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May 26, 2024

Shohei Ohtani should be the AL MVP

By TAD BERKERY | October 15, 2021



Shohei Ohtani’s dominance as both a hitter and pitcher makes his case for MVP compelling.

With the Major League Baseball (MLB) regular season in the books, it’s time for the American League (AL) and National League (NL) Most Valuable Players (MVPs) to be decided. In the AL, it’s going to be either Toronto Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Los Angeles Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani. And as impressive as Guerrero’s statline is with his .311 average, 111 runs batted in (RBIs) and 48 home runs, let’s not overcomplicate this: Ohtani is your AL MVP.

On the season, Ohtani accumulated an elite 5.1 wins above replacement (WAR). He went 9-2 with a 3.18 earned run average (ERA), allowing an average of just 1.09 walks and hits per inning pitched. As a hitter, he slugged 46 home runs while driving in 100 RBIs, an impressive threshold on its own, made even more impressive when considering the Angels were nearly a bottom-10 team offensively. 

Even if his batting stats are slightly less impressive than Guerrero’s, they are still extremely impressive, and he was one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. Add in the fact that he is also an elite pitcher — an element that no other player in the entire league, including Guerrero, has in his repertoire — it’s clear that statistically he is the MVP.

And sure, Ohtani’s stats are impressive, but he more than passes the eye test as well. He was the fan favorite at the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game and quickly emerged as perhaps the most marketable player in baseball both leaguewide and on the international level. This marketability is especially eye-popping considering he plays for the smaller-market Angels. He’s a star throughout the U.S. and Japan, his birthplace and the country where he started his remarkable career.

National Football League (NFL) star defensive end J.J. Watt simply yet brilliantly summed up the case for Ohtani in a tweet.

“What argument could you make for any other player over Shohei Ohtani for MVP?” he wrote. “The guy literally dominates at the plate and on the mound. Not a single other player even attempts that, much less succeeds at it. He’s the definition of ‘most valuable.’” 

Sure, in most normal years, Guerrero’s offensive prowess would guarantee him the MVP award, but it’s a different story when there’s a player who has hit 31 more home runs than he allowed. That’s something that can’t be said — and for that matter, isn’t even close to being true — for any other player in baseball.

Finally, Ohtani’s value from a team-building perspective cannot be understated. According to Fangraphs, in 2020, teams paid an average of $9.1 million per WAR in free agency. 

Taking this with his 5.1 WAR and deriving a conservative estimate, the Angels got a performance worth $46.4 million on the market, while paying him just $3 million. That is a greater than $43 million difference, with Ohtani outperforming his salary by over 1,400%. 

With that amount of surplus value and a star at their fingertips, it’s an indictment of Angels management that they have Ohtani — and a superstar in Mike Trout — yet still can’t contend for the playoffs. Ohtani is an immensely valuable asset offering groundbreaking surplus value to an otherwise troubled team.

So while Guerrero had an offensive season for the ages that deserves commendation, it pales in relation to the revolutionary season that we just saw from Ohtani as a two-way player. For a league often maligned for getting simple things wrong, baseball has a layup here: Take a globally marketable, generational star and celebrate a truly special season with the perfect MVP selection.

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