May was a much more fun month for the Astros than April. They finished with a winning record. They scored more runs than they allowed. They had breakout performances from a few different offensive players.
Before we get to the nominees, let's run through the offense overall.
Houston had the fourth-best wRC+ in the American League. The Astros hit .261/.335/.410 in the month and tied for the fifth-most homers in the league. They finished just behind the Mariners for sixth in the AL in runs scored and had the fourth-best walk rate.
The bad news? That all included the second-highest batting average on balls in play in the league at .309. That's not much higher than the league average, but it does suggest the Astros might see a slight dip in offensive production in the next few weeks.
For all of Jose Altuve's strengths, the one we may not talk about enough is his base running. He gets this honorable mention nod for hitting .357/.393/.480 in May with 21 runs scored and 11 steals. He was actually the most valuable Astro in May, posting a 1.2 fWAR thanks to slightly below-average defense and above-average baserunning.
For those of you who don't avidly follow the ins and outs of Wins Above Replacement, FanGraphs started factoring in two different base running components a few years ago.They use both weighted Stolen Bases and Ultimate Base Running to combine the effect of steals and through taking an extra base or going first to third on a single.
Only eight players in the majors have been better than Jose Altuve this season and he's put up the third-best numbers in the American League this year. In May alone, he was worth 1.3 runs above average for Houston on the basepaths.
If you're not into advanced numbers, there's always the tried-and-true steal. Altuve is having a career year there, too. He's already swiped 20 bases with an 87 percent success rate. He's also projected to steal 45 bases by the end of the season, which would be the most by an Astros second baseman since Craig Biggio set the record for the position with 50 steals in 1998. It would also be the most steals for any Astro since Michael Bourn had 52 in 2010. If he continues at this pace, Altuve would be just the 17th player in Astros history to top 45 steals in a season.
Combine that with a rise in Altuve's walk rate and you'll see why he's been a good choice to stay in the leadoff spot, even if he doesn't have the highest OBP on the team.
How powerful are walks?
One of the misunderstandings between stat-heads and traditionalists is the walk. Some would rather see a batter try to get a hit rather than take a base passively, especially with runners on base.
The thing is, the numbers support that, too. Check out the chart from Tom Tango on linear weights. The only time a walk is equal to a base hit is with no runners on base. The average linear weight for a walk versus a single in any situation shows that a walk is worth about .14 runs less than a single.
The value of a walk, then, comes when placed on top of hits. A .270 player who walks 18 percent of the time is much more valuable than one with a a six percent walk rate, like, say, the difference between Fowler and Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin. Comparable batting averages and power rates, but a drastic difference in walk rates means that Fowler has been about 25 percent better than Martin offensively.
For an entire month, Fowler got on base 42 percent of the time. He's the first Astro to post a .400 or better OBP in 100 or more plate appearances in a single month since Carlos Lee did it in August 2011. Even if he only had an isolated power average of .067 and nine RBIs, Fowler was still a very important part of the Astros offense in May. The reason comes down to walks.
I've got a friend who follows the Astros pretty closely. He also follows the minor leagues, but not nearly as well as our minor league team here at TCB does. Over the winter, we talked about this Astros team and worried about attendance. He asked me what kind of player might put butts in the seat at MMP again.
I told him it was George Springer.
He was skeptical at the time, but after the past month, he understands. Springer could be the intro to A Tale of Two Cities. He can be both the best and the worst player on the team. He will make spectacular plays in the outfield and then madden fans with a silly error. He will swing from his toes on every at-bat. Sometimes, he'll swing through fastballs right down the middle a pitch before hitting the next one 400 feet.
He's the kind of player that will make people wonder what he's even doing in the majors, just before going on a tear the likes of which we haven't seen since Lance Berkman played here.
But, for all that, George Springer is one thing. He's exciting. He makes you stop what you're doing to watch him. He commands a game and can change it with one swing or one dive for a ball.
More than any statistic I can give you on his historic month, that's what wins him this award. In May, George Springer became the most exciting player on this team. He became a star. Maybe he will cool off and never again reach these heights. Maybe he'll put together a decent season and finish fourth or fifth in Rookie of the Year voting.
None of that matters now. For one glorious week, the Astros had the best player in baseball on their team. They had a player who could win a game all by himself. And fans finally had their hopes personified.