The AL MVP award will be a tightly contested contest, possibly between a Yankees or Astros player.
With three players in the starting lineup, the Houston Astros are likely to get some national attention Tuesday night during the 2017 MLB All-Star Game. Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa are all in the top five batters in American League manager Brad Mills’ starting lineup.
However, Springer may have more to prove than any of the other Astros All-Stars. Batting cleanup in a loaded AL lineup, he has to bat after the young superstar and 2017 Home Run Derby champion Aaron Judge. With Judge as the presumable AL MVP, if the season ended today, Springer has been quietly putting up spectacular numbers as well. If you compare the two, the MVP race may be a little tighter than the national public may think right now.
Who is Judge?
This is an obvious question for the casual baseball fan. At 6’7” and 282 pounds, the New York Yankees star looks more like an NFL linebacker than their everyday right fielder.
His bat shows that muscle as well. Judge is in the top 10 of nearly every major offensive category including top five finishes in batting average (.329) and runs (75). He leads baseball in home runs (30) and both on-base percentage and slugging percentage, accumulating to a 1.139 OPS, which is .081 points higher than Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto in second place.
These numbers come after a 2016 stint with the Yankees, in which he hit only .179 with a .608 OPS, which is lower than his slugging percentage this season, with only four home runs in 27 games.
How does Springer compare?
As the leadoff man for the Astros, Springer has been doing damage at the plate. He is hitting .310 with a .993 OPS. He is second in baseball with 27 home runs, the most as a leadoff man this season, and is fourth in slugging percentage at .613.
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However, as a leadoff man, the number that sticks out for Springer is runs scored. He is currently first in baseball, in front of Judge, with 76 runs scored this season. Also, he is within striking distance of Judge in both home runs and total bases.
Springer has put up historic numbers in the leadoff spot for the Astros. This season, he has hit an MLB record nine home runs in the first inning, all to lead off the ball game. In that role, he has a .324 batting average with a 1.196 OPS including a .775 slugging percentage. With this power at the top of the lineup, it sets the tone for the middle of the order, as Springer has scored 20 times in the first inning.
Despite these historic numbers, it seems like Springer has hit his way into MVP consideration in the first eight games in July. In 35 at bats, he has a .486 batting average with a .886 OPS. He has eight extra-base hits, including three home runs, has driven in nine RBIs and has scored himself 13 times.
What will the second half bring?
With Judge hitting the way he is, it seems as though he is a lock for the AL MVP and Springer is on pace for a top-five finish. However, some things could happen to make the race a little closer.
First, Judge could slow down a bit after his Derby win. For the past three years, the players who have won the Derby, Yoenis Cespedes, Todd Frazier and Giancarlo Stanton, have had a lower slugging percentage is the second half of the season than in the first. Even more importantly, none of them had a slugging percentage over .500.
For Springer, he could become a little more selective at the plate in the second half. Right now, he walks a career-low nine percent of the time while striking out 22 percent of the time. More patience could bring better pitches to hit, which would increase both his batting average and OPS with the amount of extra base power that the young centerfielder has.
However, one major factor for both is how deep both the Yankees and the Astros go in October. No matter who ends up winning AL MVP at the end of the season, Judge and Springer will both have a major part of that.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference***