As a three-time batting champ and four-time American League hits leader, Jose Altuve long ago erased any concerns about his height. Now it’s his stature within the game that’s talked about.
On Thursday, the Houston Astros second baseman rose to baseball’s highest individual level when he was chosen as the AL MVP.
The 5-foot-6 Altuve was named on 27 of 30 first-place ballots to collect 405 points as he outdistanced New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge, who received two first-place votes for 279 points. Cleveland Indians infielder Jose Ramirez was third with 237 points.
Altuve, 27, was the catalyst of baseball’s most prolific offense, hitting a majors-best .346 with 24 homers, 81 RBI, 32 steals and a .957 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Photos: Astros' Jose Altuve in World Series
He became the first AL player to win a World Series and MVP award in the same year since the Detroit Tigers’ Willie Hernandez in 1984.
2017 AL MVP: Jose Altuve. Full voting details: https://t.co/ZW8kJW0GRR— BBWAA (@officialBBWAA) November 16, 2017
A native of Venezuela, Altuve was one of four Houston players remaining from the 2013 team that lost 111 games. As such, he brought a desire for constant improvement to the Astros, who rampaged to the AL West crown, came from behind to beat the Yankees in the AL Championship Series and outlasted the Los Angeles Dodgers in a memorable World Series to claim the first championship in franchise history.
In a season when Judge put up spectacular power numbers but endured several peaks and valleys, Altuve remained a picture of consistency, batting .347 in the first half and .344 in the second. He hit at least .298 with an .850 OPS in every month and went on a stunning tear in July, batting .485 for the month.
Altuve paired up with emerging superstar Carlos Correa to become the only keystone combo in the big leagues featuring both players with an OPS above .900. In the 40 games Correa missed in the second half with a thumb injury, Altuve batted .384 with a 1.015 OPS.
“Everything Altuve is about makes an MVP,’’ Astros manager A.J. Hinch said late in the season. “His strength, his consistency, his dominance in a lot of aspects of the game. He really embodies what an MVP is.’’
Not that Judge, who stands 13 inches taller, didn’t have a strong case of his own.
The unanimous AL rookie of the year led the league with 52 home runs and finished second in RBI with 114 and OPS at 1.049, which was 92 points higher than Altuve’s third-place mark. Displaying the grace and poise of former Yankees icon Derek Jeter, Judge quickly won over fans not just in New York but nationwide as he pounded titanic home runs at record pace.
Judge had 30 by the All-Star break, won the Home Run Derby, then fell into a deep slump that saw him bat .179 over the next 44 games and served as a reminder he was still a rookie.
A big September that included 15 home runs and helped power the Yankees to a wild-card spot rekindled Judge’s MVP candidacy, but not enough to match Altuve’s all-around greatness.
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