Recently, there have been many discussions on various media outlets concerning the American League MVP. Should it be Vlad Guerrero Jr. or Shohei Ohtani? Let’s check in on a mythical sports radio station and listen.
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Radio Host: Welcome to Sports Talk Toronto. Today’s topic is whether Shohei Ohtani should be the 2021 American League MVP. My view is that Ohtani is more deserving of the award than Vlad Guerrero Jr. What do the listeners have to say.
Caller Pat: Tell me about this big, strong young man Guerrero.
Radio Host: Guerrero has had a great season. He is the youngest Blue Jay to hit 40 home runs; he currently has 45, the most in MLB. His wRC+ is 169, which only Bryce Harper has bested (170 wRC+).
In the field, Guerrero has made a nice transition to first base. Although his OAA is minus 5, which occurred in August when he may have been fatigued, he is a reliable defender. One of the limitations of OAA for infielders is that it does not capture a first baseman’s skill at turning bad infield throws into outs. Guerrero has been very proficient at this aspect of his first baseman’s responsibilities.
Concerning the baserunning component of fWAR, hitting into double plays is included as a negative. In 2021, the American League average for grounding into a double play when that risk exists is 10.0%; Vlad’s grounding into a double play rate is 15.6%. Not good.
Caller Miyagi: Thank you for taking my call. I am a fan of Ohtani. Can you outline how well Ohtani has performed as a batter and as a starter?
Radio Host: On the batting front, I would cite the following metrics:
- His 154 wRC+ trails only Guerrero in the American League
- Ohtani’s Win Probability Added (WPA) is the best in the American League (4.61); Guerrero is seventh (2.97)
- To the extent that one believes that a hitter benefits from other good hitters in the batting lineup, Ohtani has been hurt compared to Guerrero. The Angels’ wRC+ is 97, which is ninth in the American League. The Blue Jays’ wRC+ is 115, second in the American League.
Showtime, which is Ohtani’s nickname, has hit at an elite level during the 2021 season.
Turning the spotlight on pitching, here are Ohtani’s marks as an American League starter.
- A 3.26, ninth-best ERA
- His 3.38 xERA, tied for fifth-best
- Ohtani’s 3.43 FIP is tied for eighth-lowest
- His 1.89 WPA is the ninth highest
Ohtani is likely not a candidate for the Cy Young Award. Still, he has performed at a Top-Ten level in many pitching metrics.
Caller Rick: Thanks for taking my call. I am a longtime listener, and I hate almost everything I hear on the station.
Radio Host: Okay, that is a compliment, I guess.
Caller Rick: Ohtani is neither the best hitter nor is he the best pitcher. He is not MVP-worthy. You have overlooked the fact that Guerrero has been terrific at the plate. I’ll hang up and listen with disdain to your answer.
Radio Host: The MVP voters typically confer the award upon a position player. Accordingly, voters consider how well a candidate has batted, fielded and ran the bases. Ohtani does not fit that model easily because he is a pitcher. However, Ohtani is a unicorn: MLB has not witnessed anything like him since Babe Ruth.
Given that Ohtani is unique, my view is that people should think that his position is a pitcher who happens to hit like a premier batter. Therefore, when I combine his fWAR scores as a batter and pitcher, Ohtani’s fWAR is 7.4: batter – 4.7 and 2.7 as a pitcher. Guerrero’s fWAR is currently 6.3. No player has contributed more fWAR in MLB’s 2021 campaign than Ohtani, let alone in the American League. His combined WPA is 6.50; the next closest is Fernando Tatis Jr. at 4.64. In other words, no MLB player in 2021 has contributed more to a team’s probability of winning than Ohtani.
I find it questionable for people to argue that Ohtani should not win the MVP because he is neither the best hitter nor the best pitcher. It is akin to saying that Player A should not win the MVP because Player B is a better hitter and Player C is a better fielder. Yet, neither Player B nor Player C performed better than Player A when considering all aspects of performance. I don’t believe voters should treat Ohtani differently than how they would treat Player A.
