On page B3 of Thursday’s sports section, Associated Press baseball writer Mike Fitzpatrick picked recently announced American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, of the New York Yankees, over Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve as his choice for the AL’s Most Valuable Player.
Clearly mesmerized by Judge’s monstrous home run numbers (52) and Goliathan physical size (6-foot-7, 282 pounds), Fitzpatrick overlooks the key words in MVP — “most valuable.”
No doubt, Judge’s hot-hitting last month of the season helped the Yankees solidify their Wild Card playoff spot, but the MLB season is a marathon not a sprint.
Something that makes a player “most valuable” is consistency throughout the season, and Altuve has been a model of consistency, wire to wire, this season (968 OPS in first half of season, .967 in second half). Meanwhile, Judge’s spectacular September was preceded by an ugly August.
While Judge’s ability to change a game with one swing of the bat is valuable, that value is canceled out when his strikeouts outnumber his long balls four-to-one. If a player leads the league in strikeouts (literally the worst outcome one can have in an at-bat), that player cannot be the MVP. Period, end of discussion.
And not only did Judge’s 208 strikeouts lead all of baseball, those Ks now stand as the sixth-most in a single season in MLB history.
I’d argue the batting average champion Altuve (.346, 62 points higher than Judge), brings more value than the home run and strikeout king. Altuve’s numbers also are well-rounded, with a great batting average and very good numbers in pretty much every other category (24 home runs, 39 doubles, 81 RBIs, 32 stolen bases).
Altuve’s .982 fielding percentage is equal to Judge’s, although, of course, Altuve plays a much more vital and difficult position (second base) than Judge (outfield).
And perhaps “most valuable” of all is a player’s dependability in tight ballgames, and this is where Altuve’s star shines brightest over Judge this season.
In late and close games (defined by Baseball Reference as any plate appearance from the seventh inning on in which the batting team is either in a tie game, ahead by one run or has the potential tying run on deck), Altuve has an MLB-best .448 batting average this season, whereas Judge bats .215 (ranked 186th in MLB).
Altuve’s effectiveness in getting to opponents’ relief pitchers in those close games has also been crucial, as he has batted .369 against relievers (second in MLB) compared to .261 for Judge (171st)
In high leverage at-bats (defined as a situation where dramatic swings in win probability are possible), Altuve batted .337 (29th), while Judge was .211 (299th) in those scenarios.
Judge is a great young player, who I’m sure will win an MVP (or several) before his career is done and was very deserving of the Rookie of the Year award this year.
But for this season, the Baseball Writers Association of America members tasked with voting for the AL MVP need to resist their captivation with the long ball and Judge’s offensive lineman-like stature and make the right choice for MVP.