In a world where injuries did not exist, the AL MVP race would look a lot different.
Unfortunately, this world does in fact involve injuries, and coming off of the shortened 2020 season, injuries are more prevalent than ever. LA Angels superstar, Mike Trout, was the odds-on favorite for the AL MVP award when he strained his calf on May 17th, as he was off to the best start of his eye-popping major league career. Shohei Ohtani has been essential in shouldering the majority of the load for the Angels during Trout’s absence.
Longtime super prospect and five-tool Twins’ center fielder Byron Buxton was also off to a ridiculous start until he strained his hip on May 5th. Many other big names, who would be potential AL MVP candidates, have spent time on the IL, crushing their chances at taking home the AL MVP award. This includes players like Blue Jays CF George Springer, Yankees 1B Luke Voit and RF Aaron Judge, White Sox OFs Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, and many others.
Now over halfway through June, staying healthy and on the field seems to be as big of a factor in determining the award winner as any on-field metric.
Two players who have managed to do so are LA Angels RHP and DH Shohei Ohtani, as well as Toronto Blue Jays 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
If you’ve watched baseball this season, chances are you’ve seen Shohei Ohtani do something incredible. Ohtani is baseball’s first true 2-way player in over a century, and after a few years of struggling to remain on the field and fulfill his true potential, Ohtani’s talent has been on full display in 2021.
During last Friday’s win against the Diamondbacks, Ohtani hit two doubles in the heart of the Angels order, and threw five solid innings while striking out eight. Last night against the Tigers, he walked twice at the plate, and threw six innings of one run ball, mixing in five strikeouts.
His ability to contribute at an all-star level on both sides of the ball has truly been something to marvel at. Not only is he hitting homers, but he is hitting balls 470 feet:
As if hitting 470-foot shots wasn’t enough, he also has the lowest opponent batting average against a single pitch in the MLB (min 50 PA against), as opponents are hitting a mere .037 against his slider. As of June 17th, for the first time this season, Guerrero is now being talked about as the outright favorite to win the AL MVP award, edging out Ohtani.
Ohtani‘s impressive 2021 numbers and his ability to stay on the field bode well for his chances to win the award:
Hitting (with AL rankings):
Avg: .270 (38th)
HR: 19 (2nd)
RBI: 47 (8th)
R: 44 (12th)
SB: 10 (Tied for 7th)
wRC+: 160 (3rd)
WAR: 2.3 (Tied for 10th)
As for Guerrero Jr., he is mashing his way through the American League at a torrid pace. Still just 22 years of age (no, that’s not a misprint), Guerrero Jr. underwhelmed in his major league debut in 2019, and followed suit in 2020 putting up just a 0.4 and 0.2 WAR across those two seasons respectively. In addition, he didn’t hit higher than a .272/.339/.462 in either of those two seasons, making him an average major league contributor at best.
2021 has been a completely different story, hitting .342/.444/.675 with a major league leading 22 homers and 56 RBIs with still a couple of weeks to go before the all-star break. Through his run in the minors, Guerrero was widely regarded as the savior and future franchise face of the Blue Jays, and fans can now put any worries to bed that Guerrero would not fulfill that potential.
Hitting (with AL rankings):
Avg: .342 (1st)
HR: 22 (1st)
RBI: 56 (1st)
R: 51 (3rd)
SB: 2 (Tied for 50th)
wRC+: 198 (1st)
WAR: 4.1 (1st)
Although he is currently the favorite to take home the MVP award, Guerrero was quoted saying “Ohtani deserves it. Nothing I’m doing right now tops his hitting and pitching ability. He’s the MVP.”
With the MLB season not yet halfway done, there is a lot of movement left to be made in the standings, but about 70 games in, the race is neck and neck between Ohtani and Guerrero Jr for AL MVP, and third place is nowhere close behind.