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A cut above: MVP allure awaits worthy candidates

November 15, 2017

The 2017 season was a year for sluggers, and the MVP Award races in both leagues are filled to the brim with guys who mashed. Now it's time for two of them to have their names added to a list packed with legends.The American and National League Most Valuable Player

The 2017 season was a year for sluggers, and the MVP Award races in both leagues are filled to the brim with guys who mashed. Now it's time for two of them to have their names added to a list packed with legends.
The American and National League Most Valuable Player Awards will be announced Thursday (6 p.m. ET on MLB Network), based on voting done by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Following the announcement, make your voice heard by voting for Best Major Leaguer in the Esurance MLB Awards, where baseball legends, media, front-office personnel and fans come together to pick the winners, with postseason accomplishments factored in. Then tune in Friday at 8 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.com as this year's best stars and moments are revealed.
Awards coverage
The competition for each BBWAA award is full of star power. In the AL, Aaron Judge mashed a rookie-record 52 home runs, and he could join Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) as just the third player to win the MVP and Rookie of the Year Award in the same season. He'll face stiff competition, however, in Jose Altuve (the AL's hit leader for a fourth consecutive season) and Jose Ramirez (led the Junior Circuit with 91 extra-base hits). The NL race is just as stacked, with Giancarlo Stanton and his incredible 59 home runs squaring off against Paul Goldschmidt (36 home runs and 120 RBIs) and Joey Votto (MLB-best .454 on-base percentage).
VOTE NOW: Esurance MLB Awards
Before the MVPs are announced, here are some more facts and figures to know about the 2017 candidates and their connections with previous winners of this award. While an iteration of the MVP was given out by several outlets in the early 20th Century, the BBWAA has honored an MVP in each league since 1931. As such, the figures below pertain to the modern history of BBWAA MVP Award voting only.

Leaders of the pack
It's notable that AL home run champion Judge (52) and NL home run champion Stanton (59) both are MVP Award finalists, because while it's not uncommon for players to win both in the same year, it's also far from a guaranteed combo.
Since 2000, an NL player has pulled off that feat four times, most recently the Nationals' Bryce Harper, who tied the Rockies' Nolan Arenado with 42 homers in 2015. It's also happened four times in the AL in that span, with the Tigers' Jose Cabrera winning the Triple Crown in '12.
Meanwhile, it's been 20 years since both home run champions also won MVP Awards. Judge and Stanton could become only the fifth pair to do that since the BBWAA began giving out the MVP Award in 1931.
AL and NL HR champs also won MVP
1997: Ken Griffey Jr. (AL), Larry Walker (NL)
1972: Dick Allen (AL), Johnny Bench (NL)
1969: Harmon Killebrew (AL), Willie McCovey (NL)
1932: Jimmie Foxx (AL), Chuck Klein (NL)
However, this year's AL MVP Award could very well go to Altuve, who led the AL in hits for the fourth consecutive season (204). In recent years, combining a hits title with an MVP trophy has been an even rarer feat. While it happened six times from 1977-91, only two players have pulled off that combination since.
In 2001, Mariners rookie and AL MVP Award winner Ichiro led the Majors with 242 hits. In 2008, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia won the award while tying Ichiro with 213 knocks.

