Breaking down baseball’s MVP races: Who will win MLB’s top award?
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If Major League Baseball’s most valuable players were elected strictly by WAR, as listed at Fangraphs.com, the announcement Thursday would honor the Yankees’ Aaron Judge (8.2 fWAR) and either the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton or the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon (both 6.9).
Instead, Rendon isn’t among the final three in the National League, and Judge has stiff competition from the Astros’ Jose Altuve in the American League.
Aside from how much weight is given to advanced metrics such as WAR, there are a whole slew of factors: How much weight should be given team performance? How much value should be given defense? Should clutch hitting be a tiebreaker?
All are potential issues in the 2017 vote by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
AL: Judge, Altuve and the Indians’ Jose Ramirez are the finalists. By fWAR, rookie outfielder Judge is 0.7 ahead of second baseman Altuve (7.5), with second baseman/third baseman Ramirez (6.6) further behind.
All three played on postseason qualifiers. Votes are taken after the regular season, so Altuve gets no extra credit for helping the Astros win the World Series.
Judge’s case starts with 52 home runs, topping Mark McGwire’s MLB rookie record of 49. By weighted runs created plus, which considers all offensive contributions, adjusts for ballpark factors and normalizes to league average so 100 is an average player, Judge stood at 173. That trailed only the 181 by the Angels’ Mike Trout, who was limited by injury to 114 games.
Altuve, the AL batting-average leader at .346, was no slouch at 160 wRC+. As a second baseman, he gets WAR credit for his position. And Altuve has an advantage in high-leverage situations. In situations with the biggest potential impact on games, Altuve’s wRC+ was a strong 138; Judge dropped all the way to 107.
There’s a great deal of debate about whether that should be considered. Clutch hitting never has been shown to be a repeatable skill. This season says nothing about who will be a better clutch hitter next season or in seasons to come, but Altuve had more success when it mattered most in 2017.
NL: Right fielder Stanton is joined in the final three by Reds first baseman Joey Votto (6.6 fWAR) and Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (5.3). Only Goldschmidt played on a postseason team.
Stanton, the NL RBI leader with 132, has a flashy stat with 59 homers, the most in MLB since Barry Bonds hit 73 and Sammy Sosa 64 in 2001. Thanks to the difference in positions, he has an edge, with Fangraphs listing him at -.5 defensive runs to -5.3 for Votto and -7.6 for Goldschmidt.
With a well-rounded offensive game that included a league-leading 134 walks, Votto leads the finalists in overall offense with 165 wRC+ to Stanton’s 156 and Goldschmidt’s 142.
So you have a split decision. The postseason player is Goldschmidt. The best by-the-metrics offensive player is Votto. But with right-field defense favored over first base and a big home-run season, the WAR leader is Stanton.
Follow me on Twitter @GrochowskiJ.