Who Wins the 2017 AL MVP?

Almost two-thirds of the way through the MLB season, potential award-winners are taking form. Arguably, the most coveted (and speculated) is the MVP for each respective league.

Thus far, the season’s headlines have been dominated by the production of rookie Aaron Judge. Not only has his uncanny ability to demolish a baseball captured the lore of fans across the continent, but his humble demeanor has turned him into one of the “faces” of the game. Regulars in the MVP discussion (like Mike Trout of course) are going about their usual business as well, making the 2017 MLB season captivating to say the least. As we move into August, discussion picks up significantly so why not continue this trend and dissect the MVP race to its core.

Proficiency in certain statistical categories have been more awarded by voters than others deemed important and most rewarded by voters, as well as taking into consideration a multitude of external factors such as the talent surrounding them I will attempt to give some insight on who could be taking home each league’s MVP award. I’ve selected

We have come to the conclusion that proficiency in the following statistical categories have been most rewarded by voters in the MVP race: batting average, homeruns, runs batted in, on base + slugging percentage, weighted on base average (wOBA) and wins above replacement (WAR). Below are the averages in these stats taken from every MVP winner from 2010 onward.

.315 39 122 .989 .418 8.0

Taking these statistics into perspective, the AL MVP comes out as a two-horse race between Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve. Let us compare these two:

Judge .305 (current) 46 (Steamer projection) 108 (Steamer projection) 1.067 (current) .439 (current) 7.3 (Steamer projection)
Altuve .365 (current) 22 (Steamer projection) 90 (Steamer projection) 1.008 (current) .424 (current) 7.2 (Steamer projection)

Looking at their current and projected stats (via Steamer) through the rest of the season, this MVP race will be incredibly close. Altuve’s torrid bat has his average miles ahead of the American League, while Judge’s power has been jaw-dropping. Their WAR being nearly identical causes us to go further into the numbers. Though neither would be considered a sparkling defender, Judge’s defensive runs above average (Def) is slightly higher than Altuve’s as well as possessing one of the strongest throwing arms in baseball from right field. Team success is (for some reason) also considered when MVP voting begins. Both teams, the Yankees and Astros, find themselves in a playoff position at the moment. So where do we break the tie in this regard? The Astros hold a massive lead in the AL West, by and large due to the production of their leader, Altuve. However, the Astros are loaded with other huge pieces of a powerhouse offense: Carlos Correa and George Springer are both in the top seven in AL WAR and in the top five in AL wOBA. MVP voting will come down to these reasons for each player:

Why Judge:

  • MLB leader in HRs, wOBA, WAR
  • New York Yankee player
  • Rookie

Why Altuve:

  • MLB leader in BA
  • Best player on 1st place team in AL
  • 5’6” tall

The third man on our ballot is our dark horse. When determining who to include as a dark horse candidate for the AL MVP, players needed to be focused on who have played well thus far but are also in a position to improve in the last third of the season. Mookie Betts fits the bill for this.

The 2016 MVP runner-up has been a difference-maker with his bat and his glove. Betts boasts a Def of 14.9, which is the best in the majors. Def is the only defensive stat which we can use to compare players from different positions so we can see how Judge and Altuve compare. The rookie comes in at 2.8, while the shortest player in the league is at -0.1. Moreover, while Betts has been worse on offence than Judge and Altuve, he has also been very unlucky. This season his batting average on balls in play is .266, while his career average in this stat is .306. This translates to an increased amount of balls coming of his bat becoming hits in the coming weeks. Also, as we will illustrate below, Steamer has projected increases in all categories that we’re looking at for the purpose of this article.

Current .270 17 63 .810 .343 4.3
Projected .279 26 97 .824 .348 6.3

Projections are not reality though, and an MVP will only come Betts’ way if three things happen.

  1. Betts exceeds his projections and raises his BA to over .300 and his HR above 30 (voters love round numbers).
  2. Altuve does not reach a historic BA mark (i.e., hitting above .400) – as was recently experienced in the NBA MVP voting, writers have a penchant for awarding accomplishments of this fashion.
  3. Judge and Altuve both experience regression across the board.

Also interesting is our omission of Mike Trout. The Angels outfielder was at a world-beating pace before his thumb injury but his games missed are too much to ignore. If we look at recent examples of MVPs who have missed significant time, Trout just doesn’t stack up.

  Year Games Played BA HR RBI OPS wOBA WAR
George Brett 1980 117 .390 24 118 1.118 .478 9.1
Barry Bonds 2003 130 .341 45 90 1.278 .503 10.2
Josh Hamilton 2010 133 .359 32 100 1.044 .445 8.4
Mike Trout* 2017 108 .315 31 78 1.073 .435 6.5

* ZiPS projection

To conclude, our pick would be Aaron Judge. Expecting regression can’t be a reason not to pick someone, no matter how inevitable it may seem. Judge is having an equal effect on games to Altuve but is doing it with flashier statistics (i.e., contending for the triple crown) – it is for this reason that we predict Aaron Judge to win the 2017 AL MVP


Adam is a student at the University of Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter @adam_m3318.

Carter is a hockey player, formerly in the WHL for the Vancouver Giants, currently at the University of British Columbia. You can follow him on Twitter @carter_popoff.

You can follow Hit the Cut on Twitter @hitthecutblog.

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