Altuve’s best case is his dependability. While his performance spiked in July — when he hit a superhuman .485 — his on-base plus slugging percentage has been above .850 in every calendar month.
“You’re splitting hairs here with all the great players around the league, but our guy has been the best and the most consistent,” Astros Manager A. J. Hinch said. “He’s been remarkable on one of the best teams in baseball. He’s been a standout month by month by month, the true definition, from start to finish, of one of the best players in the game. The different impact that he has offensively, defensively, base running — there’s not a part of the game that hasn’t been really good.”
Yet for all of Altuve’s skills, Judge has made even more of an impact. Only about half of Judge’s plate appearances have resulted in a fair batted ball. But he draws so many walks — and drives himself in so often with home runs — that he leads the league in runs scored. He trails only the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout in on-base and slugging percentage, and has well over 100 runs batted in.
Trout, a two-time winner, can make a compelling case. He missed significant time to injury but still has about as many plate appearances as George Brett in his M.V.P. season of 1980, and more than Willie Stargell in 1979, when he shared the N.L. honor with Keith Hernandez.
In those cases, though, Brett won for challenging the magical .400 batting average (he finished at .390), and Stargell largely for his leadership. Trout has simply been Trout: the best player in baseball, just a bit short in volume this season.
Judge’s six-week slump after the All-Star break could cost him the award, and Altuve would be a fine choice, too. But Judge was the biggest force, the biggest story, and the most fitting embodiment of the power game that baseball has become.
Runners-up: 2) Jose Altuve, Astros; 3) Mike Trout, Angels; 4) Jose Ramirez, Indians; 5) Jose Abreu, White Sox; 6) Francisco Lindor, Indians; 7) Mookie Betts, Red Sox; 8) Nelson Cruz, Mariners; 9) Jonathan Schoop, Orioles; 10) George Springer, Astros.
National League Most Valuable Player
JOEY VOTTO, CINCINNATI REDS
Many voters — and players — believe the M.V.P. must come from a contender. Yet that view severely limits the field and diminishes the integrity of the competition for teams out of the race. Every game matters, whatever the standings, and besides, these are individual awards. The team award is a World Series ring.
As tempting as it is then to endorse Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, another first baseman, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, stands above the rest. Votto and Goldschmidt have both topped .300 in average, .400 in on-base percentage and .500 in slugging percentage — but Votto was higher in all three, while playing more games and reaching base about 50 more times. Goldschmidt runs better, but both rank among the best fielders at first.
Other strong candidates are everywhere. Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton leads in homers and slugging percentage, but he’s outside the N.L. top 10 in on-base percentage. Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon leads in total bases but has markedly lower numbers away from Coors Field.
Blackmon’s teammate Nolan Arenado has similar numbers at home and on the road, and has been dazzling on defense at third base. What a year for that position, by the way; the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon and the Dodgers’ Justin Turner have also stood out.
In such a crowded field, then, the essential question is simple: Who has been the best hitter? As long as he has also played capably on defense, he should get the award. Votto it is.
Runners-up: 2) Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; 3) Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins; 4) Nolan Arenado, Rockies; 5) Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; 6) Kris Bryant, Cubs; 7) Anthony Rendon, Nationals; 8) Justin Turner, Dodgers; 9) Bryce Harper, Nationals; 10) Freddie Freeman, Braves.
A.L. Cy Young Award
COREY KLUBER, CLEVELAND INDIANS
Because of a back injury, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber did not pitch in the last 29 days of May. He had made six starts by then, including a shutout. But he also had three poor starts and a 5.06 earned run average. After his return, Kluber had a 1.62 E.R.A. in 22 starts, entering this weekend.
Boston’s Chris Sale stayed healthy all season and racked up 308 strikeouts, the most in the majors in 15 years. Yet even with fewer starts, and his uneven beginning, Kluber has more high-quality outings — at least seven innings, no more than three earned runs — than Sale. Kluber has met those standards 16 times, once more than Sale.
Sale leads the league in innings, but Kluber has averaged more innings per start (7.1 to Sale’s 6.7), while tossing five complete games to Sale’s one. Kluber has also been harder to hit, holding opponents to a .190 average to Sale’s .208, while leading the league in fewest walks per nine innings (1.6 to Sale’s 1.8). Kluber also has a significant edge in E.R.A. — an A.L.-best 2.27 to Sale’s 2.90.
Both pitchers have been extraordinary, and this will be Sale’s fifth year in a row among the top five on the ballot, a testament to consistent dominance. But Kluber, who won this award in 2014, has again been the A.L.’s best pitcher.
Runners-up: 2) Chris Sale, Red Sox; 3) Justin Verlander, Tigers/Astros; 4) Luis Severino, Yankees; 5) Carlos Carrasco, Indians.
N.L. Cy Young Award
CLAYTON KERSHAW, LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Legacy should not matter in the voting, but it offers a compelling backdrop: Washington’s Max Scherzer is seeking his third Cy Young Award, and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw his fourth. Kershaw should win, but the margin is really close.
Both pitchers had a summer lull, Scherzer because of a neck problem and Kershaw because of a back injury. Scherzer worked just 15 innings in a 31-day span from July 28 to Aug. 27. Kershaw did not pitch from July 24 through the end of August. Both had averaged 6.6 innings per start heading into the weekend.
So who was better? Kershaw has more starts of at least seven innings with no more than two earned runs: 16 to Scherzer’s 14. He also has a better E.R.A. — 2.21, the best in the majors, to Scherzer’s 2.55. Scherzer has issued about one more walk per nine innings than Kershaw, who has allowed about one more hit per nine than Scherzer.
