NEW YORK (AP) – The jury is out on AL MVP. And when a verdict comes in later this fall, giant slugger Aaron Judge has a great chance to join a very small club.
Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) are the only major leaguers to win Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. To match that rare achievement, the 6-foot-7 Judge must fend off a little competition.
In a baseball version of David and Goliath, the biggest challenger to the New York Yankees’ 282-pound slugger for American League MVP honors is tiny Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve.
That means the main man standing in Judge’s way is generously listed at 5-6 and 165 pounds.
“It’s the beauty of baseball. There’s not a whole lot of limitations,” Tampa Bay pitcher Chris Archer said. “You can be 5-5 or you can be 6-8 and a monster and be really talented at this game, so I love it.”
Despite his diminutive stature, Altuve packs plenty of punch and has the numbers to prove it after hitting .346 for his third career batting crown. He also led the league in hits (204) and finished with 24 home runs, 81 RBIs and 32 steals for the AL West champions.
Judge, of course, clocked an AL-best 52 homers to break a rookie record that lasted 30 years. He ranked first in runs (128) and walks (127) while helping the Yankees reach the playoffs as the league’s No. 1 wild card.
The knocks against Judge are his 208 strikeouts – only five times has a player whiffed more in one season – and extended slump after winning the All-Star Home Run Derby. But he rebounded with a huge September when New York really needed it, leading the AL in homers (15), RBIs (32), runs (29), on-base percentage (.463) and slugging percentage (.889).
Judge finished the season with a 1.049 OPS to .957 for Altuve, and the big guy is no one-dimensional player. He ran the bases well and played solid defense in right field while appearing in 155 games.
“One of my goals was I wanted to be a consistent part of this lineup,” Judge said. “I wanted to be in there every day playing for my team through the good times and the bad times.”
FanGraphs ranks Judge first in Wins Above Replacement, while Baseball Reference favors Altuve.
Cleveland infielder Jose Ramirez also warrants consideration. So does perennial Angels contender Mike Trout, who figures to finish outside the top two for the first time after missing six weeks with an injury.
But the court’s decision is Judge over Altuve.
“It’s tough not to say that Aaron Judge is the MVP. What he’s doing, rookie or not, the numbers he’s putting up in the division that he’s in and in a playoff race is impressive, man,” Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said last week. “He’s having a special year.”
Lynn and Suzuki, get ready for some company.
All rise! Here comes the Judge.
“I’m sure it’s something he hasn’t imagined in his wildest dreams,” said Longoria, the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year. “To be able to do both would be out of this world.”
Voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America is held before the postseason begins, and results will be announced in November.
Here are our selections for the other big awards:
NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP: There are several worthy candidates from playoff teams: Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado and outfielder Charlie Blackmon, plus Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, twice a runner-up. Extra points for them. But the incredible season Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton had (MLB-best 59 homers and 132 RBIs) shouldn’t be discounted just because his team went 77-85. Same goes for Joey Votto of the last-place Cincinnati Reds, for that matter. So the pick here is Stanton, thanks to those astounding power numbers. “They make your jaw drop,” Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman said after wrestling with his choice. “Just kind of have to give it to him.”
AL CY YOUNG: Earlier in the season, it seemed nobody could catch Boston newcomer Chris Sale. Cleveland ace Corey Kluber did. Sale (17-8, 2.90 ERA) faded in the final two months but still racked up 308 strikeouts. Kluber (18-4, 2.25, 265 Ks) bounced back from an early injury and dominated the rest of the way. He wins his second Cy Young Award in four years, leaving Sale without one.
NY CY YOUNG: Hard to separate Washington ace Max Scherzer (16-6, 2.51 ERA) and Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (18-4, 2.31), other than the fact that Kershaw missed time with an injury. So he finished with 202 strikeouts in 175 innings to Scherzer’s 268 Ks in 200 2/3 innings. “I’d have to go Scherzer because he’s been healthy all year,” Freeman said. In this case, agreed. Scherzer gets the nod in a repeat from last year and joins Kershaw as three-time Cy Young winners. The right-hander won the AL prize in 2013 with Detroit.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: An easy ruling for Judge.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Also a runaway, by Los Angeles Dodgers bopper Cody Bellinger.
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Hall of Famer Paul Molitor took the wild-card Twins (85-77) to the playoffs after they had the worst record in the majors last season at 59-103. That made Minnesota the first team in history to lose 100-plus games and qualify for the postseason the following year. Pretty impressive.
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Milwaukee wizard Craig Counsell edges Colorado newcomer Bud Black and rookie skipper Torey Lovullo, who guided the Diamondbacks (93-69) to the top NL wild card after they went 69-93 a year ago.
AP freelance writer Scott Orgera contributed to this report.
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