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MVP races are as tight as it gets

All six finalists have legitimate case for BBWAA honor
MLB.com @RichardJustice

There's jaw-dropping power on the ballot. There's craftsmanship on there as well, players who've elevated hitting a baseball into an art form. Actually, that's all of them. Finally, there's the basic -- and unanswerable -- question of what constitutes "value."

In other words, there's something for almost everyone in this year's discussion of the Baseball Writers' Association of America National League and American League Most Valuable Player Awards, which will be announced today at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.

There's jaw-dropping power on the ballot. There's craftsmanship on there as well, players who've elevated hitting a baseball into an art form. Actually, that's all of them. Finally, there's the basic -- and unanswerable -- question of what constitutes "value."

In other words, there's something for almost everyone in this year's discussion of the Baseball Writers' Association of America National League and American League Most Valuable Player Awards, which will be announced today at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.

VOTE NOW: Esurance MLB Awards

Video: MLB Tonight previews the NL and AL MVP Awards

There isn't a clear front-runner in either league, and there's a reasonable case to be made for every finalist: Jose Altuve of the Astros, Aaron Judge of the Yankees and Jose Ramirez of the Indians in the AL; and Paul Goldschmidt of the D-backs, Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins and Joey Votto of the Reds in the NL.

Power? In the year of the home run, let's begin there. Stanton and Judge had the top two totals in the Majors. Stanton's 59 home runs tied Babe Ruth (1921) for the ninth-most in a single season. Judge's 52 set a rookie record.

They didn't just hit home runs. They hit monumental, jaw-dropping home runs. Both lit up the Statcast™ leaderboards. First, they had the two hardest-hit balls in 2017 -- 122.2 mph (Stanton) and 121.1 mph (Judge).

Judge's average exit velocity of 94.9 mph was tops in the Majors, and he also hit baseball's longest home run in 2017 -- 495 feet.

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Video: Altuve belts seven home runs in impressive postseason

Now about Altuve and Votto, arguably the two best hitters of their generation. Altuve batted .346 to win his third AL batting title in four seasons. Votto also had perhaps his best season, leading the Majors with a .454 OBP.

Does winning matter? Great players have occasionally been penalized for playing on teams with losing records. That's unfair, although some voters will disagree. To penalize Votto, who is relentlessly driven to be great, because the Reds (68-94) finished last in the NL Central is flat out wrong.

Mike Trout winning the 2016 AL MVP Award despite playing on a non-playoff team may have been some kind of breakthrough, and it'll be interesting to see how the vote totals for Votto and Stanton (77-85, second place) are impacted by their teams not getting to the postseason.

Video: Votto named a finalist for NL Most Valuable Player

On the other hand, there's no question that winning should count for something. Ramirez batted .432 during the Indians' 22-game winning streak.

Likewise, Goldschmidt had a big season -- 34 doubles, 36 home runs, 120 RBIs, .966 OPS -- in helping the D-backs make the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Let's break down the races in each league. Judge was a unanimous winner in the AL Rookie of the Year voting on Monday and could join Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) as the only players to win both awards in the same season. He was also second in the Majors behind Trout in OPS (1.049) and two data-driven categories: wOBA (.430) and wRC+ (173).

Video: Judge is AL Rookie of the Year and MVP finalist

Meanwhile, Altuve helped the Astros win 101 games and a World Series championship, though votes are cast before the postseason.

He led the AL with 204 hits and hit .381 on the road. He also had 39 doubles and 24 home runs. He was numbingly consistent, with a .291 batting average in September -- his worst month -- and a .485 average in July -- his best.

Meanwhile, Ramirez led the Majors with 56 doubles and also had 29 home runs, six triples and 52 stolen bases. If all three players receive at least one first-place vote, it will not be a surprise.

Video: Ramirez named a finalist for AL MVP

In the NL, Goldschmidt represents a complete player, from a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger to 36 home runs and 18 stolen bases.

Whether Votto wins or not, 2017 will represent another season that's methodically constructing a Hall of Fame career.

For Stanton, it was a season to show how good he is when healthy. He played 150-plus games for just the second time in his career and captivated an entire sport with a run at 60 homers, including 18 during a 25-game stretch in July.

He hit Nos. 58 and 59 in the Marlins' 159th game, and while he went 5-for-14 in the final three games, he didn't hit another home run.

The possibility that new Marlins CEO Derek Jeter might trade Stanton has become one of the most interesting story lines of the offseason. Winning the NL MVP would only brighten the lights.

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.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Judge, Jose Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto