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Who wins the MLB MVP race?

The Major League Baseball (MLB) Most Valuable Player (MVP) award is one of the most prestigious awards a baseball player can get during their career. One player from the American League (AL) and one player from the National League (NL) is given the MVP. Oftentimes, the race to win the award is close and this year is no different. Both leagues have strong candidates to win the award. The question of who wins the award is difficult as what defines a player as “most valuable” is still up for debate and the “requirements” a player must fulfill to win the award are inconsistent. 

The first thing to discuss is what are the “requirements” to win the award. Obviously, the player needs to be performing at the highest level in the MLB. So, they likely are at the top of the league in various stats that would indicate that they are one of the best in the league. The next part is a concept that is still widely discussed. For a player to win this award, the player needs to be on a winning team. Oftentimes the award is given to a player that leads his team to the playoffs. When looking at the past five MVP winners in both the NL and AL, six of those 10 players made the playoffs. There is only one player that has won two MVPs during that time and that is Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels. Trout has been possibly the best player in baseball for the past decade. He has finished top five in MVP voting in every full year of his career and has won the MVP three times. However, he has made the playoffs once. The two he won within the past five years did not include the year he went to the playoffs. Outfielder Bryce Harper was another player within the last five years to win an MVP but miss the playoffs. During that season he was statistically almost two times better than the average player. So, he was probably one of the best players in all of baseball during that year. But then you have 2018, where Trout was still better than the MVP winner outfielder Mookie Betts, yet considering Betts was on a team that had over 100 wins while Trout was on a team that finished in fourth place of their division, Betts got the edge. Nobody knows how much voters really value a player making the playoffs, but that most certainly is in their mind. 

As of Oct. 1, 2021, there are a few players that appear to be in the lead for MVP voting for the AL and NL. According to betting odds from VegasInsider.com, outfielder Bryce Harper from the Philadelphia Phillies, shortstop/outfielder Fernando Tatis Jr from the San Diego Padres and outfielder Juan Soto from the Washington Nationals are the most likely players to win the MVP from the NL. Sporting Bets Dime has pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani from the Angels, first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr from the Toronto Blue Jays and second baseman Marcus Semien from the Blue Jays as the top three most likely players to win the AL MVP. 

Juan Soto is dominating baseball on a level that we have not seen in a while. In the second half of the season, he has an on base percentage (OBP) greater than .500. That means that he gets on base over 50% of the time. He is also leading the league in walks and is the only player in all of baseball to have more walks than strikeouts. His total OBP is 0.471 which is 0.037 points higher than the next closest player. The plate vision that Soto possesses is something that is compared to some of the best players of all time. Although Soto is at the top of multiple categories, he is not at the top of home run totals which gives him a relative disadvantage when it comes to high impact playmaking. Additionally, his team, the Washington Nationals, are in last place in the National League East division, so he is not on a winning team. However, when looking at value, Soto is one of the most valuable players in all of baseball as he has been carrying the Nationals to wins almost on his own. 

Fernando Tatis Jr is one of the most exciting players to watch in all of baseball. He can literally do it all. He gets hits, steals bases and plays a flashy defensive position in shortstop. Also, he hits the ball very far. He currently leads the National League in home runs with 41. Additionally, he has 25 stolen bases during this season. Again, this guy does everything. According to Baseball Reference, Tatis is only behind starting pitcher Zach Wheeler and Soto for the NL lead in wins above replacement (WAR). WAR is a statistic that describes how valuable a player a team is for the team to succeed. Tatis is also on a team that is not going to the playoffs, however his team has performed better than Soto’s team and he has hit more home runs which tends to have more weight than walks in the voters’ eyes, so Tatis may have a  better chance to win the MVP than Soto. 

The most likely NL MVP winner is currently Bryce Harper. Harper is leading the league in various important offensive numbers including on base plus slugging percentage. However, the key thing that voters have seen is that he isn’t just performing at a high level, but he is also leading his team to multiple wins. The Phillies have a chance to make the playoffs and a recent hot streak from Harper has allowed them to do so. 

Marcus Semien is not going to win the AL MVP award. This isn’t due to a poor season. Semien is having a career year after signing a one-year contract with the Blue Jays. Semien is fourth in all of baseball in home runs as he has hit an absurd 44 home runs which is a record for the most home runs by a second baseman in a single season. For other years he may have had a better chance, but this year the AL MVP race is between two players which unfortunately does not give Semien a good chance. 

The AL MVP race was a simple one for most of the season. Shohei Ohtani was the leading candidate for most of the season. This is because he is doing something that hasn’t really been done before. Ohtani is a two-way player, so he hits, and he pitches. Most pitchers hit. But no pitcher hits like Ohtani. Ohtani for most of the season led all of baseball in home runs. He is currently second in the league with 45 home runs. So Ohtani is an offensive powerhouse with those home run numbers, and they alone would put him in the conversation for MVP. However, he does not only just hit home runs. Ohtani also steals bases, as he has 24, and is second in the league in triples. He simply is an incredible player offensively. Also, he is a really good pitcher. Ohtani may not pitch as many innings as some of the other top arms in all of baseball, but every five days he comes out and pitches solid games. According to Baseball Reference, he has more strikeouts than innings pitched. So not only does he hit and help the team score runs, but he also pitches and prevents the other team from scoring runs. What he is doing is something that has never been done before. He leads all of baseball in WAR by a significant margin considering what he does on both sides of the plate.  If Ohtani is doing something so unbelievable, how could the competition be so close? That is because Vladimir Guerrero Jr is on the verge of doing something that is also incredible. Guerrero Jr is vying for the Triple Crown. This means that he leads the AL in batting average, home runs and RBIs. According to ESPN, this has been accomplished only twelve times in MLB history. The most recent player to accomplish this was Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers. Cabrera won the AL MVP that year. Earning the Triple Crown is an incredible feat as it is very uncommon to see a player lead in all three of those categories. Most players that lead the league in home runs do not tend to have a high batting average. Guerrero Jr is currently tied for second in batting average, 12 RBIs behind the leader and tied for first place in home runs with 46. Catching up in the RBI category may be difficult but it is very possible within the last week of the season. Also, Guerrero Jr has been at the center of one of the best offenses in the entire league and has helped bring his team back into the playoff race. The Blue Jays are fighting for an AL Wild Card spot with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics. Even if Guerrero does not earn the Triple Crown, he is probably the best offensive player in all of baseball and,  he also may get his team to the playoffs. 

So, who wins the MVP? Although the MVP award is often associated with the best player in the league or the player that is considered the most “valuable”, ultimately this year the winner is likely going to be determined by a storyline as there is not a definitive player that should 100 percent win the award. In the National League, Soto may be the better overall player than Tatis and Harper. He has been better overall offensively and significantly better than both defensively. However, there isn’t a great storyline there. Harper has a chance to lead the Phillies to their first playoff appearance in ten years. If he leads the Phillies to the playoffs, he is significantly more likely to win the award, however if the Phillies fail to make the playoffs again, there is a chance for Soto and Tatis to win the award. In the American League, Ohtani’s edge has slowly slipped away as Guerrero Jr has improved as the season has gone on and the Angels have fallen out of playoff relevancy. Once again Guerrero Jr has a great storyline considering he could be the one to lead the Blue Jays to the playoffs and earn the Triple Crown. However, Ohtani is still doing things every day we have never seen before. In terms of who is more valuable, Ohtani should get the edge because he pitches and hits, but the storyline may cause the voting to fluctuate and help Guerrero Jr get the MVP. 


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