The race for the American League MVP Award has only two contenders: Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani. Both have been absolutely remarkable this season, and they have left every other AL player in their dust.
After Ohtani and Judge, however, the next best players in the AL might both be Houston Astros. Yordan Álvarez has proven himself to be the most fearsome slugger in the AL not named Judge or Trout. José Altuve has had an unbelievable second half and is in the midst of one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame-worthy career.
While neither will win the AL MVP, one of them can certainly be named the most valuable player of the Astros’ season. That’s a major achievement in and of itself, to be the best player on the top team in the league. But to whom should the honor go?
Both Álvarez and Altuve have played a similar number of games and recorded a similar number of plate appearances this year. Both have been essential to Houston’s success. Both deserve credit for their performances.
Álvarez is the better pure hitter, especially in terms of power. The numbers clearly bear that out. While he and Altuve have similar batting averages and on-base skills, Álvarez records far more extra-base hits.
- Altuve: .298/.387/.531, 28 HR, 100 R, 57 RBI, 162 wRC+
- Álvarez: .304/.407/.614, 37 HR, 92 R, 96 RBI, 184 wRC+
Altuve is so slouch at the plate, however, and he is also more of an all around contributor. He plays a premium position, and although he is no longer the Gold Glover he was in his youth, he still holds his own at second base. He is also a threat on the base paths, as evidenced by his 18 stolen bases in 19 attempts.
In order to pick between the two, one has to decide what is more important: Álvarez’s incredible power or Altuve’s five-tool play. Does Yordan’s bat outweigh José’s glove and legs? It’s a difficult question, and one with no easy answer.
According to FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement, the two have had nearly identical seasons. They currently have 6.3 fWAR apiece, making them the two best AL position players after Judge.
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Baseball Prospectus Wins Above Replacement Player also has them right behind Judge, although this metric favors Álvarez. He has 6.0 WARP to Altuve’s 4.6. Similarly, Baseball Reference has Álvarez at 6.5 WAR and Altuve at 5.0. Both of these metrics have a more positive view of Álvarez’s defense than the measurement at FanGraphs.
In other words, the difference between Álvarez and Altuve really depends on how you view Álvarez’s defense. The more worried you are about his glove in left field, the more valuable Altuve looks in comparison. No matter how you slice it, however, it’s a close call.
In truth, there’s no wrong answer when picking between Álvarez and Altuve. Both have been phenomenal for Houston this season.
Álvarez might have the slight edge because he is putting up one of the best offensive seasons in recent memory (he’s in Pujols/Cabrera/Trout/Judge/Harper territory) and because his breakout as one of the best players in baseball is so important for the future of the franchise.
Altuve may be having his best season since 2017, but even so, star-level performance isn’t quite as big a deal for him – it’s pretty much what Astros fans expect at this point.
And as good as he’s been, it does seem like he’s getting a tad slower on the bases and in the field. With his base running and fielding tools in decline, the scale tips in Álvarez’s favor.
Ultimately, the fact that we’re faced with this choice is a very, very good thing. It’s an embarrassment of riches. The Astros are a remarkable baseball team, and Yordan Álvarez and José Altuve are the two biggest reasons why.
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