Caller Scott: So what you are telling me is that Ohtani’s uniqueness will result in him winning all future American League MVP awards. Does that make sense?
Radio Host: That is not what I am saying. I don’t think Ohtani should be the American League’s 2021 MVP because he is a unicorn. He should be the MVP because his uniqueness has allowed him to produce more fWAR and WPA than any other MLB player in 2021. His performance, not his distinctiveness, has propelled him to the top of the list of MVP candidates.
Caller Scott: My opinion is that you are setting a precedent that will alter the MVP award from now on. Why not just call it the Ohtani Award and be done with it?
Radio Host: It would be unusual for a pitcher to win the MVP award but not unprecedented. Since MLB established the Cy Young prize in 1956, seven starting pitchers have won an MVP award. In other words, of the 130 MVP winners after 1955, only 5% of them were starting pitchers. The MVP winners were Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, Vida Blue, Roger Clemens, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw. Voters deemed that those pitchers were worthy of the MVP because their seasons were exceptional. I believe that Ohtani’s 2021 performance has also been extraordinary.
Also, it is not a lock that Ohtani will win the MVP in future seasons. First, his performance will have to be elite. Second, Ohtani’s fWAR is not outlandish. During the 2015-2019 period, eleven position players generated fWAR marks that exceeded 8.0. History suggests that there will be viable challengers for the award. Also, don’t forget that hopefully, Mike Trout will play an entire season in 2022 and beyond. I have heard that this Trout fellow is pretty good.
Caller Al: Just win, baby.
Radio Host: Huh?
Caller Al: Ohtani’s team will not make the playoffs, and the Blue Jays are on the hunt for a spot in the postseason. Does that not matter to you?
Radio Host: Well, playing on a contending team has some merit in the MVP discussion. However, I don’t put a lot of weight on it. Baseball is a team game. Ohtani’s fWAR comprises twenty-eight percent of the Angels’ total. That’s a lot! Also, consider that of Toronto’s total fWAR of 39.5, Guerrero’s contribution accounts for 16 percent.
Caller Buck: I think you forget that Guerrero has an opportunity to win the Triple Crown. In case you forgot, that means that he will lead the American League in homers, batting average and ribbies. What does the numbers guy have to say about that?
Radio Host: Somehow, I feel like responding with “Get up, get outta here.” However, I will address this issue despite putting little value in batting average and RBIs as performance measurement metrics.
Yes, Guerrero is contending for a Triple Crown title. He is currently first in home runs (45), tied for first in batting average (0.315) and third in runs batted in (103). However, I would note that it is not unprecedented that the Triple Crown winner does not win the MVP award. Since MLB created the MVP award in 1931, there have been ten Triple Crown winners, four of whom did not win the MVP award in the same season. Those players are Ted Williams (1942 and 1947), Lou Gehrig (1934) and Chuck Klein (1933). Look on the bright side. If Guerrero wins the Triple Crown and does not win the MVP, he will join the four noted Hall of Fame players.
Caller Buck: Nah, I’m not buying it.
Radio Host: Let me ask you a question. Suppose Guerrero leads the American League in home runs and RBIs, but Player A bats 0.316 and Guerrero hits 0.315. Accordingly, Guerrero will not win the Triple Crown. Does that affect his MVP candidacy? Should a vote for an MVP candidate depend upon missing one leg of the Triple Crown by 0.001 in batting average?
Caller Buck: Um, I think you have to go to a commercial break or a traffic report.
The Last Word
Guerrero has had a terrific 2021 season. He has posted elite offensive numbers, and he has been a significant contributor to the success of the 2021 Blue Jays. However, Ohtani has performed at a higher level in his capacity as a batter and as a pitcher. He should be the winner of the American League’s MVP award.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Bob was a St. Louis Cardinals fan until the Blue Jays arrived on the baseball scene, although he still has a soft spot for the Cards. Similar to straddling the Greenwich Meridian, as depicted in the avatar, Bob applies sabermetrics when applicable, but his heart tells him that Lou Brock belongs in the Hall of Fame.