Altuve’s best case is his dependability. While his performance spiked in July — when he hit a superhuman .485 — his on-base plus slugging percentage has been above .850 in every calendar month.
“You’re splitting hairs here with all the great players around the league, but our guy has been the best and the most consistent,” Astros Manager A. J. Hinch said. “He’s been remarkable on one of the best teams in baseball. He’s been a standout month by month by month, the true definition, from start to finish, of one of the best players in the game. The different impact that he has offensively, defensively, base running — there’s not a part of the game that hasn’t been really good.”
Yet for all of Altuve’s skills, Judge has made even more of an impact. Only about half of Judge’s plate appearances have resulted in a fair batted ball. But he draws so many walks — and drives himself in so often with home runs — that he leads the league in runs scored. He trails only the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout in on-base and slugging percentage, and has well over 100 runs batted in.
Trout, a two-time winner, can make a compelling case. He missed significant time to injury but still has about as many plate appearances as George Brett in his M.V.P. season of 1980, and more than Willie Stargell in 1979, when he shared the N.L. honor with Keith Hernandez.
In those cases, though, Brett won for challenging the magical .400 batting average (he finished at .390), and Stargell largely for his leadership. Trout has simply been Trout: the best player in baseball, just a bit short in volume this season.
Judge’s six-week slump after the All-Star break could cost him the award, and Altuve would be a fine choice, too. But Judge was the biggest force, the biggest story, and the most fitting embodiment of the power game that baseball has become.
Runners-up: 2) Jose Altuve, Astros; 3) Mike Trout, Angels; 4) Jose Ramirez, Indians; 5) Jose Abreu, White Sox; 6) Francisco Lindor, Indians; 7) Mookie Betts, Red Sox; 8) Nelson Cruz, Mariners; 9) Jonathan Schoop, Orioles; 10) George Springer, Astros.
National League Most Valuable Player
JOEY VOTTO, CINCINNATI REDS
Many voters — and players — believe the M.V.P. must come from a contender. Yet that view severely limits the field and diminishes the integrity of the competition for teams out of the race. Every game matters, whatever the standings, and besides, these are individual awards. The team award is a World Series ring.
As tempting as it is then to endorse Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, another first baseman, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, stands above the rest. Votto and Goldschmidt have both topped .300 in average, .400 in on-base percentage and .500 in slugging percentage — but Votto was higher in all three, while playing more games and reaching base about 50 more times. Goldschmidt runs better, but both rank among the best fielders at first.
Other strong candidates are everywhere. Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton leads in homers and slugging percentage, but he’s outside the N.L. top 10 in on-base percentage. Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon leads in total bases but has markedly lower numbers away from Coors Field.
Blackmon’s teammate Nolan Arenado has similar numbers at home and on the road, and has been dazzling on defense at third base. What a year for that position, by the way; the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon and the Dodgers’ Justin Turner have also stood out.
In such a crowded field, then, the essential question is simple: Who has been the best hitter? As long as he has also played capably on defense, he should get the award. Votto it is.
Runners-up: 2) Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; 3) Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins; 4) Nolan Arenado, Rockies; 5) Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; 6) Kris Bryant, Cubs; 7) Anthony Rendon, Nationals; 8) Justin Turner, Dodgers; 9) Bryce Harper, Nationals; 10) Freddie Freeman, Braves.
A.L. Cy Young Award
COREY KLUBER, CLEVELAND INDIANS
Because of a back injury, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber did not pitch in the last 29 days of May. He had made six starts by then, including a shutout. But he also had three poor starts and a 5.06 earned run average. After his return, Kluber had a 1.62 E.R.A. in 22 starts, entering this weekend.
Boston’s Chris Sale stayed healthy all season and racked up 308 strikeouts, the most in the majors in 15 years. Yet even with fewer starts, and his uneven beginning, Kluber has more high-quality outings — at least seven innings, no more than three earned runs — than Sale. Kluber has met those standards 16 times, once more than Sale.
Sale leads the league in innings, but Kluber has averaged more innings per start (7.1 to Sale’s 6.7), while tossing five complete games to Sale’s one. Kluber has also been harder to hit, holding opponents to a .190 average to Sale’s .208, while leading the league in fewest walks per nine innings (1.6 to Sale’s 1.8). Kluber also has a significant edge in E.R.A. — an A.L.-best 2.27 to Sale’s 2.90.
Both pitchers have been extraordinary, and this will be Sale’s fifth year in a row among the top five on the ballot, a testament to consistent dominance. But Kluber, who won this award in 2014, has again been the A.L.’s best pitcher.
Runners-up: 2) Chris Sale, Red Sox; 3) Justin…