The votes are in and millions of Americans are eager to see the results of the 2017 MLB MVP votes. There are too many players with great seasons to analyze, so I will stick to my top two for each league.
While 2017 provided fans with offensive dominance like no other season, there are only two candidates deserving of the AL MVP this year: Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve. I know, Cleveland fans. What about José Ramírez? He had a phenomenal year, but he does not stick out in the same way his competitors do. He is surrounded by the best team in baseball, whereas Judge and Altuve are the best players on their team and have had a huge impact on their postseason eligibility. Mike Trout is the other name that you always have to throw in when discussing AL MVP. This year, he again put up MVP numbers, but he did not play long enough to pull votes away from Judge or Altuve. While he is Mike Trout, it is not fair to assume that he would have put up the same numbers if he had as many at-bats as the others. Judge and Altuve both had well above 500 at-bats, whereas Trout barely reached 400.
Let’s start with the rookie. Judge is the clear favorite for Rookie of the Year, largely because he shocked the nation when he broke Mark McGwire’s record for most home runs as a rookie. McGwire had 49. Judge finished with 52. Yes, that is a record for rookies only, but 52 homers also led all of the American League by nine. Additionally, he led the AL in walks and runs scored, two of modern baseball’s most valued statistics, and his slash line was .284/.422/.627. Those numbers are unheard of for a rookie. Most ROY winners do well compared to other rookies, but don’t come close to the seasoned veterans who win the MVP. Only Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki have won both awards in the same year. Judge is in line to join them, though. The only person in front of him in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS, was Trout, and Judge only lost by a few points in each. Like I said earlier, Judge lasted a whole season with those numbers, while Trout missed a quarter of the season.
On top of his statistical prominence, Judge helped his team make the playoffs when they were supposed to be in a rebuilding year. He was one of many “baby bombers” on the Yankees this season, whose missions were to develop in hopes that they would restore the Yanks’ dominance in the future. Thanks to Judge, the future came early. He wasn’t just an impact player. He carried his team. He hit home runs when they were down, and he got on base more than anyone thanks to his keen eye. According to ESPN, he finished the season with a WAR of 8.75, higher than any other AL player. WAR is a tool used by statisticians to see how much a player contributes to his team and the number of games they win. Take away Judge, and the Yankees would have finished 3rd or 4th in their division.
Altuve has finished high in MVP voting for the last four years. Last year he finished third and this year he’s played even better. His slash line was .346/.410/.547 and he led all Major League players in both batting average and hits. The main argument for Altuve over Judge is that he is a five-tool player. Judge can hit for power and field, but he is not known for playing small ball. Altuve, on the other hand, is the best contact hitter in the game and finished third in stolen bases with 32. His reputation as the renaissance man of baseball was a key component in the Astro’s success this year.
Altuve didn’t receive as much praise from the media as Judge, but the voters know how much of a factor he has been in the Astro’s road to the postseason. While the voting should be based on 2017 alone, it is hard to ignore Altuve’s past seasons. He has been so good for so long, and every season he has gotten a little better. He posted career highs in runs scored, batting average, home runs, and OPS. His constant improvement and Hall of Fame numbers may be the deciding factor in the results.
I believe the award should go to Aaron Judge. Isolating the 2017 season, he stood out more and made more of an impact on his team. However, the voters like players to work for the award. As I said, only two rookies have ever received the honor. Altuve has been in the league for seven years and has paid his dues, finishing third last year. It is likely that he will be the recipient of the American League Most Valuable Player award.
This one is a little tougher than the American League. There are more than a few players deserving of this award, but it will come down to only one. Paul Goldschmidt was the favorite for a majority of the season, but fell out of the running when he finished the season 0-17. The other contenders either maintained their star-studded seasons, or turned it up to 11 for the last few months, like Giancarlo Stanton. Nolan Arenado is another player with MVP numbers. The biggest obstacle for him is that he played alongside Charlie Blackmon, who one-upped him in almost every way. Joey Votto of the Reds led the league in important areas like walks, OBP, and OPS, but those categories are usually overlooked by flashier numbers like home runs and batting average.
Stanton had a year for the ages as he approached what many to believe is the true* home-run record of 61, set by Roger Maris in 1961. Stanton finished the season with 59. This was his first time that Stanton was able to stay healthy and consistent throughout the whole season. Injuries and slumps were the only things holding him back from the award in the past, but this year he overcame both. He led the league in homers, RBI, and slugging percentage while finishing second in other top categories.
The biggest argument for Stanton is the power he showcased this season. That might be enough to give him the honor, but the buck stops there. Unlike his counterparts, his team finished under .500 and failed to make the playoffs. The award is based on individual performance, but his inability to help his team win might be his downfall.
*Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa all broke this record on a few occasions, but tested positive for performance-enhancing substances.
Of all the MVP candidates, Blackmon might be the most complete player. He led the league in average, runs scored, hits, total bases, and triples. He also finished top five in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS. He does a lot of everything to say the least. The most impressive statistic is his 104 RBI. It is a feat in itself to hit 100 RBI in a season, but those numbers usually come from the middle of the lineup. Blackmon’s 2017 mark is the most ever by a leadoff hitter. Additionally, Blackmon’s prowess has led the Rockies to their first playoff berth since 2009.
The one downside for Blackmon is that he plays in Colorado at a stadium that is a mile above sea level. If voters can overlook the Colorado bias, Blackmon should have a legitimate shot at the MVP.
This one is way too close to give a definite guess. Stanton wowed the country with his chase to 61, but Blackmon turned a losing ballclub around. There are also relevant black horses in Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Joey Votto. If I had to guess, I would put my money on Blackmon, as he had a year unlike any other leadoff hitter, while pushing his team into the postseason. Stanton put on a show, but he may have to leave the Marlins before he wins.
Photo: David Zalubowski/AP