Team success
How the MVP Award voters define "most valuable" is up to them, but there's been a clear correlation in recent years between the MVP Award winners and the success of their teams in those seasons. Of course, the best players in baseball have often led their teams to the postseason, and that's been reflected in the MVP Award voting.
Since the Major League Baseball postseason expanded to a four-teams-per-league Wild Card format -- the first of those postseasons coming in 1995 -- both the AL and NL MVPs have come overwhelmingly from playoff teams. Only seven MVPs since 1995 have come from a team that missed the playoffs; 35 of the 42 MVPs made the postseason.
It is noteworthy, however, that there has been an MVP Award winner who didn't reach the playoffs in each of the past two seasons -- the Angels' Michael Trout in 2016, and Harper in '15. There might well be another one this year, with both Stanton and Votto coming from non-playoff teams. (All three AL MVP Award finalists made the playoffs.)
MVPs from non-playoff teams, Wild Card era (since 1995)
Mike Trout, Angels, 2016 (AL)
Bryce Harper, Nationals, 2015 (NL)
Jose Pujols, Cardinals, 2008 (NL)
Ryan Howard, Phillies, 2006 (NL)
Barry Bonds, Giants, 2001 and '04 (NL)
Alex Rodriguez, Rangers, 2003 (AL)
Larry Walker, Rockies, 1997 (NL)
It's not just a guarantee that this year's AL MVP Award winner will come from a playoff team, though. There's also a good chance it will come from the World Series winner -- with Altuve having just led the Astros to their first title in franchise history. (Though BBWAA ballots were due before the postseason began, so October exploits had no bearing on the voting.)
Interestingly, in the Wild Card era, while almost every league MVP Award winner has made the postseason, not nearly as many have actually won the Fall Classic. There have been only two players since 1995 who have won both an MVP Award and a World Series championship: Kristopher Bryant for the Cubs last year, and Buster Posey for the Giants in 2012.
Before Posey, the last MVP Award winner to come from the World Series-winning team was Kirk Gibson with the 1988 Dodgers. The last AL MVP Award winner to win the World Series? Willie Hernandez for the 1984 Tigers. Altuve is hoping that's about to change.
Predating the Wild Card era, MVPs coming from World Series winners was much more common. Since the BBWAA began bestowing the awards in 1931, 40 MVPs (21 NL, 19 AL) have played for the world champions -- 38 of them in the 63 years from 1931-93, compared to the two in the 22 years from 1995-2016. (There was no postseason in 1994 due to the players' strike.)

There's a first time for (almost) everyone
Five of the six MVP Award finalists this year have never won the award before, including Judge, who just took home the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Altuve, Goldschmidt, Ramirez and Stanton also are vying for their first MVP Award win.
That leaves Votto as the only potential two-time winner, with the Reds first baseman having come out on top in the NL voting in 2010. That year, Votto batted .324/.424/.600 with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs for NL Central-champion Cincinnati, taking 31 of 32 first-place votes to top the Cardinals' Albert Pujols.
While this year's NL voting is almost certain to be much closer, Votto has a shot at becoming the 28th player in history to win multiple BBWAA MVP Awards. He would be just the 12th to claim multiple NL MVP Awards from the BBWAA, joining a list includes Pujols (2005, '08, '09), Barry Bonds (1990, '92, '93, 2001, '02, '03, '04), Mike Schmidt (1980, '81, '86), Dale Murphy (1982, '83), Joe Morgan (1975, '76), Johnny Bench (1970, '72), Willie Mays (1954, '65), Ernie Banks (1958, '59), Roy Campanella (1953, '55), Stan Musial (1943, '46, '48) and Carl Hubbell (1933, '36). With the exception of Pujols (still active) and Bonds (still on the ballot), eight of those nine are in the Hall of Fame.
A win for Votto also would be notable in terms of the seven-year gap between awards. Since the BBWAA began voting on the award, only three players have won multiple MVPs separated by a longer time period.
Most time between two BBWAA MVP Awards
11 years: Mays (1954-65)
8 years: Bonds (1993-2001), Cal Ripken Jr. (1983-91)
7 years: Robin Yount (1982-89)
6 years: Joe DiMaggio (1941-47)

Franchise players
When the MVP Award winners are announced, some franchises could add to their overflowing trophy cases, while others could break through for long-awaited recognition.
On one end of the spectrum, there is Judge's Yankees, who already have an MLB-high 20 BBWAA MVP Awards, most recently courtesy of Rodriguez in 2005 and '07. Votto's Reds (12) sit fourth on that list, although Votto's 2010 win was the team's first since Barry Larkin in 1995.
On the other end, Goldschmidt's D-backs and Stanton's Marlins are two of the four franchises without an MVP Award, along with the Rays and Mets. Ramirez's Indians have captured two, but none since Al Rosen in 1953. Altuve's Astros won their only MVP Award as an NL club thanks to Jeff Bagwell in 1994 and now could become the second club to have both AL and NL MVP Awards. The Brewers won in the AL in 1989 (Robin Yount) and the NL in 2011 (Ryan Braun).
Most BBWAA MVP Awards by franchise

