If there was a best player in baseball nobody ever talks about, it would be Jose Altuve. The Houston Astros’ diminutive second baseman has averaged a 6.1 WAR since 2014 and is a five-time All-Star. He has also won two batting titles and is well on his way to winning a third at the age of just 27.
Make no bones about it, Jose Altuve is the American League MVP for 2017, and it’s hard to prove otherwise.
The 2017 dream season
The 2017 season is a great time to be Jose Altuve. Not only does he lead the Majors with 154 hits, but also with a .364 batting average and OPS+ of 175. Altuve also leads the AL with 241 total bases.
But let’s stay on Altuve’s batting average for just a little while longer. First, he has a 44-point advantage over the man in second place, teammate Carlos Correa. Correa is out after surgery on his thumb and is still expected to miss a few weeks, so he won’t be catching up anytime soon.
On top of that, Altuve’s BABIP this year is a phenomenal .391, and it isn’t just from great luck. His career BABIP is .340 and his lifetime batting average .317, so he’s just that great of a contact hitter. That explains his career isolated power of just .135, as he is more likely to get on base via a single or double and won’t pepper the field with extra-base hits.
Throw in Altuve’s 16 home runs and 63 RBI on the season, plus 24 stolen bases, and there is little reason he shouldn’t be named MVP.
A truly special player
When fans think of the MVP trophy, they usually think of a hitter who mashes home runs while also hitting for a high average, or maybe a pitcher who had a dominant year like Clayton Kershaw did in 2014.
In fact, perhaps the last time a pure contact hitter was named MVP, it was when Ichiro Suzuki took home the trophy in 2001. He topped the American League in batting average at .350 that year and led the majors with 242 hits, hitting just eight home runs with 69 RBI and an MLB-best 56 steals. Suzuki also posted a 7.7 WAR.
Altuve has developed more power in recent years, including a career-high 24 home runs and 96 RBI last year, but that could be more from baseball’s evolution into a game where power hitters are king. The fact of the matter is that his bread and butter has always been hitting the ball to all fields and getting on base, especially this year.
That brings us to another key reason Altuve should be this year’s MVP. Keep in mind that for his .317 lifetime batting average, Altuve only has a .362 career OBP. He doesn’t strike out much but also doesn’t take a lot of walks.
Something has changed this year where for Altuve’s .364 batting average, he has an impressive .424 OBP. His walk rate is still similar, so it could just reflect his impressive bat this year.
But it’s also worth noting that on an Astros team where the home run has become the alpha dog, Altuve has stood out this year by remaining committed to contact hitting. No disrespect to guys like Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper, or Kris Bryant, but home run hitters are a dime a dozen in baseball today.
Contact guys like Altuve are a rarity. Long gone are the days when strong singles or doubles hitters were the anchors of a lineup, and Altuve could bring that trend back.
Given how the Astros are running away with the AL West and are one of baseball’s strongest offensive teams, what better way than to reward their lineup’s catalyst than with an MVP trophy?
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