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Ohtani for MVP: statistically, there’s no competition

by Logan Vaughan

Shohei Ohtani/ via MLB.com

Since the All-Star break in July, Shohei Ohtani has struck out 33 players and mashed his 40th home run of the season. The 6’4”, right-throwing, left-batting Ohtani, of Oshu, Japan, is doing things on the plate and on the mound that nobody alive has ever seen before. With just 36 games left to be played this season, there is no competition for the American League MVP: it’s Shohei Ohtani’s to lose.

So far this season, Ohtani’s home run total leads the Majors, along with his .637 slugging percentage, and, if he had just a few more innings under his belt to qualify, he would be the owner of the second-best ERA in the AL (2.79). Playing almost 100 games at DH, 7 in the outfield, and 18 as the starting pitcher, he is the first true two-way superstar in baseball since Babe Ruth.

In fact, if you combined the last two years that The Babe was pitching, 1918 and 1919, he would total up to exactly 40 home runs at the plate and 70 strikeouts on the mound. By contrast, this season alone Ohtani has totaled 120 strikeouts to go along with his home runs.

Where did this wunderkind come from? Ohtani excelled in high school, being clocked at 99-100 mph and becoming something of a national sensation. He gave some thought to playing in the Major Leagues with the Dodgers when he graduated at 18, but ultimately decided to stay in Japan. After playing professionally for the Nippon Ham-Fighters of the NPB and winning Rookie of the Year honors in his first year along with numerous other accolades in his five years with the team. 

In December of 2017, the rights to Ohtani were purchased by the Los Angeles Angels via the posting system. On March 29, 2018, a 23-year old Shohei Ohtani started in his first Major League game at the Oakland Coliseum. Ohtani went 1 – 5 with a single that day while playing the role of designated hitter. Three days later, he made his debut on the mound as the starting pitcher for the hometown Angels in Anaheim, giving up three runs over six and securing his first Major League win.

That year, Ohtani would go on to win the American League Rookie of the Year that year with a .285/.361/.564 slash line (over 367 PA) and a 3.31 ERA (over 51.2 IP). But Ohtani’s 2019, while impressive, was marred by preseason Tommy John surgery that left him unable to pitch for the whole season. 

The COVID-shortened 2020 season found Ohtani only getting through 1.2 innings on the mound and being shut down from pitching duties again, this time due to a flexor strain. On the other side of the ball, he only managed to hit a paltry .190 with seven home runs in 43 games.

This year, however, is different. This is the Year of Ohtani. Sho-Time. Any way you slice it, Shohei has been a unicorn. He has hit the ball harder than anyone else this year with a max exit velocity of 119 MPH and has thrown pitches 101 MPH on the bump. 

He has more extra base hits than anyone in baseball (70), and for good measure he has stolen 18 bags, ninth best in MLB, with his elite sprint speed of 28.9 ft/second. Using the advanced baseball metric WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which is a single number that represents how many wins a player has single handedly added to his team above what a replacement level player would theoretically add. Ohtani is two wins better than anyone else in baseball, and even that advanced idea doesn’t quite tell the whole story when it comes to a true two-way player’s value.

Shohei Ohtani is that kid on your little league team that was better than everyone else who would pitch every other game, played centerfield, and hit .430. Except that he plays in Major League Baseball amongst the most elite players the world has ever seen, and he’s still better than everyone else. In a normal year, 22-year old slugger Vladimir Guerrero, with the Blue Jays, would be a lock to win American League MVP. But instead, he is going to wind up a second-place finisher, because Ohtani has turned the entire baseball world completely on its head with feats heretofore unseen.

By Jordan Miesse

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