  1. Yankees: 20
  2. Cardinals: 17
  3. Giants: 13
  4. Reds: 12
    5-T. Athletics: 11
    5-T. Dodgers: 11
    5-T. Tigers: 11

Where they lined up
Many expect the AL MVP Award race to come down to Altuve and Judge, and the Yankees right fielder gets a major historical advantage in terms of his position. As one might expect, outfielders have claimed the most MVP Awards with 62, while second basemen have claimed just 10 MVP Awards -- the fewest of any spot on the field, including pitchers. Altuve would be only the fifth AL second basemen to win an MVP Award, and the first in either league since Pedroia in 2008.
The next most-honored position behind outfielders is first basemen with 29 selections, including Votto's first MVP Award in 2010. No player has won an MVP Award while playing more than 50 percent of his games as a designated hitter.
MVP Award winners by position

  1. Outfielders: 62
  2. First basemen: 29
  3. Pitchers: 22 (18 starters and four relievers)
  4. Third basemen: 19
  5. Catchers: 16
  6. Shortstops: 15
  7. Second basemen: 10

Short stature, high status
Another way Altuve could make history has to do with his relative lack of height. Listed at 5-foot-6, the Houston second baseman could tie for the shortest MVP Award winner in BBWAA history -- and the shortest in 65 years.
The only other 5-foot-6 players to be named MVP also were in the AL. Slick-fielding Yankees shortstop and Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto did it in 1950, when he batted .324 with a .418 on-base percentage, and Philadelphia A's lefty Bobby Shantz followed him two years later, when he went 24-7 with a 2.48 ERA.
However, there is a recent history of MVPs with a listed height only slightly above Altuve's, most recently the 5-foot-9 Pedroia in 2008.
Shortest MVPs by listed height
1-T. 5-foot-6: Phil Rizzuto (1950 AL)
1-T. 5-foot-6: Bobby Shantz (1952 AL)
3-T. 5-foot-7: Yogi Berra (1951, '54, '55 AL)
3-T. 5-foot-7: Joe Morgan (1975-76 NL)
3-T. 5-foot-7: Jimmy Rollins (2007 NL)
6-T. 5-foot-9: Roy Campanella (1951, '53, '55 NL)
6-T. 5-foot-9: Terry Pendleton (1991 NL)
6-T. 5-foot-9: Ivan Rodriguez (1999 AL)
6-T. 5-foot-9: Dustin Pedroia (2008 AL)
Neck and neck
While the AL MVP Award looks to be a two-horse race, the NL MVP Award race appears to have a whole herd of competitors coming down the stretch. Rockies stars Arenado and Charlie Blackmon have a chance to pull in at least one first-place vote in addition to the three Senior Circuit finalists. So, too, could Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, who tied Stanton for third among position players in wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs.
For those counting along, that could be as many as six different NL players receiving at least one first-place MVP vote. That hasn't happened in either league since 2011, when Justin Verlander emerged out of six AL first-place vote-getters. It hasn't happened in the NL since 1979, when Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell shared the MVP Award after eight different players received a first-place nod. The record for the most players receiving first-place votes in any league MVP vote is 11 in the 1977 AL MVP Award race won by Rod Carew.
The MVP Award winner with the lowest winner's share, or total vote points received divided by the maximum points available, was Yogi Berra, who received just a 55 percent share while beating out seven other first-place vote getters in the 1951 AL MVP Award race. Marty Marion holds the NL "record" by receiving a 57 percent share while also beating out seven other first-place vote-getters in 1944.
Could we see someone win the NL MVP Award without garnering the most first-place votes? That hasn't happened in either league since Ivan Rodriguez beat out fellow Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez in the 1999 AL MVP Award race despite receiving one fewer first-place nod. Excluding ties, we haven't seen this happen in the NL since Roberto Clemente beat Sandy Koufax with one fewer first-place vote in '66. There have been only five instances in total in which the MVP Award winner received fewer outright first-place votes than one of his competitors.
Players who won MVP Award despite receiving fewer first-place votes than competitor
1999 AL: Ivan Rodriguez (seven first-place votes) over Pedro Martinez (8)
1966 NL: Roberto Clemente (8) over Sandy Koufax (9)
1960 AL: Roger Maris (8) over Mickey Mantle (10)
1944 AL: Hal Newhouser (7) over Dizzy Trout (10)
1937 NL: Joe Medwick (2) over Gabby Hartnett (3)
How they got here
The most frequent starting point for any MVP Award winner in the Draft era (players who signed in 1965 or after) is via selection out of high school. Twenty-eight winners in this era, including Votto, were drafted out of high school, followed by 23 winners who were drafted out of a college or university. Altuve or Ramirez could become the 11th international free agent to win an MVP Award since 1965.
How MVP winners in Draft era (signed in 1965 or later) began their careers
Drafted out of high school: 28
Drafted out of college/university: 23
Signed as international free agent: 10
Drafted out of community/junior college: 4
Signed as undrafted free agent: 1
All six MVP Award finalists this year could be considered "homegrown" in the sense that they are still with the teams they debuted with. Two of them will join the overwhelming majority of 126 of the previous 173 BBWAA MVP Award winners who were still with their "original" teams that they debuted with, prior to any trades, free-agent signings or other changes of scenery, in the year they received this prestigious honor.
How MVP winners arrived at team with which they won the award
Won with team they originally debuted: 126
Won with team to whom they were traded: 33
Won with team in which they signed as a free agent: 13
Won with team that purchased their Minor League contract: 1

