Of the Houston Astros' core everyday players, by stature, both physical and baseball pedigree stature, diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve is the one player who wasn't supposed to be here, thriving at the big league level. Outfielder George Springer was a first round pick who looks the part, shortstop Carlos Correa was a first OVERALL pick who looks the part even more than Springer. Third baseman Alex Bregman is undersized, but his body of work at LSU made him a top five pick in his draft class.
But Jose Altuve? Well, it took him two tries back in 2007 just to convince the Astros that he wasn't lying about his age at an open tryout in Venezuela. Once he sold them that his birth certificate was legit, he received a relatively paltry $15,000 bonus to begin the grind through the Astros minor league system. Along that journey, Altuve routinely hit over .300 at every stop, and eventually endured multiple 100-loss seasons at the big league level. On those Astro teams, those horrific baseball train wrecks, Altuve was quite literally the only bright spot.
All of that led us here, to this championship season for the team and to last night for Altuve, an historic night on which he was named the American League's Most Valuable Player, and if the voting margin is any indicator, there are no more skeptics remaining — the people have spoken, and Jose Altuve is a beast.
He is a five-foot-six, line drive hitting, slick fielding, lovable beast.
Altuve took home the MVP hardware by garnering 27 of a possible 30 first place votes. Yankees rookie outfielder Aaron Judge, a prohibitive favorite for the award a couple months into the regular season, finished second and captured two first place votes. The other first place vote went to Indians second baseman Jose Ramirez.
Early in the season, it was Judge who captured the hearts and minds of the baseball world, as he was among the league leaders in the three Triple Crown categories (batting average, home runs, RBI's) for much of baseball's first half. However, Judge had a precipitous dip after the All Star break, including an absolutely brutal August where he hit .195, before a monster September gave him a .284 average to go with 52 home runs, and 114 RBI's.
Altuve, on the other hand, was consistently great all season long. He won the American League batting title with a .346 average, hit 24 home runs, stole 32 bases, and had over 200 hits for the fourth straight season. More impressively, there was no lull in Altuve's 2017 season. He was great all year long. Courtesy of Richard Justice of MLB.com:
AL MVP leaders batting average by month...— Richard Justice (@richardjustice) November 14, 2017
Month Judge Altuve
April .303 .326
May .347 .313
June .324 .354
July .230 .485
August .185 .304
Sept .311 .291
Altuve was also far superior to Judge situationally throughout the season. Courtesy of Brian McTaggert of MLB.com:
You left some important comps out:— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) November 16, 2017
Close and late: Altuve .441 average; Judge .215
7th inning and later: Altuve .361; Judge .234
W/2 outs: Altuve .342; Judge .256
August BA: Altuve .345; Judge .185 https://t.co/7mVfv0O72k
Subjectively, Altuve was just more "valuable" by the baseball definition of that word that has evolved over time in situations like these — he was the consistently greatest player on one of baseball's best teams. Correa, Springer, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers — the other All-Stars on this team — all missed significant portions of baseball's second half of the season with injuries. Altuve answered the bell virtually every day with big hit after big hit, and led his franchise to its first 100 win season since 1998.
Three of Altuve's teammates were among those also receiving votes for the award. Springer finished 13th with 17 points, Correa finished 17th with 9 points, and Marwin Gonzalez managed to garner 6 points to finish 19th.
Altuve's MVP award puts him in select Houston Astro company, as the only previous MVP award winner in franchise history was Hall of Fame first baseman Jeff Bagwell, who won the National League MVP unanimously in the strike-shortened 1994 season. Altuve is only the fifth second baseman in history to win the American League MVP, and first since Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox won it in 2008.
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In the bigger picture, Houston finally was able to celebrate some recent greatness from one of its athletes being recognized as an MVP, after a handful of close calls. There was J.J. Watt's runner-up finish for the NFL MVP in 2014, James Harden's runner-up finishes in the NBA MVP balloting in 2015 and 2017, and even Altuve himself finishing third in last season's AL MVP voting.
Just a couple weeks after celebrating the first World Series title in franchise history, Houston gets to celebrate one more time. Indeed, we literally love you, Jose Altuve!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.