Jose Altuve is a conventional contender for the MVP award, but at the same time, he really isn’t. As the best player on the best team in the American League — by a fairly large margin — Altuve checks off the two biggest boxes some voters use when filling out the ballot. He’s also a bit non-traditional, as he doesn’t hit a whole lot of homers or drive a ton of runners in. While he doesn’t have the typical power numbers of an MVP-winner, his overall line and overall value are immense, and he just pulled off one of the best hitting months of the last half-decade.
In the month of July, Jose Altuve hit .485/.523/.727, good for a wRC+ of 242, highest for any player in a month this season with a minimum of 80 plate appearances. Since 2002, the only player with a higher batting average in a month was Ivan Rodriguez, who hit .500 back in June of 2004.
We know that batting average has its flaws, and it might seem disappointing to find out Altuve’s .523 OBP only ranks 36th in any month since 2002. However, 13 of those months are courtesy of Barry Bonds. When we look at Altuve’s overall hitting numbers and account for park and era, that 242 wRC+ ranks 23rd, with Barry Bonds taking the top four slots and one more in the top-15. Since 2012, here are the best 11 months by a hitter:
Some great months up there, and Altuve did enough to nearly catch Aaron Judge for the WAR lead this season.
You can see Mike Trout creeping up. Let’s add in the rest of the season projections to see if they expect Mike Trout to get all the way back up there. The chart below shows the ten players above along with their rest-of-season Depth Chart Projections to see where the projections have player ending up the rest of the way.
|Name||WAR||ROS WAR||EOS Projection|
Obviously the injury to Carlos Correa is going to hurt his playing time and take him out of the running. If the projections are right, we are going to get a three-way tie at the top with some pretty intriguing arguments.
If you like power and homers, Aaron Judge is going to have close to 50 homers, he is likely to be on a playoff team in the New York Yankees, and that great start to the season is going to remain prominent in the minds of voters as long as he doesn’t fade down the stretch.
The Mike Trout argument is going to be a lot like the Clayton Kershaw for Cy Young argument last season. He might have actually played the best baseabll of anyone in the league, but it is going to be hard for many to justify giving it to a player who missed nearly a third of the season, no matter how good the numbers turn out. If he does continue his torrid pace pre-injury and hits close to 40 homers and a 200 wRC+, it is also going to be tough to deny him the award.
The other option is going to be Altuve. He’ll probably be the best player on the best team and he might also be the best player in the league. We’ve seen a lack of RBI hurt players before — Mike Trout has two MVPs and both occurred in the years he got at least 100 RBI — but it isn’t some ironclad situation that’s going to keep him from winning.
Over the last 25 years — 50 MVP winners — just 11 players have won the award without 100 RBI, and three of those were pitchers. Of those eight hitters, though, five have taken place in the last 10 years. Here’s a list of those eight players along with some relevant stats.
It’s kind of easy to throw out Bryce Harper and Barry Bonds as comparisons when they hit more than 40 homers and put up historical offensive numbers. That Jimmy Rollins season is an interesting one. He wasn’t even the best player on his own team (Chase Utley). David Wright and Albert Pujols put up significantly better numbers with Matt Holliday and a little less than a full season of Chipper Jones also beating out Rollins by WAR.
The St. Louis Cardinals were under .500 and the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves both missed the playoffs, leading Matt Holliday to finish second in the MVP vote, as the 30 homer and 41 stolen bases from Rollins looked pretty shiny along with that division title. Barry Larkin’s MVP was a similar situation, with Barry Bonds putting up the best season for the last-place San Francisco Giants. Larkin’s WAR might understate his value a bit, as this was before baserunning stats other than stolen bases were added in, and he stole 51 bases in 56 tries that season, though is still wouldn’t get him close to Bonds in value.
Joe Mauer didn’t lead the league in WAR, but he did have more RBI than WAR leader Ben Zobrist and if you assume that Zobrist didn’t have one of the best fielding seasons of all time split between right field and second base, there really isn’t too much to complain about form voters that season in terms of a winner (Zobrist finished too far back at eighth).
Ichiro ‘s first season in the majors might not have been his best, but he hit .350 and stole 56 bases for a record-setting Mariners team. A-Rod hit 52 homers for the last-place Rangers and Jason Giambi was even better than him, but the A’s finished 14 games back of the Mariners and he lost out in an incredibly close vote with Bret Boone finishing a close third as well.
That leaves the two seasons that are closest to what Altuve is doing. Pedroia gets the second base comparison, but Altuve is having a considerably better offensive season. Grady Sizemore had the better all-around season, but he didn’t get to 100 RBI either and he had a low .268 batting average, never mind that their OBPs were almost equal. Cleveland also finished .500 that year. If we want to draw parralels, Andrew McCutchen is the best one. Great, well-known player has a great offensive season, leads the league in WAR and leads team to the playoffs. He might not have a lot of home runs or RBI, but he has a decent amount and the overall offensive game is fantastic.
While his on-base percentage is still great, Altuve’s very high batting average isn’t going to hurt. Nobody’s hit above .350 since Josh Hamilton in 2010, and three (Hamilton, Mauer, Albert Pujols) of the last five players to hit that mark have been MVP with the other two (Ichiro, Chipper Jones) losing to Mauer and Pujols.
Altuve had an incredible July. Aaron Judge’s recent slowdown and the Trout injury just might make him MVP at the end of the season if he can keep things going the last two months.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.