Stanton is in a rather unique position, of course, with rumors swirling that the Marlins could trade him this offseason as a new ownership group comes in. Should Stanton win the MVP and then be dealt, he would be the first player to ever be traded in the offseason directly following his MVP-winning season. Only two other players -- Alex Rodriguez in 2004 and Barry Bonds in 1993 -- have switched teams in any capacity following an MVP campaign, with both doing so via free agency. Bonds went on to win a second consecutive NL MVP in his debut season with the Giants after capturing the '92 honor with the Pirates.
Where they're from
This year's MVP Award finalist field hails from two states and three different countries. Judge and Stanton, each league's home run leader, were both born in California, the birthplace of 20 past MVP Award winners, most in MLB history. Goldschmidt, the other U.S. finalist, was born in Delaware -- which has never had an MVP Award winner. As for the three international finalists, Altuve is from Venezuela (one prior MVP Award winner), Ramirez is from the Dominican Republic (one MVP Award winner) and Votto -- the only finalist to have already won an MVP Award -- is from Canada (three MVP Award winners, including him in 2010).
Since the first year of BBWAA voting in 1931, U.S.-born MVPs have come from 31 different states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. International MVPs have come from six different countries: the Dominican Republic, Canada, Cuba, Japan, Panama and Venezuela.
Most MVP Award winners by birthplace
Since 1st year of BBWAA MVP Award in 1931
United States

  1. California: 20
    2-T. New York, Pennsylvania: 10
    4-T. Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois: 6
    Puerto Rico: 5 MVPs
    International MVP winners
    Dominican Republic: 5
    Canada: 3
    Cuba: 2
    Japan, Panama, Venezuela: 1
    Before 1931, when MVP Awards were handed out by various parties, two additional states were represented that have not been since the advent of the BBWAA MVP: Iowa, birthplace of 1924 NL MVP Award winner Dazzy Vance, and Kansas, birthplace of 1913 and '24 AL MVP Award winner Walter Johnson.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler. Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.