Tonight at 6PM the final and — with apologies to you pitching nerds out there — most important of the postseason awards, the MVP, will be announced. Let’s break ’em down.
The long and the short of it is that either Aaron Judge or Jose Altuve are going to walk away with the hardware. Jose Ramirez of the Indians, the third finalist, had a fine year, but either the Yankees right fielder or the Astros second baseman is gonna win.
Judge hit .284/.422/.627, with 52 home runs in his rookie campaign, leading the American league in homers, walks, and runs. He was second in bWAR, second in on-base percentage, second in slugging, third in total bases, second in RBI, first in OPS, second in adjusted OPS, fourth in extra base hits, second in intentional walks, first in at bats per homer, and fourth in putouts for a right fielder. He was likewise in the top 3-5 in a host of other, more esoteric sabermetric categories. He won the Silver Slugger Award and, on Monday, took home Rookie of the Year honors. He was the June and September AL Player of the Month. A lot of people have cast this as a battle between an all-around good player in Altuve vs. a power monster in Judge, but that’s not fair to Judge, as his he reached base more times than Altuve did and because defense in right field was excellent in 2017 as well, albeit at a less important defensive position than second base.
Altuve bested Judge in batting average by a large margin, leading the league with a .346 mark and leading the league in hits with 204. He was close to Judge in OBP with a .410 mark, but despite hitting 24 homers himself, he obviously slugged much less, finishing with an OPS close to 100 points lower. That a middle infielder was even that close, however — a .957 mark — is pretty amazing, though. Altuve also struck out only 84 times to Judge’s league-leading 208. Altuve stole 32 bases, being caught only six times. Then there’s the consistency factor: Judge came out of the gate hot and finished hot but struggled at times in the second half of the season while Altuve was consistently good, all season long. Judge may have been suffering from a shoulder injury when he slumped, but the Yankees were always a bit cagey as to the severity of it, which will unfairly do Judge’s candidacy a disservice, as some voters may have just considered him to be uneven.
If I had a vote I’d give it to Judge. His power numbers were phenomenal and clearly superior to Altuve’s and, with a .284 average, his patience at the plate and some nice leather in defense, he was not a one-dimensional threat.
If I had to guess who will win, however, I’d guess that the voters will give it to Altuve due to his contact rate, batting average, base stealing, the perception that he’s a better all-around player and — I don’t think we can discount this — his height. People joke about it, but I honestly think a lot of fans and commentators give Altuve extra credit for his performance because he’s short. That’s some messed up thinking in a lot of ways, but I’m convinced it happens. Not that Altuve winning it would be a grave injustice or anything. The guy’s a beast.
Stanton’s season was undeniably great. He hit 59 homers — so many of them utter moon shoots which led the highlight reels — and led the league in RBI with 132 and slugging with .631. There has never been a question that he was the best power hitter in baseball, but in 2017 he was finally healthy for a full season and showed everyone what a fully-armed and operation battle station like him can do. He fell short of the other two finalists in OBP and average and he struck out more. In a lot of ways he’s what people falsely say that Aaron Judge is — one dimensional — even if that dimension is pretty dang impressive. He also played on a bad team which, one would hope, is not as big a deal to MVP voters as it used to be, but I suspect that some number of voters threw their support to Goldschmidt based on the Diamondbacks being good in 2017.
And that really is the case for Goldschmidt if he were to win it, right? He got on base at a better clip than Stanton — his overall line was .297/.404/.563 with 36 HR, 120 RBI — but I don’t think he got on base that much more to make up for those 23 homers and nearly 70 points of slugging that separate them. And don’t even get me started about comparing Goldschmidt to Votto, who — with a line of .320/.454/.578 and 36 HR with 100 RBI — bested Goldschmidt in average, crushed him in OBP and out-slugged him while hitting the same number of homers. Votto had fewer RBI because he had fewer good teammates hitting ahead of him and his Reds were not a good team, but neither of those things are Votto’s fault. There may be MVP voters who still care about RBI and team wins, but I really hope they’re retired now. Goldschmidt stole 18 bases. If you’re the sort of voter who hangs your hat on that for a first baseman, well, God bless.
For me it comes down to Stanton’s highlight-reel season and gaudy homer totals vs. Votto’s dominant, across-the-board offensive season. Yes, Votto too had 23 fewer homers than Stanton, but whereas Goldschmidt only had a modest OBP advantage over Stanton, Votto crushes him in that regard. Stanton leads Votto in bWAR 7.6 to 7.5. Stanton does play a more valuable defensive position.
I’d give the nod to Votto, frankly. If all else were equal, I think a team with him batting in the middle of the order would be better and if I were choosing up sides, playground-style, I’d take the guy I knew would put up his 2017 season over the guy who put up Stanton’s. It’d be a close call, and maybe it’d be less fun to have an OBP machine over the dinger-fest Stanton would unleash, but it’s the call I’d make. I just think Votto’s season was better.
The voters, though, will probably give it to Stanton and I suspect it won’t be terribly close. I trust them to look past the quality of the candidates’ respective teams, but I do not think that Votto, even after all of these years and even with an MVP in his past, is as appreciated as he should be. Homers are more fun and Stanton hit a boatload of them. I suspect he wins the award fairly easily.