Only two candidates remain in the race for the AL MVP award and, splitting hairs, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is having a better season at the plate than Shohei Ohtani.
The 22-year-old Blue Jays slugger has a better OPS+, 174 to 163. His batting average is 45 points higher, his on-base percentage is 49 points better and his WAR as a position player is 0.7 better than Ohtani’s, by either Baseball-Reference’s formula (4.8 to 4.1) or FanGraphs’ calculation (5.3 to 4.6).
His strikeout percentage is much lower (17.0 percent to 30.8 percent) and his walk percentage is better, too (13.0 percent to 12.0 percent).
|Guerrero||.314/.409/.611||174 OPS+||35 HR||88 RBI||3 SB||90 R||4.8 bWAR/5.3 fWAR|
|Ohtani||.269/.360/.647||163 OPS+||39 HR||86 RBI||17 SB||78 R||4.1 bWAR/4.6 fWAR|
Guerrero leads the majors in OPS+, on-base percentage (.409), runs scored (90), total bases (261) and fWAR, and he’s just a single RBI away from leading the bigs in that category, too (Rafael Devers has 89, Vlad Jr. has 88). It’s a truly impressive season for a kid who didn’t turn 22 until March.
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“The biggest driving force is winning, when you’re playing for something bigger than yourself, and he has that with the best of them,” Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette told Sporting News at the All-Star media day. “It’s so fun to be around him and watch him lead and play hard every day and come to the field every day and be the best player on the field. It’s been amazing to be around him.”
In any normal year, those split hairs falling on Guerrero’s side of the fence would be the end of the story. In a competition against any normal player, Guerrero would — with a September that looked anything like his first five months of the season — wind up with a lion’s share of the first-place MVP votes when the 30 BBWAA voters cast their ballots before the postseason starts.
He probably wouldn’t get all 30, but he’d get more than half and win the award.
But, as you know, this isn’t any normal year, and Ohtani isn’t any normal player.
“He’s different. He’s definitely different,” White Sox star Tim Anderson told SN with a grin at All-Star media day. “He’s got a lot of power, and a power arm. You can’t really explain that, but he’s fun to watch and it’s fun to see him do what he’s been doing.”
Truth is, Guerrero has almost zero chance of winning the MVP at this point, halfway through August. It’s doubtful that he’ll even receive a single first-place vote.
Why? Because what Ohtani is doing this season still feels impossible. It’s completely unprecedented in baseball history, and even if he didn’t play another game in the 2021 season, he still deserves to win the 2021 AL MVP award.
We mentioned the WAR comparison earlier. Let’s revisit that. Guerrero has a 4.8 bWAR, total. Ohtani has a 4.1 bWAR as a position player (almost exclusively as a DH), but he also has a 3.3 bWAR as a pitcher. That’s a 7.5 bWAR (rounding up).
Guerrero is awesome at one aspect of being a baseball player. Most years, that’s enough. But Ohtani is going all Little League on Major League Baseball and dominating as a hitter and a pitcher. Look at that pitching line:
Ohtani: 17 G, 92 IP, 2.93 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 61 H, 112 K, 2.87 K/BB, 3.3 bWAR/2.4 fWAR
So, yeah, this is where the conversation about the AL MVP gets just a bit ridiculous.
Think about this: Guerrero is one of the brightest young stars in the sport and the best hitter in his league, but he isn’t going to win the AL MVP award because he doesn’t pitch.
In this history of MLB, no player has ever lost an MVP award because they “only” hit or they “only” pitched. It’s never happened, but it’s going to cost Junior Vlad a trophy.
His dad won the AL MVP back in 2004. He hit 37 home runs with a .337 average, .398 on-base percentage, 157 OPS+ and a 5.6 bWAR. He received 21 of the 30 first-place votes, ahead of second-place Gary Sheffield, who had 36 homers, a 4.2 bWAR and 141 OPS+. But what if voters combined Sheffield with, let’s say, Tim Hudson — he had a 3.53 ERA, 4.3 bWAR and 2.34 K/BB in 27 starts — and made them one player?
Yeah, TimGar Sheffudson would have won the 2004 AL MVP award, by a landslide.
It’s a silly hypothetical, of course, but this is what the younger Guerrero is actually competing against in 2021.
He’s being knocked down a peg by a player who should not exist, by a talent MLB has never seen. He’s been pushed off the pedestal by a season we’ve never seen. No shame in that.