The votes are in, beginning the waiting game until the middle of November when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) will announce the winner of this year’s American League Most Valuable Player Award.
This year’s race features four highly distinguished offensive candidates who compiled statistical accomplishments worthy of recognition and honor. Some subscribe to the notion that it is strictly a competition between Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros and Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees. Others strongly believe that Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians catapulted himself into the conversation as the versatile and overlooked driving force of the defending American League champions. Let’s also not forget about Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Even though he missed 39 games because of a torn ligament in his left thumb, Trout once again performed at an elite level and reminded everyone why he is already on a trajectory for a bronze plaque in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.
The criteria for bestowing an honor of this magnitude upon a ballplayer have been subjected to intense criticism and various interpretations of what the word “valuable” actually means. Since 1931, the BBWAA has been the guardian of the process, and the voting rules have basically remained unchanged since the group selected Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Lefty Grove as its first American League Most Valuable Player. Obviously, there is guidance in terms of the value a ballplayer brings to his team in terms of offense and defense, as well as the number of games played. It is also worth noting that character, disposition, loyalty and effort are set forth in the voting rules.
In total, 66 players representing American League ball clubs have won this award, with 15 multiple-time recipients of the award. Five have been fortunate enough to have won the award on three occasions.
Only three players who have won the American League award have played for teams with losing records: Cal Ripken, Jr. (1991), Alex Rodriguez (2003) and Mike Trout (2016). On 21 occasions, the American League’s MVP came from a club that didn’t qualify for postseason play.
The average Wins Above Replacement (WAR) figure for an AL MVP-winning position player is 7.5; Ted Williams had the highest mark, at 11.8 in 1946, as measured by FanGraphs. In terms of Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), the average for an AL MVP-winning position player is 161.5; Williams once again leads the pack, at 215 in 1946.
This season’s American League leaderboard was dominated by the aforementioned quartet of candidates. While Altuve comfortably led in categories such as batting average, hits, singles and WAR, Trout dominated in on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage (SLG) and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). Ramirez’s penchant for doubles and extra-base hits was quite evident while Judge’s prolific displays of power led him to the top in runs scored, home runs, bases on balls, barrels and runs created.
Judge garnered an extraordinary amount of attention. After narrowly winning a starting job in the Yankees’ outfield near the conclusion of spring training, Judge became a bona fide superstar in every aspect of the word. Besides setting the rookie record for home runs in a season (52), Judge set the single-season mark for home runs at the Yankees’ home park with 33, surpassing Babe Ruth’s 1921 accomplishment. (It is worth noting, though, that Ruth achieved this feat while playing at the Polo Grounds instead of Yankee Stadium; the Yankees were a Polo Grounds tenant from 1913 to 1922.)
Judge’s home runs traveled approximately four miles in total, and Statcast reveals that the average exit velocity on Judge’s home runs this season was 109.9 miles per hour, with the fastest at 121.1 mph. He also became the fifth Yankee to hit at least 50 home runs in a season, joining a fraternity that also includes Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
Judge is the third rookie in major league history with at least 100 runs, 100 runs batted in and 100 walks, after Williams (1939) and Al Rosen (1950). He is also the third player in major league history with at least 125 runs and 125 walks in a season at age 25 or younger, after Ruth (1920) and Williams (1941 and 1942). He is seeking to become the third American League player to win the MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards in the same season, after Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001).
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