Houston’s Jose Altuve won his first American League MVP award on Thursday, besting the field after batting a league-leading .346 with a .410 on-base percentage and .957 OPS.
I had one of two MVP votes in Kansas City’s BBWAA chapter. (Sam Mellinger had the other one.)
I voted for Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez.
My full ballot looked like this: 1. Jose Ramirez; 2. Jose Altuve; 3. Aaron Judge; 4. Mike Trout; 5. Francisco Lindor; 6. Corey Kluber; 7. Eric Hosmer; 8. Chris Sale; 9. Andrelton Simmons; 10. Mookie Betts
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I’m going to explain why I voted for Ramirez over Altuve, Judge, Trout and others. But first, here’s what I did — and didn’t — pay attention to while filling out my ballot:
I didn’t pay attention to postseason success. That’s not what the award is based on. I did not pay attention to overall team success, at least not in any overly weighted way. A player’s statistics — and therefore his value — can be influenced by the talent around him, and vice versa, but a great player should not be judged by his team’s wins and losses. I voted for Mike Trout last season. If I had an NL vote, I would have likely voted for Joey Votto or Giancarlo Stanton.
I did pay attention to wins above replacement. And in this case, Altuve had a convincing case. He led the league in both bWAR (8.3) and was second in fWAR (8.2). He is a worthy MVP.
The WAR statistics, in my opinion, are the best ones we have for measuring the total value of a player, yet they are not perfect or flawless, especially in small sample sizes. The base running and defensive metrics, in particular, feature a lot of noise. To turn the Most Valuable Player award into a WAR competition feels reductive.
I will also note the inherent flaws of voting in a linear list. I found the MVP cases for my top four (Ramirez, Altuve, Judge and Trout) all to be compelling. But on the ballot — while there is an extra bonus for a first-place vote — the difference between a third-place vote and a fourth-place vote is the same as the difference between fourth and fifth, even if there is a sizable statistical dropoff in value at some point.
So let’s get to the top four: I likely would have voted for Trout again had he played more than 114 games. Sometimes injuries can be out of a player’s control, yet I do think that players should be rewarded for durability, that there is value in being on the field. And that leaves the top three:
Judge batted .284/.422/.627 with a 1.047 OPS, 171 OPS+, 50 homers, 24 doubles, 127 walks and 340 total bases.
Altuve batted .346/.410/.547 with a .957 OPS, 164 OPS+, 24 homers, 39 doubles, 58 walks and 323 total bases.
Ramirez batted .318/.374/.583 with a .957 OPS, 145 OPS+, 29 homers, 56 doubles, 52 walks and 341 total bases.
I can see an MVP case for all three players. And if I was voting for the best offensive player in the league, I might have considered Judge harder than I did for MVP. But essentially all his value comes on offense, and he batted .312/.440/.725 with 33 homers at Yankee Stadium, while hitting .256/.404/.531 with 19 homers on the road.
His road numbers are still somewhat impressive, yet it’s hard to look at those splits and conclude anything other than his overall numbers being inflated by playing at Yankee Stadium. If his entire MVP case is based on offense, I think one should take that into consideration. So I ranked him behind Ramirez and Altuve, both two-way players who, yes, play in hitter-friendly parks but offer value beyond power and offensive production.
I waffled between Altuve and Ramirez, and in one preliminary ballot, I was set to vote for Altuve. But a couple things swayed my vote:
The difference between Altuve and Ramirez was essentially 18 singles and six walks, while Ramirez had an advantage in total bases based on his additional power. I found the offensive cases closer than the advanced numbers indicate at first glance. And in asking opposing players and pitchers about both players, I found that, by an overwhelming consensus, they believed Ramirez to be a more dangerous offensive player who could inflict more damage at the plate. That’s not to say they didn’t praise Altuve; they did. But the respect for Ramirez was surprising.
This, of course, was based on a large but still limited sample size of opinions. And these were not the deciding factor. The opinion of players should not always be taken as gospel. I think people understand that by now. Look at the players’ choice awards. Yet I do think there is value in gleaning opinions from those who compete against these players all season. And to be clear: the survey of opposing players and pitchers was not limited to Royals.
I also believe Ramirez offered defensive value in his ability to move between third base and second base while Jason Kipnis was out. As one coach said: "Ramirez is one of the best third basemen in the league, and then the Indians lose Kipnis. He moves over there, and he’s great there, too."
That’s not to say that Altuve could not offer something similar. I suppose he could. But Ramirez did, and in an era where positional flexibility is key, he was a switch-hitter who offered MVP-type production on offense while being able to slide seamlessly between two defensive positions. I don’t think some of that value can be reflected in the numbers.
Jose Altuve is one of the best players in the world and a worthy MVP. I believe Jose Ramirez had an MVP-caliber season as well. In the end, I voted for him.