The pitchers are so close, they may deserve the same fate; perhaps we should just give the award to Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ overpowering closer. But there has to be some tiebreaker, so let’s consider those extra innings Scherzer has pitched.
Scherzer has 26⅓ more innings than Kershaw — again, heading into the weekend — and has allowed 14 more earned runs. That comes to a 4.78 E.R.A. So imagine that the pitchers had the same stats through 171 innings, but Kershaw stopped and Scherzer continued — but was generally ineffective.
Kershaw gets the edge, but there is no wrong choice between the two. This much is certain: The two richest pitching contracts in N.L. history ($215 million for Kershaw, $210 million for Scherzer) have been wise investments this season.
Runners-up: 2) Max Scherzer, Nationals; 3) Kenley Jansen, Dodgers; 4) Stephen Strasburg, Nationals; 5) Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks.
Rookies of the Year
A.L. — AARON JUDGE, YANKEES
N.L. – CODY BELLINGER, DODGERS
These should be unanimous, since both players instantly established themselves as centerpiece sluggers for playoff-bound teams. Judge broke Mark McGwire’s rookie record for homers when he hit his 50th on Monday, and Bellinger broke the N.L. mark, shared by Wally Berger and Frank Robinson, with his 39th on Sept. 22.
While team performance is largely irrelevant for this award, it is worth mentioning just how much better Bellinger has made his team, the N.L.’s best. Through midweek, the Dodgers had played 30 games without Bellinger and gone 13-17 in them. With him, they were winning at nearly a .700 rate.
Judge — who could join Fred Lynn in 1975 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 as the only players to win the Rookie of the Year and M.V.P. Awards in the same season — has had a similar impact on the Yankees. He and Bellinger will most likely become the 22nd and 23rd unanimous winners of this award, which was first presented in 1947. The other unanimous winners have included five players who went on to the Hall of Fame: Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Carlton Fisk and Mike Piazza.
Active players who have won the award unanimously include Jose Abreu, Kris Bryant, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Longoria, Albert Pujols, Corey Seager and Mike Trout. The list of retired players who did so is also impressive. Besides the Hall of Famers, it includes Sandy Alomar Jr., Vince Coleman, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, McGwire, Raul Mondesi, Scott Rolen, Tim Salmon and Benito Santiago.
A.L. — 2) Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox; 3) Trey Mancini, Orioles
N.L. — 2) Josh Bell, Pirates; 3) German Marquez, Rockies.
Managers of the Year
A.L. — PAUL MOLITOR, TWINS
N.L. — TOREY LOVULLO, DIAMONDBACKS
In a recent article for The New York Times Magazine, the writer Chris Jones aptly summarized the challenge in evaluating managers. In an era of statistical analysis, their performance cannot be quantified beyond wins and losses.
“They are expected to translate the projections of their front offices into measurable reality,” Jones wrote, “but they are themselves immune to dispassionate analysis, the way a tool can’t be used on itself.”
So much of managing involves fostering relationships and building a belief system — nuanced stuff that is often, and understandably, beyond the grasp of most award voters. It is hard enough for a beat writer to truly understand the behind-the-scenes dynamics of the clubhouse he or she covers, let alone the culture of the other teams in the league.
Voters, then, consider stories: Which manager did the most with the least, overcoming the most obstacles to get the best from his team? Managers who simply returned their teams to the playoffs tend to get little consideration. Repeating rarely makes for a great story.
In that context, Molitor and Lovullo stand out. Molitor helped the Twins become the first team in history to reach the playoffs after losing 100 games the year before.
“We tried to wipe the slate the best that we could,” Molitor said recently. “With the development of our young guys, adding character into our clubhouse would make a difference. I knew that with a young team, momentum would be a huge deal, and getting off to a good start compared to last year was a big boost.”
Molitor’s roster was not fortified by expensive new free agents — catcher Jason Castro and reliever Matt Belisle were the big off-season additions — and he lost his closer, Brandon Kintzler, to a trade when the team slumped in late July.
Before that, though, the Twins had spent more than a month in first place, from mid-May to mid-June. They came alive again in August, with young players like Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario making good on their promise.
The Diamondbacks, likewise, recovered emphatically after a dismal season. They went 69-93 last year, costing Manager Chip Hale his job. Mike Hazen, the new general manager, had worked with Lovullo in Boston, and he hired him as Hale’s replacement.
“I thought they had a nice group of talented players that had gotten off to a bad start and then were kind of in this spiral of just being O.K. — that’s what it seemed like from the other dugout last year,” Lovullo said earlier this season.
“But I saw Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Owings and Jake Lamb and Zack Greinke and a couple of young, fresh arms that looked like they had a lot of ability,” Lovullo added. “I felt like it wasn’t going to be a rebuild. I felt like there was a potential for us to do something that could be special.”
They have done it through better health, a few important additions — especially catcher Chris Iannetta, closer Fernando Rodney and outfielder J. D. Martinez — and a more sophisticated analytical approach that includes detailed game preparation for pitchers with Dan Haren, the retired All-Star right-hander.
The result was a more dangerous lineup, a stingier pitching staff, and the Diamondbacks’ first winning season since 2011, the last time they reached the postseason. They will return on Wednesday when they host the N.L. wild card game at Chase Field.
A.L.: 2) Joe Girardi, Yankees; 3) Terry Francona, Indians.
N.L.: 2) Bud Black, Rockies; 3) Craig Counsell, Brewers.
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