It's easy, and perhaps warranted, to get lost in the Aaron Judge hype. He's ended his summer swoon, breaking out in a big way in September, and has earned his way back into the MVP race. He's the most powerful rookie of all-time. He's going to be one the faces of the league for a long time.
And while Judge will walk away with the Rookie of the Year Award, there's a legitimate argument to be had about whether's he's the best player. An equally strong argument can be made that it's been Jose Altuve. Not only is he the engine that powers an Astros team that still has a chance to clinch home-field advantage (Take that, 22-game win streak!), but he has also become historically good on a level that has him headed towards the Hall of Fame. Hyperbole? Not really.
In Houston's 12-2 win over Texas Wednesday afternoon, Altuve hit a first-inning single, becoming the fifth hitter in history to have four straight 200-hit seasons.
He's in pretty good company, with Ichiro, Michael Young, Wade Boggs and Kirby Puckett. Boggs and Puckett are Hall of Famers, and Ichiro will be soon. Young is probably not a Hall of Famer, but he was definitely a terrific player for a long time.
If Altuve, who leads the AL with 200 hits, holds on to that title—and there's no way he won't, unless Altuve doesn't get a hit the rest of the season and Eric Hosmer or Elvis Andrus, who entered today 11 and 12 hits behind, respectively, go on an unreal tear—he will be the first player to lead the AL or NL in hits for four straight seasons.
Let's pause and think about that for a second. Ted Williams never did it—he also never led the league in hits, which is mind-boggling. Ty Cobb led the AL in hits three straight times from 1907-1909, but finished second in 1910 to Nap Lajoie (he did, however, lead the league in hits five out of six years). Tony Gwynn never did it. Neither did Pete Rose. And let's remember: Altuve is the shortest active player, and had to beg his way for a try-out with the Astros. It's not too much of a stretch to say that Altuve is the most improbable success story in league history.
There's a legitimate case for both Judge and Altuve to be crowned as the most valuable player (there's also a legitimate case to be made for Corey Kluber, but that's for a separate story). Judge leads in homers, runs and walks, and has a higher WAR. Altuve leads in hits, average and doubles, strikes out more than fifty percent less, and is a stolen base threat. Neither choice is wrong.
But while Judge has the flash, the long-arching home runs, the exit velocity, Altuve has the consistency on a team that's been consistently better.
If Judge keeps this up long-term, and there's no reason to think he won't, the battle between him, Altuve, and Mike Trout will make the American League absolutely must-see TV. The three players—luckily for baseball, in three big markets—are all in their primes. Add in amazing pitchers like Kluber and Chris Sale, and it's the American League that's the biggest winner—no matter who the MVP is.