OK, time for trades and free-agent signings! Awards season is over and the MVP winners are Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins and Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros. Congrats to both of them on their outstanding seasons. They are deserving winners; we simply don’t get crazy awards results like we did a decade ago. The voters have learned and adapted and vote with more knowledge than they once did.
The National League MVP vote promised to be a chaotic result and that’s what we got with Stanton edging out Joey Votto by two points (302 to 300) in the fourth-closest vote ever. Six different players received first-place votes, seven different players finished in the top three on somebody’s ballot and Stanton and Votto finished one-two despite both playing on losing teams. Stanton became just the seventh MVP winner from a losing team, joining Ernie Banks (twice), Andre Dawson, Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez and Mike Trout.
In dissecting the voting results, if there’s any consolation for Votto it’s that there wasn’t a weird, rogue ballot that changed the results. He and Stanton both received 10 first-place votes — that’s important since a first-place vote is worth 14 points and a second-place vote is worth nine points. Stanton beat out Votto by receiving 10 second-place votes to nine for Votto and five third-place votes to four for Votto. Stanton, however, was placed sixth on one ballot while Votto was no lower than fifth, so it was incremental placements that allowed Stanton to win.
The one vote that was a little odd was MLB.com’s Mark Bowman giving Kris Bryant his lone first-place vote — not that Bryant didn’t have an excellent season, but he once again hit very poorly in high-leverage situations (.185) — and was the only voter to put Bryant first or second. But Bowman had Stanton second and Votto third, so Votto wins only if he leapfrogs Stanton into first place. Still, we were this close to the second tie in MVP history: If Bowman or another voter had simply put Votto second and Stanton third instead of vice-versa, both finish at 301 points.
One thing that’s worth pointing out with a vote this close is that while the voting process is designed to be fair — there are two voters from each local chapter of the BBWAA — in some instances the representative for a chapter is a national writer rather than a local beat guy. The point there is that the beat guys may tend to show a little favoritism for their candidate.
In this case, the voters in the Miami and Cincinnati chapters were all local writers. The two Miami voters were Joe Frisaro of MLB.com and Craig Davis of the Sun Sentinel. Both of them had Stanton first and Votto third. The two Cincinnati voters were C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. Both of them had Votto first. Rosecrans had Stanton second and Sheldon had him third, so Stanton received one more point from the Cincinnati writers than Votto received from the Miami writers.
Anyway, Stanton mashed 59 home runs, not just because he was finally healthy for an entire season, but because of a crucial in-season change to his batting stance. In June, he changed from a straight-up stance to a closed one, with his left foot closer to home plate. This dramatically improved his plate coverage. As Mark Simon reports, Stanton hit .267 and slugged .541 on outside pitches, a 34-point jump in batting average and 100-point jump in slugging percentage from 2016. From June 19 to the end of the season, Stanton hit .284/.388/.695 with 42 home runs in 93 games. Wow.
FYI, the three MVP votes that were closer than this one:
1979 NL: Willie Stargell and Keith Hernandez tie. This was a weird vote because Stargell won basically on his intangibles as the clubhouse leader — probably the last player to win an MVP with that as a major consideration. Hernandez led in WAR, 7.6 to 2.5, but Stargell’s Pirates won the division with Stargell famously handing out his gold stars like stickers on a college football helmet. Stargell received 10 first-place votes to four for Hernandez, so he was obviously much lower or left off some ballots.
1947 AL: Joe DiMaggio beats Ted Williams, 202 points to 201. Williams led in WAR, 9.9 to 4.8, while winning the Triple Crown. The Yankees won the pennant. One voter left Williams off his ballot, and Williams falsely accused Boston Glove writer Mel Webb of the misdeed, a legend that then persisted for decades. Webb didn’t have a vote that year and all three Boston writers put Williams first. As Glenn Stout reported in his book “Red Sox Century,” it was a writer from the Midwest who didn’t include Williams. In fact, The Sporting News would reveal that the results were made available to the writers a week before they announced and some used that information to wager on the results. Ah, the good old days.
1944 NL: Marty Marion beats Bill Nicholson, 190 to 189. Marion was the shortstop on the pennant-winning Cardinals, hitting .267/.324/.362, while Nicholson hit .287 with 33 home runs and 122 RBIs for the 75-79 Cubs. Marion was an elite defender. A better selection would have teammate Stan Musial, who led Marion in WAR, 8.8 to 4.7, but finished fourth in the voting. (Yes, I know we didn’t have WAR back then.)
Over in the American League, it was a little surprising that Altuve crushed Aaron Judge in the final results, collecting 27 of the 30 first-place votes. I thought Altuve would win in a close vote. It seems that Judge’s post-All-Star-break slump factored heavily into the votes and that his 15-homer September wasn’t enough to convince voters.
Altuve becomes the second MVP in Astros history, joining Jeff Bagwell, and he did it on the strength of his all-around brilliance and season-long consistency. He won his third batting title, reached 200 hits for the fourth season in a row, stole 32 bases and played solid defense at a premium position. Not bad for a guy who was told to go home after the first day of a tryout camp when he was 16 years old.
He came back the next day anyway. Now he’s the MVP.