Astros: Jose Altuve and the AL MVP Race
The Astros 2017 season is now roughly 69% finished. But there is still another 31% to go.
If you follow the player leaderboards with any vigor, then you may notice Jose Altuve. Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus; it doesn’t matter where. After all, how can someone not pay attention to the Astros‘ second baseman when he is atop of numerous categories?
Before I list two metrics from each site, I want to state this opinion: Altuve has another chance to be the Astros first MVP since Jeff Bagwell in 1994. Go by multiple measurements, and there is truly a case to be made for the major league hits leader.
WAR – 5.7 (2nd amongst position players in AL)
wRC+ – 169 (2nd in AL)
WAR – 6.3 (1st in AL)
Adjusted OPS+ – 175 (1st in AL)
VORP – 50.4 (2nd in AL)
BWARP – 5.27 (1st in AL)
Yes, I realize I pulled only a few numbers that paint Altuve in a positive light. There is much more to consider than WAR, Adjust OPS+ and VORP. Each figure only paints a part of the picture.
But each of the measurements mentioned above does a solid job of capturing Altuve’s overall performance.
Then there is the competition. Oh, boy, the competition is fierce.
First, you have the likely 2017 AL Rookie of the Year from the New York Yankees, Aaron Judge. Then the consistently amazing Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels. Yes, he is still in the running despite a long DL-stint in the middle of the season. Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox is another name to watch.
Maybe Andrelton Simmons? Seriously, Simmons is having a fantastic season with the Angels.
Could Chris Sale, a pitcher, be an option for AL MVP? He is having a great first season in Boston, after all.
Regardless of Altuve’s production, he will face stiff competition. There are quality players vying for the award, and one could likely make a case for each one.
Analyzing each of the likely contributors would take much longer than time would allow. So for the sake of brevity, let me list why Altuve may have the edge in the race today.
For one, the Astros’ second baseman currently maintains a higher Fangraphs WAR over the likely competition other than Judge (6.0) and Sale (6.5). He also trails Judge (175) in wRC+. By Baseball Reference WAR and Adjused OPS+, though, Altuve is ranked higher than Judge. Also, Baseball Prospectus, by VORP and BWARP, presents the same narrative.
Sale is a starting pitcher so it would be unlikely to see him win the AL MVP. Not impossible, mind you, just unlikely. However, Clayton Kershaw in 2014 and Justin Verlander in 2011 would beg to disagree.
Trout, per Sam Miller of ESPN, was tracked at one point of being on an 11.4-WAR pace since his return a few weeks ago. This also happens to match Trout’s WAR pace before his injury.
In other words, do not forget about Trout. He is the best player of this generation. While he may trail Altuve in various categories, it may not be long before he reclaims his spot on top of the leaderboards. Trout has already reclaimed the top AL ranking in VORP (51.4) over Altuve.
Betts is having another fine season for Boston. While his offense (107 wRC+) has taken a hit this season, the age-24 outfielder has been worth a 4.3 Fangraphs WAR entering today. And his defense (14.6 Def) does drive a good bit of his value this season. Remember last season he posted a 40.7 offense statistic per Fangraphs when he was a MVP finalist. The same metric this season? 10.7.
Simmons, the former Atlanta Brave, has quietly put together a solid season with the glove and bat. He has arguably been the one of the top-ten players in baseball this season in terms of Fangraphs WAR (4.5). Of course, his defensive rating on Fangraphs, 15.2, is a key factor behind his overall value. But his offensive rating, 14.1, is definitely respectable. It is just rather doubtful that a MVP would win mostly based on his glove.
FYI: Simmons currently possesses the second highest Basebalk-Reference WAR (6.0). He only trails Altuve in this category.
Like I said, the competition is fierce.
While Judge may start he slowing down – 81 wRC+ in the second half – the road ahead won’t be easy. Then you have to look over your shoulder for Trout and the others.
The Astros second baseman, though diminutive in stature, has been a giant with his play thus far in 2017. Without Carlos Correa and George Springer, the weight of the offense has fallen more onto Altuve’s shoulders. And he has stepped up in their absence since July.
July 2017: .485/.523/.727, 48 H, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 242 wRC+ in 107 PA
While it is unknown what will happen over the remaining 31% of the regular season, July could viewed as Altuve’s MVP month.
In terms of overall value, Altuve’s is mostly driven by his bat. Per Baseball Reference, his Offensive WAR is 6.2. He leads baseball with 154 hits. The offensive numbers have been downright impressive.
On the other hand, Altuve’s defense will not blow anyone away. But he does enough to be respectable. With his potent bat, one could live with that defensive skill set.
While I believe the win-loss record should have little-to-no bearing on the MVP chase, the Astros 71-and-40 record should only help Altuve.
Next: The Astros' bullpen has issues without reinforcements
At this point in time, Altuve should have a fair shot at winning the AL MVP. In fact, it would be a rather difficult task to choose anyone else over him.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus**