Aaron Judge and Rafael Devers are tied for No. 1, with 3.2 fWAR marks. Judge is on pace for 60-plus homers and 130-plus RBIs. Devers is on pace for 35 homers, 65 doubles and a batting average pushing .340. Epic stuff.
Jose Ramirez is a hair back in fWAR, at 3.1, followed by Mike Trout at 2.6, even with his recent slump. Tim Anderson (2.2), Xander Bogaerts (2.3) and the man with the new contract in Houston, Yordan Alvarez (2.2), are all also in the Top 10. And then you add Ty France and his Seattle teammate Julio Rodriguez — the rookie has a .316 average, .886 OPS, seven homers and eight stolen bases since the beginning of May — to the mix, with the Houston trio of Jeremy Pena (2.3), KyleTucker (2.1) and Jose Altuve (1.8)? Then consider the seasons being authored by Yankees starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes?MORE: Madison Bumgarner shows displeasure giving up ball after Joey Votto’s milestone hit
Yeah, the AL MVP race is going to be fascinating this year, folks.But no conversation about potential AL MVPs can take place without last year’s AL MVP, Shohei Ohtani. And, yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. Ohtani hasn’t been nearly the incredible force of nature that he was last season.
This is true.
But it’s not like he’s been awful. He’s actually still been pretty good when compared to pretty much anything other than his incredible 2021 season. As a hitter, he’s appeared in 55 of the Angels’ 56 games, with a 122 OPS+. He’s on pace for 32 homers, 94 RBIs, 21 stolen bases, 29 doubles and 106 runs scored. And that’s assuming there are no hot streaks like we saw last year. That’s just projecting his season totals based off his relatively pedestrian first 55 games.
And on the mound? There are only three pitchers in the AL with at least 40 innings pitched and an average strikeouts-per-nine of 12.0 or higher: Dylan Cease (12.50), Shane McClanahan (12.45) and Ohtani (12.36). And, yeah, that 3.99 ERA isn’t great but his Fielding Independent Pitching is 3.35, which is 18th in the AL. Let’s say he continues at his current pace and makes 26 starts, with a 12.4 K/9, 136 innings, 188 strikeouts and a 3.35 FIP.
Last year, Ohtani was the easy choice as AL MVP, even with the phenomenal offensive season turned in by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Ohtani was a top-three hitter in the league and a top-10 starting pitcher. He excelled both at the plate and on the mound. And the double-duty excellence was something we hadn’t seen since the days of Babe Ruth in Boston.
This spring, I wrote about Ohtani’s future MVP prospects, a few days after I was in Tempe to visit the Angels’ camp. I asked manager Joe Maddon about Ohtani’s MVP chances — as an impact player at the plate and on the mound — in 2022 and beyond.
“If he repeats what he did last year,” he said, “or anything close to that, he’ll do it again.”
At the moment, it looks like how voters define “anything close” will be important.
Let’s go back to his on-pace full-season totals, of 32 homers, 91 RBIs, 21 stolen bases and 106 runs scored. Last year, Ramirez had 36 homers, 103 RBIs, 27 stolen bases and 111 runs scored and finished sixth in the AL MVP voting. Cedric Mullins had 31 homers, 30 stolen bases and 91 runs scored and finished ninth.
Neither Ramirez nor Mullins were above-average starting pitchers, of course.
And let’s look at his on-pace pitching totals, of 136 innings, 188 strikeouts, a 12.4 K/9 and 3.35 FIP. Last year Carlos Rodon had a 12.6 K/9, 132 innings, 185 strikeouts and a 2.50 FIP and finished fifth in the AL Cy Young vote. Obviously, a 2.50 FIP is better than a 3.35 FIP (and Rodon’s ERA was a tiny 2.37) but the point of the comparison is to show Ohtani is still providing significant value on the mound in 2022 even if his ERA is a bit inflated.
So, yeah, it’s a dilemma as the AL MVP race stands right now. It was easy to vote for an elite/elite Ohtani as the MVP, but what about an above average/above average Ohtani? And, yes, let’s assume the Angels’ current losing streak does not span months and the club gets back to playing “normal” baseball.
That’s where it becomes necessary for the voters — everyone has opinions, but only 30 BBWAA members (two in each of the 15 AL cities) actually have a say in the final vote — to weigh the value of Ohtani’s double duty. And the fact that Ohtani won the 2021 award should have absolutely no bearing on how voters cast their ballots. It doesn’t matter whether this is his first year producing at a high level in both areas or his 10th year doing so. What matters is nobody else is doing it. He’s still providing value in a way no other player in the majors provides value. He’s basically two above-average players taking up one roster spot.
So on one hand, how is that not the most valuable player in the majors, as long as he’s providing above-average value for, essentially, two roster spots? On the other hand, let’s say Judge stays healthy and keeps up his current pace and hits 63 home runs with a WAR pushing 9 or 10. That just might be enough to unseat Ohtani.
Anything short of that, though? The award is still probably his for the taking.