AL MVP: Jose Altuve is clear favorite, but race for second is star-studded

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In the American League, it’s pretty much a one-Astro race for MVP.

AL MVP: Jose Altuve is clear favorite, but race for second is star-studded

In the American League, it’s pretty much a one-Astro race for MVP.

The National League MVP race is crowded. We looked at that field of candidates here.

In the American League, though? It’s pretty much a one-Astro race.

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Jose Altuve is putting the finishes on yet another incredible season for Houston. Remember when we were all amazed that a guy listed at 5-6 could be an impact player in the majors? Those days feel like a long, long time ago.

At this point, Altuve has established himself as one of the best players in the sport, period. He leads the majors with a .348 batting average, and he’s going to lead the AL in hits for the fourth consecutive season. He’s tops in stolen bases (31), to go with 23 home runs, a .409 on-base percentage, a .956 OPS and an AL-best 165 OPS-plus. He leads AL position players in WAR, both in Baseball-Reference’s version (7.8 rWAR) and FanGraph’s calculation (7.0 fWAR).

He finished third in last year’s AL MVP race and he’s going to win for the first time this year. So here’s real question in the AL: Who will finish second to Altuve? The list of candidates is long and star-studded.

Mike Trout, Angels

Why he could finish second: Before he got hurt, we were watching Trout put together his best season in the majors, which is kind of amazing considering he’s finished first or second in the AL MVP race each of his five full seasons. And even though he missed a month-and-a-half of 2017 with that thumb injury, he’s still third among AL position players in fWAR (6.2) and fourth in rWAR (6.2). That’s kind of insane. As for his numbers, he’s slashing .315/.452/.638, with 29 homers, 21 stolen bases and a 1.090 OPS in 102 games this season.

Corey Kluber, Indians

Why he could finish second: He leads all MLB players in Baseball-Reference WAR, at 7.9 (a smidge above Altuve’s 7.8). That’s a good starting point, eh? Kluber had an up-and-down start to 2017, but in his 21 starts since coming off the DL at the beginning of June, the right-hander has a 1.69 ERA with 211 strikeouts in 154 1/3 innings. For the season, he’s at 2.35 with an average of 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He has three shutouts this year; the Cardinals and Twins are the only TEAMS this year with at least three combined shutouts.

Aaron Judge, Yankees

Why he could finish second: Judge’s post-All Star funk dropped him out of the conversation for the top spot, but his overall season is still very worthy of consideration near the top of the ballot. He still leads the AL with 43 homers and 116 runs scored, with a .413 on-base percentage and .997 OPS. And it’s hard to imagine the Yankees are in great playoff position without Judge’s breakthrough rookie campaign.

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Chris Sale, Red Sox

Why he could finish second: It might be impossible to overstate Sale’s value to Boston this year. He made an immediate impact — an 0.91 ERA in his first four starts — after the offseason trade and has been a rock in a Boston rotation that’s dealt with disappointing seasons from former Cy Young winners David Price and Rick Porcello. He leads all pitchers in fWAR, at 7.6 (Kluber is second at 6.9) and has 287 strikeouts in 201 1/3 innings, with a 2.86 ERA and 2.31 FIP.

Jose Ramirez/Francisco Lindor, Indians

Why either could finish second: These guys are just so very good. Lindor has been an established star for a couple of years now, and he’s doubled his career high in home runs (from 15 to 30), while still stealing 14 bases and posting a career-best .847 OPS and playing outstanding defense at shortstop. Also worth noting that Cleveland is 33-6 since manager Terry Francona moved Lindor into the leadoff spot on a permanent basis in early August.

And Ramirez? He’s a fascinating rising star. And I say that not because he hasn’t yet become a star but because I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen him stop rising. For the season, Ramirez is batting .314 with a .944 OPS, 27 homers, 75 RBIs, 15 stolen bases and an AL-best 50 doubles. And he’s done this while splitting time between third base (86 games) and second base (54 starts). Oh, and remember what we said about Lindor moving into the leadoff spot? Francona put Ramirez permanently into the No. 3 spot one game earlier.

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Others in the conversation …

Andrelton Simmons is second in rWAR among AL position players, at 6.7. He’s long been regarded as baseball’s best defensive shortstop, but he’s continued his improvement at the plate with the Angels (14 homers, .763 OPS, 19 stolen bases), which is a big reason his WAR is so high. If Carlos Correa had stayed healthy, the former No. 1 overall pick would have been up near his teammate Altuve, but he’s only played 98 games this season — with a .304 average, .906 OPS and 21 homers. George Springer, with his 32 homers and .908 OPS, is another Astros player you’ll see receive votes. Gary Sanchez missed a month early this season, but with 31 homers and an .887 OPS in 112 games for the Yankees, he’ll likely be named down on a ballot or two.

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