3-Homer Game Puts Astros Slugger Back In MVP Race

It’s been a best-case scenario kind of year for the Astros, who have dominated the AL West despite losing star shortstop Carlos Correa in free agency. Credit for their success can be spread around: top starters Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez, core veteran bats like Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, and youngsters Kyle Tucker and Jeremy Pena have all played a big role. But as their game Friday against the Athletics shows, the Astros’ success this season begins and ends with young slugger Yordan Alvarez. After slugging three home runs in the first five innings of the game, the 25-year-old outfielder and designated hitter reminded fans that he’ll be an MVP candidate for years to come, including this year.

While Aaron Judge is the clear frontrunner for Most Valuable Player, the big lefty is having a spectacular year that deserves more attention than it’s gotten. Alvarez has missed about 20 games this year with a nagging hand injury, but when he gets on the field, he does nothing but destroy baseballs. His 6’5”, 225 pound frame keeps him from being especially adept in left field, so he’s not quite a unicorn like Judge in that sense. Despite not adding defensive value, though, Alvarez has been so dominant at the plate that he still ranks third in the American League in Wins Above Replacement at 6.6, per Baseball Reference’s model. He ranks behind Judge, at 9.2, and Shohei Ohtani, at 8.7.

Where Alvarez thrives, and actually even surpasses Judge, is in his bat control and pitch selection. Alvarez currently has a strikeout rate of 18%, and a walk rate of 14%. Judge’s walk rate is similar, but his strikeout rate is currently 25%, and that’s actually the lowest rate of his career. It might not be possible for Alvarez (or anyone else) to put up the power numbers that Judge does, but his unique strengths have allowed him to come pretty close to catching him. And, considering how little support Judge has gotten from his teammates lately, that might be enough to make the Astros favorites in the American League playoff race.

© Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports