Jose Altuve’s Historic July and His MVP Momentum

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:


Best Offensive Months Since 2012
Name Month Season BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Matt Kemp Mar/Apr 2012 13.3% 21.4% .417 .490 .893 .566 269
Bryce Harper May 2015 20.2% 15.6% .360 .495 .884 .556 263
Edwin Encarnacion Aug 2015 9.0% 15.0% .407 .460 .919 .555 262
Mike Trout Jul 2015 10.8% 19.4% .367 .462 .861 .544 261
Mike Trout Jun 2014 17.6% 16.7% .361 .471 .759 .515 245
Yasiel Puig May 2014 13.3% 18.8% .398 .492 .731 .518 243
Jose Altuve Jul 2017 6.5% 8.4% .485 .523 .727 .526 242
Mike Trout Jul 2012 10.7% 18.8% .392 .455 .804 .516 241
Andrew McCutchen Jul 2012 11.5% 15.4% .446 .510 .739 .525 240
Gary Sanchez Aug 2016 10.3% 19.6% .389 .458 .832 .526 240
Ryan Zimmerman Mar/Apr 2017 6.3% 20.8% .420 .458 .886 .545 240
Min. 80 PA

Some great months up there, and Altuve did enough to nearly catch Aaron Judge for the WAR lead this season.

American League WAR Leaders
Aaron Judge 449 34 75 0.299 0.423 0.628 175 5.8
Jose Altuve 464 16 62 0.365 0.425 0.575 171 5.7
Mike Trout 283 21 49 0.339 0.459 0.7 202 4.5
Mookie Betts 492 18 69 0.272 0.348 0.467 110 4.4
Andrelton Simmons 439 11 49 0.303 0.353 0.46 122 4.3
Jose Ramirez 444 18 56 0.323 0.376 0.562 145 4.2
Carlos Correa 375 20 67 0.32 0.4 0.566 158 3.9
George Springer 419 27 66 0.31 0.384 0.59 160 3.8
Justin Smoak 422 31 74 0.304 0.382 0.602 158 3.7
Justin Upton 420 19 71 0.279 0.367 0.518 135 3.5

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.

American League WAR Leaders
Name WAR ROS WAR EOS Projection
Jose Altuve 5.7 1.7 7.4
Mike Trout 4.5 2.8 7.3
Aaron Judge 5.8 1.4 7.2
Mookie Betts 4.4 1.8 6.2
Jose Ramirez 4.2 1.5 5.7
Andrelton Simmons 4.3 1.4 5.7
George Springer 3.8 1.5 5.3
Justin Upton 3.5 1.2 4.7
Justin Smoak 3.7 0.8 4.5
Carlos Correa 3.9 0.2 4.1

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.

MVP Without 100 RBI Since 1992
Year Position HR RBI BA OBP SLG wRC+ WAR WAR Rank
Bryce Harper 2015 RF 42 99 .330 .460 .649 197 9.5 1
Joe Mauer 2009 C 28 96 .365 .444 .587 170 7.6 2
Jimmy Rollins 2007 SS 30 94 .296 .344 .531 119 6.5 7
Barry Bonds 2003 LF 45 90 .341 .529 .749 212 10.2 1
Andrew McCutchen 2013 CF 21 84 .317 .404 .508 156 8.4 1
Dustin Pedroia 2008 2B 17 83 .326 .376 .493 127 6.3 2
Ichiro Suzuki 2001 RF 8 69 .350 .381 .457 124 6.0 5
Barry Larkin 1995 SS 15 66 .319 .394 .492 136 5.3 5

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.

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4 years ago

EOS Projections:
Aaron Judge: 7.2
Mike Trout: 7.3
Jose Altuve: 7.4

Chris Sale: 8.8

4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Yeah I was gonna comment here that those WAR leaders were just position players, Sale is running away with the WAR lead right now even despite the egg that he laid on Tuesday night.

4 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

The only way Sale gets it is if he gets to 20 wins, and doesn’t lose more than one more start. Kershaw in 14 had 20 in 27 starts and Verlander in 11 had 24. It doesn’t make it right, but for pitchers to win the award they need to have all the numbers. Also because of the offensive explosion pitchers will probably be judged unfairly off the most recent run scoring environment, as will the hitters. Inflating the value of position players in the eyes of voters.

4 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

This likely has no bearing on whether he gets the MVP, just a fun stat. Here are the top K/9 seasons in the last 20 years (190 IP minimum, arbitrarily set to show what kind of year he’s having):
Randy Johnson, 2001: 13.41
Pedro Martinez, 1999: 13.20
Randy Johnson, 2000: 12.56
Randy Johnson, 1997: 12.30
Randy Johnson, 1998: 12.12
Randy Johnson, 1999: 12.06

And Chris Sale, so far: 12.68.

This should indicate the sort of year that Sale has had, and also the sort of career Johnson had.

4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Big Unit the GOAT

John Autin
4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I rarely quibble with you, sadtrombone. But K rates from now and from 15-20 years ago are apples and oranges. Sale’s K/9 is about 4.3 over the AL average. Pedro ’99 was 7.0 above average. Unit ’01 was 6.4 above average.

4 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Yeah, you’re right. There’s all kinds of problems using the K-rate, not the least of which is that it doesn’t take into account walks (see: the terror of Kerry Wood’s rookie year). Comparing K-rates across different eras is more for fun.

It is probably better to use WAR instead (where he is projected to wind up with a mere Top 10 finish, behind five Randy Johnson years, 2 Pedro years, a Kevin Brown year, and a Schilling year…although he still has an outside shot of topping some of those too).

Where are you getting the average K-rates from? I’m curious how the other Big Unit Year (BYY’s) compare. I am thinking this makes Johnson’s 1997-2001 even crazier. That was an awesome run.

John Autin
4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

sad, I just used the numbers on B-R’s basic league-year pages — e.g., this for AL 1999:
That only shows K/9 to one decimal place, but that was enough for my purpose. If you want the more meaningful SO%, go here:
AL ’99 was 15.7%; Pedro was 37.5%.

It’s really amazing that Pedro and Unit had peak runs at the same time. Makes for a fun argument over who was greater. I wonder if we’ll ever see another 10-year stretch of 70+ bWAR by a SP.

Morris Buttermaker
4 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Good piece on this the other day.

They use pither k% – leaguek%. 99 Pedro is 1 at +21. 01 Johnson at +20. Sale so far this year would be 20th at +14.5.

Basically what John Autin said.

4 years ago

John & Morris–

There’s another piece on 538 which tackled this too. I read it and gaped. First, the top 3 were Pedro, Johnson, and Maddux.

Second, you scrolled down and looked at the top seasons, Pedro had the Top 3, #6, and #17. Randy Johnson had nine (NINE) of the seasons between #5 and #15. And Greg Maddux sinks in there with #4 and #10.

Third, Frank Tanana (!) had a really good peak! I did not know that, since clearly all his best years came before I was born.

Reminds me of one of my all-time favorite articles here…

Pedro, Johnson, and Maddux were incredible.

4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

If you drop the minimum to 180 IP, 2016 Jose Fernandez slides in at #4 all time.

And now I’m sad.

4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

So give him the Cy Young.

4 years ago
Reply to  Justinw303

Altuve hasn’t pitched well enough.