The Houston Astros are known for having one of MLB’s best player development organizations. There have been Rookie of the Year finalists throughout the years in Carlos Correa, Yordan Alvarez, Cristian Javier, and Luis Garcia. However, the Astros have had a Top 5 player finish in the American League Most Valuable Player race in each of the years (excluding 2020) since 2015. In those years, Dallas Keuchel finished fifth in 2015, Jose Altuve finished third in 2016, Jose Altuve won the award in 2017, Alex Bregman finished fifth in 2018 and second in 2019, Correa finished fifth in 2021, and now Alvarez finished third in 2022. That’s very impressive if you ask me, especially how many times they’ve made the postseason with the same notable players through the years.
Now with some new ground rules MLB established for 2023, including the shift being banned, larger bases, and pitchers limited to attempting to pick off the runner only two times, some players will benefit to the new rule changes.
I believe in 2023, the Houston Astros will have not just one MVP candidate, but two to finish in the Top 5 again, and possibly winning it: Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez.
Let’s start with the AL MVP Finalist in 2022: Yordan Alvarez
Alvarez has had an extraordinary young career so far, making his mark in the big leagues. In 2019, he won the American League Rookie of the Year unanimously. He missed the 2020 season with season-ending knee surgery but came back in 2021 to have his best postseason with a .315/.449/.574 slash line and an OPS with 1.023. Lastly, his best season yet in 2022, Alvarez finished the season with a .306/.406/.613 slash line, an OPS of 1.019, and had the third-most home runs in the AL (37), earning first-team All-MLB honors as the designated hitter, having three of the most clutch at-bats in the postseason, and earning his first World Series ring.
With the ending of the shift, Alvarez’s batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, RBI production and so on … will RISE! According to Baseball Savant, in 2021, Alvarez ranked fifth hitting into the shift with a 87.7% with a wOBA of .380. In 2022, Alvarez ranked 11th and had a 0.4% increase, hitting into the shift with an 88.1% with a wOBA of .435.
With Altuve, Brantley, and Bregman hitting in front of Alvarez, he could be seeing an increase of RBI production and possibly passing his career high of 104 RBI. To cap it off, he finished third last year in the MVP race, so you know he will be determine to come into spring training working to earn his first AL MVP in his young career.
Underrated MVP candidate in 2023: Kyle Tucker
Former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow held Tucker like a gem and prize possession throughout his time in Houston, like the next Ted Williams, not allowing any team to talk him into trading Tucker. The fifth overall pick in 2015 has had an excellent career himself. In 2021, he slashed .294/.359/.557 with an OPS of .808. In the American League, Tucker finished ninth in batting average, third in slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), eighth in WAR position players with a 5.7, and not to mention being a finalist for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award in right field.
The 2022 season was just a better year for him. Tucker was close to having a 30-homer, 30-stolen base season. Finishing with 30 home runs and 25 stolen bases, he earned his first career All-Star selection, winning the Gold Glove award, earning second-team All-MLB right fielder, hitting a pair of home runs in one World Series game, becoming the first Astro in franchise history to have a multi-homer game in a World Series, and catching the final out of the 2022 World Series.
The five-tool player is not just going to love the ending of the shift, but being able to steal a lot of bases due to the two limit pickoff attempts. Tucker is one of the top players to hit into the shift throughout his career. According to Baseball Savant, and even though he didn’t start a lot of games in 2019, Tucker still hit into the shift 64.8% of the time and having an wOBA of .403. In 2020 when he got the right field starting job, there was a 9.1% increase hitting into the shift with a 73.9% and an expected wOBA of .309. Moving into 2021, there was still a significant rise in Tucker hitting into the shift with a 84.8% and a wOBA of .388. And finally in 2022, the number continued to grow and had a percentage of 90.9% with a wOBA carrying at .336. With a 90.9%, Tucker ranked fifth amongst hitters to hit into the shift in 2022.
We’re not too sure where Tucker will hit in the 2023 lineup (my guess is either fifth or six in the batting order), but he will have a lot of opportunities to bring in his teammates, and could post career-high numbers.
With the bases becoming larger (going from 15 to 18 inches) and pitchers limited to two pickoffs, steal attempts will have a significant increase for all the speed demons in the league. Tucker specifically just missed the 30/30 achievement. The last member of the Houston Astros to have a 30/30 season was Jeff Bagwell back in 1997. Tucker has a great chance in earning that honor this coming year in 2023 with the bases becoming larger because baseball is a game of inches and a three-inch increase is huge in this game.
Overall, Tucker and Alvarez have dealt with the shift too long. If they don’t win an MVP this year, I can see them winning the award sometime down the road. Now with the new changes coming in 2023, both Alvarez and Tucker have a great chance to put their names in the MVP talk … and just one of them could win the award for the first time in their young careers.