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Voters get it right in competitive MVP races

NL's razor-thin result, AL's runaway both fascinating
November 16, 2017

This turned out to be one of the more fascinating MVP votes in recent memory, but it wasn't in the league that I expected. Before Thursday's vote, I thought the American League race between Houston's amazing Jose Altuve and New York's unprecedented rookie Aaron Judge would be the hot one,

This turned out to be one of the more fascinating MVP votes in recent memory, but it wasn't in the league that I expected. Before Thursday's vote, I thought the American League race between Houston's amazing Jose Altuve and New York's unprecedented rookie Aaron Judge would be the hot one, down to the wire, as voters debated between Altuve's whirlwind all-around game and Judge's supreme power.
But that turned out to be no race at all. Altuve got 27 of the 30 first-place votes and won in a runaway.
The National League race, however turned out to be something else.
:: AL Most Valuable Player voting totals ::
The thing that made this NL vote for MVP so unusual was that the two principal characters -- Miami's Giancarlo Stanton and Cincinnati's Joey Votto -- played for teams that did not even come close to making the playoffs. Stanton's Marlins did briefly make a show of contending in mid-August before fading. Votto's Reds were out of it more or less from the start.
Being on a losing team used to be an MVP disqualifier with only rare exceptions. But as time has gone on, voters have determined -- rightly, I believe -- that the MVP Award should go to the best player, regardless of how their teammates happen to perform. This year, great players on contenders -- Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt, Chicago's Kristopher Bryant, Colorado's Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon and Washington's Anthony Rendon -- were, more or less, bystanders.
I think the voters deserve a lot of credit for narrowing it down to Stanton and Votto.
The final vote was so absurdly close -- Stanton and Votto both got the same number of first-place votes and, in the end, were separated by two measly points -- that it's hard to make judgments. Stanton won because he got one more second-place vote and one more third-place vote. That's a horse-racing photo finish.
:: NL Most Valuable Player voting totals ::
I think it deserved to be that close. Stanton had a home run season for the ages, hitting 59 homers and also leading MLB in RBIs (132) and pacing the NL in slugging percentage (.631). He was, for much of the season the story of the season. His remarkable home run tear in August -- 18 homers in 25 games -- was mind-blowing.
Votto, rather quietly, had another historic year. Votto has been so absurdly good over the last decade or so that it is easy to simply look at the remarkable things he does as commonplace. His 134 walks this year, for instance, are the third most for any player this decade. It also happens to be the third most for Votto this decade.
So while his amazing slash line -- .320/.454/.578 -- should inspire awe, it's kind of business as usual for Votto. It's not notably different from Votto's five best seasons. But this time around, it captured the Baseball Writers' Association of America's attention, perhaps because he added some power (his 36 home runs are the most he's hit since his 2010 MVP season) and he had 100 RBIs for the first time in six years.

In the end, I think the voters got it right by splitting the vote between Votto and Stanton, and, yes, I think they got it right voting Stanton by the slimmest of margins. In third place, Goldschmidt had a wonderful season and probably had the MVP lead before having an injury-plagued and rough September. He hit .171 From Sept. 1 through the end of the season.
Back in the American League, Jose Altuve's spectacularly well-rounded season had everyone pretty well awestruck from Opening Day. He ended up leading the AL in hits for the fourth straight season and in batting average for the third time in four years. He had career highs in average (.346), on-base percentage (.410) and slugging percentage (.547), he hit 24 homers, stole 32 bases, played excellent defense and was the catalyst and leader for a young team that came into its own. This was his year.
This isn't to shortchange the unforgettable season that Judge had. For a rookie -- especially a rookie who struggled so much in his 2016 trial -- to hit 52 home runs and lead the league in runs and walks, it's amazing stuff. I thought that vote would be closer, but like in the National League, I do think the right man won the award.

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.