We’re going to do this elimination style today – i.e., if player “A” provided more value to his team in 2017 than player “B” did, then player “B” is eliminated. There’s no need going into player “B”’s resume as great as it may be if he wasn’t more valuable than player A.
Secondly, I need to be clear that whoever is chosen officially, or whoever your personal choice is, there’s no egregious choice this season. There’s no Don Baylor over Fred Lynn in ‘79, Willie Hernandez over Cal Ripken in ‘84, Justin Morneau over half the league in ’06 and no Miguel Cabrera over Mike Trout in ’12.
If you think Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Corey Kluber or Chris Sale is the 2017 American League MVP, you certainly can make a strong case.
But here’s mine:
(Read my previous blog “MLB MVPs Part I”, for specifics I why I’m using the criteria I chose).
Mike Trout is the best player of this generation, would be a Hall of Famer if he retired today, has only guys named Mays, Cobb and Mantle as peers, and was the best player in baseball this past season.
But he is not the AL MVP.
As I mentioned, part of “value” is how much you provided over the full season. And although Trout’s 507 plate appearances and 114 games played were better than any stretch of 507 and 144 that Judge or Altuve produced, the reality is, it’s only 507 and 114. Judge’s 678/155 and Altuve’s 662/153 allowed them to provide more value to their respective teams’ chances of winning games. Fair? No. Reality? Yes. Trout just couldn’t provide as much value as the others because he wasn’t on the field as much.
That brings us to Altuve and Judge among position players.
Altuve had a slight edge in bWAR 8.4 to Judge’s 8.1. But Judge had a slight edge in fWAR 8.2 to 7.5, OBP .422 to .410, wRC+ 173 to 160 and a huge edge in SLG .627 to .547.
WAR is a split. Judge is better everywhere else. Jose Altuve is not the 2017 AL MVP.
That brings us to the pitchers.
As mentioned, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber directly affected more plate appearances than Judge and Altuve did (Their batters faced > than the others plate appearances). When combined with their level of dominance, a case can certainly be made they provided more value to their teams as a result. Yes, I know, position players can impact games through defense and base running as well, but here’s the problem:
Altuve was a good base runner: 4 runs above average according to Fangraphs – but not nearly good enough to make up for the far greater number of plate appearances that Sale and Kluber partook in. Judge, incidentally, was an exactly average 0 base runner according to Fangraphs.
Defensively, Altuve was a -.1 and Judge a – 1.3 runs saved below average.
In other words, Sale and Kluber are in this discussion. Let’s eliminate one of them.
Kluber had the edge in bWAR 8 to 6, but Sale has the edge in fWAR 7.7 to 7.3. In xFIP, Kluber had a slight edge 2.52 to 2.65 but Sale had a slight edge in K% to BB% 31.1 to 29.5.
Basically, it’s a toss-up with those numbers.
Corey Kluber, meet Mike Trout.
Sale faced 73 more batters this season than did Kluber. That is not an insignificant number of plate appearances that Sale was able to affect for his team that Kluber did not.
Corey Kluber joins ALtuve and Trout on your “not” the MVP list.
That leaves Judge vs. Sale.
As mentioned, comparing position player dominance vs. pitcher dominance is somewhat apples and oranges. So even when digging deeper into statistics not mentioned, it still is essentially a toss-up. Both led the league in important statistics in addition to those already discussed: Innings pitched and strikeouts for Sale. Runs, walks for Judge.
Both bWAR and fWAR favor Judge. That’s not an insignificant distinction. It’s because of that, and because Judge just simply made baseball so much more fun again, is the reason Aaron Judge is your 2017 AL MVP.
Think Sale is more deserving? I’m cool with that. But if it’s a toss-up, as I believe this to be, I’m going to go with the things that are hard to measure. I’m going with the human element*. Take THAT everyone who thinks it’s all about numbers with me.
I know I watched more games this season than I would have if Judge hadn’t played. I think it’s safe to assume more people went to games, watched games (and the home run derby) because of Judge’s presence. Don’t get me wrong, Sale is fun to watch – but Judge had at least 10 moments this season that made me say “OMFG…” out loud. At least ten.
Hard to quantify value on that? Of course. But I’m sure there is a value – I’m sure of it – to both the Yankees and baseball in general, that can’t be measured.
My AL Cy Young**, NL MVP and NL Cy Young award winners are coming soon. In the meantime, enjoy the post season, and ALL RISE.
*Before you get on me about the “human element”, Jose Altuve is getting support as we speak because he’s small and scrappy. That has much less to do with this than what I said about Judge.
*”Didn’t you just tell us that Sale is the Cy Young award winner by writing he was the most valuable pitcher this season?” Nope. He was the most valuable, but maybe not the best…stay tuned.