It’s a warm Aug. 4 afternoon as the Los Angeles Angels face off against the Oakland Athletics. The Angels were losing at home, but it didn’t matter once a certain player stepped up to the plate. At the bottom of the seventh inning, everyone turned and focused at the plate as Angel’s two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani came to bat. Athletics pitcher Kirby Snead started the at bat against Ohtani with a slider that was right in the middle of the plate. Ohtani fouled the ball and tightened his batting gloves, knowing he should have crushed that pitch. Snead decided to go back to the slider, but this time on the inside part of the plate. Somehow, Ohtani turned the pitch on his hands for a 399-foot home run. The 107.9 mile per hour home run to right center field was his second home run of the game as he cut the deficit to two, as the Angels still trailed 6-8. You read that correctly: Ohtani hit two home runs in seven innings, and the team was still losing. Ultimately the Angels lost that game 7-8 as Ohtani finished the game with three hits, including two home runs. Flashback to a week before for a game where the Angels played the Texas Rangers on July 28. Ohtani pitched six innings and struck out 11 batters while allowing just two runs. Did the Angels win that game? They did not. Ohtani is doing something that we have never seen before and yet the Angels have the eighth worst record in all of baseball. Why is the record significant? It’s because of the evergoing debate about who is the most valuable player (MVP) in baseball. Every year the MVP award is given to a player based on the vote of baseball writers and in most years there is an argument made for many players to win the award. However, the debate should no longer exist, or at least shouldn’t exist while Ohtani is still playing. Ohtani should win the MVP award every year that he pitches and is a designated hitter.
The first issue that people bring up with a statement like this, is that you can’t give the MVP award to a player on a bad team. A player can’t be that “valuable” if the team is losing. Take the 2021 National League (NL) MVP award race as an example. The top three frontrunners were outfielder Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies, outfielder Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals and shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres. All three players had comparable numbers and you could make the argument that each player outperformed another player in some category. Soto had more hits and walks than Tatis and Harper, but had less home runs than both players. Tatis had the most home runs out of the three, but also the lowest batting average. Ultimately, Harper won the award after getting 17 out of the 30 first place votes. One of the biggest reasons for this was because the Phillies just narrowly missed the playoffs, while the Nationals had the fifth worst record in all of baseball. Sometimes the wins matter. However, there have been many instances of a player winning the award on a bad team. Ohtani’s teammate Mike Trout has won the award three times. Out of those three years, the Angels had a winning record in only one of those years. So obviously there is some discourse about how much winning actually matters. If the player is so good, does that overrule the team’s poor performance? It most certainly should.
In 2021, Ohtani won the MVP award after he took the league by storm and quickly became one of the faces of baseball. He did this by being dominant on both sides of the field. However, he wasn’t always the face of baseball. Before 2021, Ohtani was a great player. He certainly had hype around him before he even played in his first Major League Baseball (MLB) game. This 23-year-old player had come from Japan, where he had somehow been one of the best hitters and pitchers at the same time. When he made the decision to come to the United States, people questioned whether or not he was going to continue to pitch and hit. This hadn’t successfully been done since Babe Ruth in 1919. However, when he arrived, he emphasized how he was going to do both. Former teammate Brandon Laird said, “His work ethic is as hard as anyone I’ve seen. He’s always doing something, stretching or soft toss, hitting off a tee. He’s always doing something baseball-related,” when describing Ohtani. The build-up ensued as he made his major league debut in 2018 and won the Rookie of the Year Award after a very successful first year. He was 51 percent better than the average hitter and 27 percent better than the average pitcher. At this point, most baseball fans knew him as the only two-way player in baseball, but he didn’t really take the league by storm yet.
Ohtani always had power, but in 2021 he took it to another level. He hit 26 home runs in the first half alone, which surpassed his previous career high in a season. Ohtani added on the impressive season with 20 more home runs in the second half of the season. He finished with the third most home runs in all of baseball. That alone would have put him in the conversation to win the MVP award. But that wasn’t all he did. He also pitched to nine wins while striking out 156 batters in 130.1 innings and being 41 percent better than the average pitcher. The combination of high quality pitching and hitting got him all 30 first place votes for the MVP award in 2021. Ohtani beat out infielder Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays, who had one of the greatest offensive seasons ever, as he led the league with 48 home runs and 123 runs. Yet it didn’t matter, considering Ohtani was setting records and doing things people had never seen before. He was undoubtedly one of the best players in baseball, if not the best. Even though his talent was undisputed, there were questions about whether or not he should always win the MVP award.
According to Sports Betting Dime, Ohtani started the 2022 season as the betting favorite to win the MVP award. He started off the season relatively slow offensively, but was even better as a pitcher. Although Ohtani was still setting new records, he was getting less talk to win the MVP award. Instead, outfielder Aaron Judge from the Yankees quickly became the favorite. It is obvious why. Judge is currently chasing the record of 61 home runs for the most home runs by a Yankee in a single season. He has hit 44 home runs in 107 games, while the next closest batter has hit just 34. Additionally, the Yankees are one of the best teams in baseball, and it is very clear that Judge is half of their offense. He is the best offensive player in all of baseball right now on one of baseball’s best teams. Although Ohtani isn’t as good as last year, he still is having a very good year. He is 37 percent better than the average hitter and 51 percent better than the average hitter. However, the Angels, again, are terrible, so it seems like his value is low considering they lose so much. With all of this in mind, Ohtani still should still win the MVP award. There are a ton of stats that can argue in many directions, including some stats that have already been discussed here. However, there is one thing that is clear above everything else: Ohtani literally is great on both sides of the plate. When Judge starts pitching then we can have a conversation. The issue becomes how bad can Ohtani get and still have that value. If he is average to below average as a hitter and an average pitcher, is he still the most valuable player? That is obviously slightly subjective, however when you have a player that can win you a game with the bat and every five days win you a game as a pitcher as well, no one can really come close to that value. He is top 10 in all of baseball in home runs and pitching strikeouts. The stats back up the argument even though it should be obvious at this point. Judge may be a better hitter, but he does not pitch. Here’s one final example that will completely clarify. A quick comparison of 2022 stats suggests that Ohtani is a comparable, if not better hitter than Texas Rangers shortstop Corey Seager. Seager was an All-Star player in 2022 and has often been considered one of the best hitters in MLB. Another comparison of stats suggests that Ohtani is only slightly worse than Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Corbin Burnes this year. Burnes was also an All-Star player in 2022 and also won the 2021 NL Cy Young award. So basically, Ohtani is a combination of Seager and Burnes in one player. Two All-Stars in one player. Judge and whoever comes up into conversation is maybe one All-Star. Ohtani is literally two at the same time. So let’s stop the narrative that Judge deserves the MVP award this year and realize that Ohtani should win and should continue to win it for years to come.