Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, today you are going to be asked to make a choice. That choice boils down to who you believe the Most Valuable Player in the American League will be at the end of the season. Both cases brought before you today will be convincing, but the choice lies solely with you. Those presenting the case have had a spectacular 2021 season in the American League, but only one can walk away today with the trophy.
Before we move too far along in the arguments, let’s lay the groundwork. The Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA) is responsible for voting for the Most Valuable Player in each league each season. According to their Frequently Asked Questions site, the criteria for voting on this prestigious award is the following:
As you can see, and the key point here, the winner of the MVP trophy does not have to come from a team that is bound for the postseason. Additionally, it is up to the voter to determine what their own definition of “valuable” means. Hence, it is necessary to lay out the case for each of the two potential winners and let the reader decide which they believe is the most valuable player in the American League.
Shohei Ohtani, P-DH, Los Angeles Angels (72-77, 4th in AL West)
Shohei Ohtani is a wonder. The 27-year-old phenom hails from Oshu, Japan, and is doing things in the MLB that has not been seen in a really, really long time. MLB fans have seen some pitchers that can hit, occasionally. Every now and then someone like Jacob deGrom, Madison Bumgardner, and Michael Lorenzen run into a ball now and then but never like we’re seeing what Ohtani is doing.
This season, on days when he’s not pitching, Ohtani is serving as the Angels’ designated hitter. Now, on days when he is pitching, he’s still in the lineup for an American League team. He has played in every single one of the Angels’ 142 games this season. In those games, as a hitter, Ohtani is slashing .257/.360/.592 with 44 home runs, 94 RBIs, and 128 hits. To go just a bit deeper, Ohtani is hitting a home run once every 7.6% of his plate appearances, a 53.4% hard-hit rate, and as an offensive player is worth a 4.3 win probability added.
Not only has Ohtani been a monster in the batter’s box, but he has also been dominant on the mound. As far a standard pitching stats are concerned, Ohtani has started 22 games, compiling a 9-2 record. He’s pitched 123.1 innings and has struck out 146 batters with a 3.28 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and a 135 ERA+ (league average is 100). Digging into the advanced stats, Ohtani has an opponent batting average of .208, gives up a home run only 2.8% of the time, strikes out 28.9% of the batters he faces, and issues a walk only 8.7% of the time. Not only is he doing it with the bat, but also his right arm–placing him squarely in the AL Cy Young Award conversation as well.
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., 1B, Toronto Blue Jays (84-65, 3rd in AL East, 1.5 game lead in AL Wild Card)
The next, and final, case to be made comes from one of the bright young stars in the game: Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. There is one player in the Major Leagues threatening for the Triple Crown, the first since Miguel Cabrera, and it’s Vladdy. It’s been nine years since Miggy was crowned, and Vlad is definitely making a push for the title.
Last year, during 2020’s shortened season, Vlad made the defensive switch to first base from third base. The switch took a bit of a toll on his offensive production, but in a COVID-shortened season, it doesn’t need to be held against him.
With first base figured out and a little more comfortable, Vladdy has taken 2021 by storm with his offensive production. In 554 at-bats he leads the league in runs scored (119), hits (178), home runs (46), batting average (.321), on-base percentage (.411), slugging percentage (.617), on-base plus slugging (1.029), OPS+ (177), and total bases (342). He currently is eight RBIs short of the league lead with 13 games left to play. He has had a marvelous season even if he doesn’t get to the top of the RBI leaderboard.
Regardless of whether Vlad, Jr. gets the RBI lead and thus wins the Triple Crown he’s had a great season. Ohtani has been doing things we have never seen, dominating on the mound and in the batter’s box. Should a winner of the Triple Crown be the automatic MVP? That is what must be decided and that is the question posed to you the jurors. If you had a BWAA vote, which way would you vote?