Jon’s Take: The conundrum of the AL MVP race 

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Baseball fans make their way through the concourse before game six of the 2021 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves at Minute Maid Park. Photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.

On Monday night, MLB released the finalists for their regular season awards, with plans to reveal the winners next week. The actual voting process has already concluded, with the “finalists” amounting to the top three vote getters. The top three in a few categories came with surprises, with what looks to be some very close races in a few of them. 

The American League MVP race is not one of those cases. In probably the biggest lock in the history of the award, Shohei Ohtani will walk away with the honor, but what is surprising is how successful Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was this season, even though he will fall to Ohtani by a large margin. 

Ohtani, the Angels’ fourth year star out of Japan, enjoyed a very successful season on both sides of the ball. While hitting 46 bombs on an astounding .965 OPS and stealing 26 bases for the offense, he added a ridiculous 3.18 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 23 starts in Los Angeles’ rotation. Being the only true two-way player in the league, he took the sport by storm this year in a breakout season.  

While his numbers on the rubber and at the plate were impressive, they didn’t lead the league. Batting average has become less of a factor in recent baseball analytics, but there’s something to be said for hitting .257 on the year. The league average this past season was .241, just 16 points below Ohtani’s mark.  

By any offensive standards (and in the past, the award has highly favored prowess on offense), Ohtani has a case for MVP, but should lose to someone like Guerrero. Now that you factor in his abilities on the rubber as well, not just as a serviceable starter, but a number one guy in Los Angeles, the criteria have totally changed. Unless Guerrero, Mike Trout and the rest of the stars out of the American League start throwing 100-plus innings of sub-4.00 ERA baseball, too, it’s Ohtani’s award to win year in and year out, and rightfully so. When you can provide for your team on both sides of the plate over a 162 game season, you deserve that award.  

In no way is this bad for baseball. Bad for the award, maybe, as Ohtani could realistically take this home pretty much every year as long as he stays healthy. Not allowing other players to win could potentially block a solid Hall of Fame case, but that’s not his fault. “Shotime” brings such an energy to the game in both facets, which is exactly what it needs right now amidst a recent decline in popularity among the top four American sports. 

That being said, let’s talk about Guerrero’s successes this year, since he certainly won’t get that recognition next week at the award reveal. If you compare him to the National League MVP frontrunner in Bryce Harper, there’s really no argument as to who is the second-most valuable player in the league.  

For starters, the all-encompassing stat of wins above replacement has Guerrero with nearly one more win over Harper, which is an impressive margin. Besides that, the Blue Jays slugger claims a higher batting average, home run total, runs scored, RBI total and hit total than Harper, most by a considerable amount. The Philadelphia outfielder has a higher OBP, SLG, OPS and OPS+ than Guerrero, albeit by razor-thin margins. 

Obviously, this all means nothing in terms of awards, since Harper is in his own league and is still deserving of his soon-to-be title. But it is truly bizarre that someone with such a strong season like Guerrero’s has +1200 odds, per BetMGM, to take home the MVP crown. Will this year set a trend for years to come? Have we seen the last one-way player for quite some time take home this award with Jose Abreu in 2020? Only time will tell as Ohtani’s dual-threat dominance leads the pack into 2022. 

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