged Judge, .629 to .627, even though Judge launched 52 home runs.
Ultimately, I couldn’t pull the trigger on Trout, whose injured left thumb cost him 39 games, or Judge.
I don’t particularly care that Judge struck out 30.7 percent of the time while Altuve’s strikeout rate was 12.7 percent. Judge reached base more than Altuve, slugged better, scored more runs and still hit .284.
Altuve’s calling card, and what pushed him to the top of my ballot, was his consistency. He was there all season, with no let up, and was the force that kept Houston going when Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and other Astros were coping with injuries.
Altuve’s batting average by month: April, .326; May, .313; June, .354; July, .485; Aug., .304; Sept., .291.
Altuve’s slash line (average/OBP/SLG) by half: First half, .347/.417/.551; Second half:, .344/.401/.543.
Steady as a rock. All-Star stuff. MVP stuff.
Judge was running away to the MVP at the All-Star break, but swooned to start the second half. He rescued his candidacy and helped the Yankees to a wild-card spot with a big September, but a .228 second-half batting average, 101 points below his first-half average, and drop-offs in other key statistics were big in my mind.
The final balloting says I got it right, even though I nearly didn’t.