The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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The Tall and Short of It: Altuve Slams Judge in AL MVP Voting

It was David versus Goliath in the American League Most Valuable Award this past week.  5-foot-6 second baseman Jose Altuve against 6-foot-7 outfielder Aaron Judge.  But it was the diminutive Altuve who brought down Judge in the voting for what was really a two-man race.  Altuve was thought to have a slight edge leading up to the award announcement on Thursday.  In addition to his impressive stats, he was the sentimental favorite of many because he proved that one doesn’t have to be a big-muscled slugger to have a huge impact for his team.

But it was a bit of a surprise when Altuve won the award by a substantial margin, 405 points to 279.  Was he really that much more dominant than Judge?

Altuve garnered 27 of the 30 first-place votes of the Baseball Writers Association of Baseball.  That’s a pretty definitive statement of how the writers felt.  If the balloting had considered the games they both played in the playoffs, it’s understandable why Altuve might have been the runaway winner, as he was a key figure in the Astros’ first-ever World Series title.  However, the award considers only regular season play, and the voting takes place before the playoffs begin so that there is no possibility of post-season bias.

So let’s take a look at the objective details of how each these all-stars performed during the regular season.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a metric that attempts to encapsulate a player’s all-around performance into a single number, considering hitting, running, and defense for position players. (Pitchers have different components for the WAR calculation.)  Altuve’s WAR was 8.3, while Judge’s was 8.1.  Because the metric is an approximation, there is virtually no difference in their overall performance in this regard.

Not surprisingly, the two players had very different seasons when considering the traditional individual cumulative stats.

Judge was the power hitter, setting an American League record for most homers by a rookie with 52 and drove in 114 runs.  While Altuve showed exceptional power for such a small player, with 24 home runs and 81 RBI, he is generally viewed as more of a high-average hitter with speed on the bases.

Altuve led the American League in hitting, batting .346 with 204 hits.  It was the fourth time in his career collecting over 200 hits.  After hitting over .300 for much of the season, Judge finished at .284 with 154 hits.

Judge led the league in runs scored with 128, compared with Altuve’s 112, while Altuve stole 32 bases to Judge’s 9.  Judge struck out a league-leading 208 times, while Altuve whiffed 84 times.

Another method of comparing individual performance considers their “slash lines,” which normalize their hitting performance regardless of the type of hitter they are.  The slash lines include the derived metrics On-Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage/On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage.  Judge outpaced Altuve in all of these categories:  .422/.627/1.049 compared with .410/.547.957.  Judge led Altuve in Runs Created, 149 to 133.

While Judge often gets dinged for his high strikeout rate, in fact he got on base more times than Altuve.  Judge was able to accomplish that by leading the league in walks with 127.

Both players are very athletic and play their respective positions well.  However, with regard to defensive performance, neither player stood out above the other.  Defensive WAR was not a significant factor in either of their overall WAR numbers.

Thus, it would seem Judge was at least equal to Altuve and arguably a little better over the entire season.  So what was in the voters’ minds, such that 90% of them gave the edge over Judge in first-place votes?

Here are some other factors that likely came into consideration to favor Altuve.

Judge had a tremendous first half of a season, but then struggled during July and August with only 10 HR and 20 RBI, before rebounding in September.

Altuve was more consistent throughout the entire season, including the month of July when he had an outlandish .523 On-Base Percentage.

Altuve was third in the American League in stolen bases with 32 (only two shy of the leader) which brought an additional dimension to the Astros’ offense.

In one of the measures of clutch hitting, Altuve’s Batting Average was .441 and his On Base Percentage was .529 in 62 “late and close” games, while Judge’s Batting Average was .215 and On Base Percentage was .380 in 69 “late and close” games.

Judge carries the perception that he is a one-dimensional hitter--that he either hits a home run or he strikes out, while Altuve combines hitting for average, hitting for power, and speed on the bases.

Although it’s argued nowadays that team results shouldn’t factor into the MVP voting, it’s hard to argue Altuve wasn’t the main driver in the Astros being the runaway winner of the AL West Division by 21 games, while Judge’s Yankees finished second in the AL East Division.

The National League MVP Award results were a different story.  Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who led the major-leagues with 59 HR, barely squeaked out a win over the Reds’ Joey Votto.  Both received 10 first-place votes, but Stanton only outdistanced him 302 to 300 in total points.

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