No American League player had one of those no-doubt MVP seasons, somebody who hit .350 with 40 homers and 150 RBIs. Nobody made it easy for the sportswriters who vote on the award. There wasn't a lights-out starting pitcher to sneak up and win the award either, given the bias some writers have that the pitchers have their own award (the Cy Young) and so should not be eligible for the MVP award.
Altuve: Big year slumped at end
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Given that, whoever wins will be second-guessed when the votes are tallied. Traditionally, the award is given to sluggers who put together the best combination of batting average, home runs and runs batted in. This year, even that's debatable. Further, some believe the MVP should go to the player who led his team to a title of some sort. This year's top candidates didn't translate well into team accomplishments.
This is all helpful for Houston's Jose Altuve in a murky MVP race but it doesn't make him an odds-on favorite. When his batting average was in the .360s, the mighty mite was getting some national media love but I'm not sure it held up. Let's size up the top five candidates and then I'll give you my prediction.
Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston, .338 BA, 24 HRs, 96 RBIs, .928 OPS
In his best overall season so far, the 26-year-old added a power stroke to set career highs in homers, RBIs and OPS. He also plays a premium fielding position. He won the AL batting crown and led the league in hits.
Altuve earned national attention this summer but does not play in a big media market. He faded during the final month (.276 BA, .699 OPS) as the Astros fell out of contention and missed the playoffs. Had he closed with a .900+ OPS month like his other five months, his case would have been far easier.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle, .298 BA, 39 HRs, 103 RBIs, .882 OPS
Complicating Altuve's claim is that he may not have been the AL's best second baseman. 33-year-old Cano provided more sock yet with a lower average than Altuve. He, too, plays in a media backwater but, as a former Yankee, he's still highly regarded in the press.
Seattle ultimately beat out Houston and Anaheim in the standings but still finished out of the money. His final month (.298 BA, .898 OPS, 9 HR) showed no drop-off. Not that the writers are apt to care, Cano provided no stolen bases while Altuve swiped 30.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit, .316 BA, 38 HRs, 108 RBIs, .956 OPS
The former two-time MVP did not have one of his best years and yet the numbers are still good enough to be in the discussion. His Detroit Tigers also failed to make the playoffs.
Miggy had a great finishing kick (.349 BA, 1.109 OPS, 10 HRs) and seems destined for the Hall of Fame someday. But do you give him this reward for an off year?
Mike Trout, OF, LA Anaheim, .315 BA, 29 HRs, 100 RBIs, .991 OPS
Trout is still just 24 years old but he has been first or second in MVP voting each of the past four seasons and clearly could do so again. If you love SABR stats, this is your guy because he kills it in numbers like WAR (wins above replacement) and OPS. Yet, among traditional stats, he only led the league in walks and his team finished with a losing record.
He helped his chances on the final day of the season by knocking in his 100th run and swiping his 30th base. Some voters love benchmark numbers and these are two.
David Ortiz, DH, Boston, .315 BA, 38 HRs, 127 RBIs, 1.021 OPS
A 40-year-old on his farewell tour, Big Papi will get both the sympathy vote and the East Coast media bias. Some will say a player with no defensive position is not a complete player and others will point to his offense-friendly home park and strong batting lineup around him as mitigating factors.
Still, he's the only one on this list to make the postseason, winning the AL East. However, his club was swept by Cleveland as soon as it got in. He did lead the AL in doubles, RBIs, slugging and OPS. He's never won the MVP Award and is going to get strong support from the large New England contingent.
Ortiz had a strong finishing kick (.323 BA, 1.017 OPS) as Boston pulled away from Baltimore and Toronto to take the division.
It's going to be a difficult vote but my guess as to how it will go:
MVP, David Ortiz, Boston
2. Mike Trout, Anaheim.
3. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
4. Jose Altuve, Houston
5. Mark Trumbo, Baltimore
- Bob Hulsey