As the season winds down, awards season ramps up. No single-season award is more prestigious than Most Valuable Player (MVP). Two players, in particular, are locked in a photo finish for the American League MVP award. Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Shohei Ohtani have both had incredible seasons in their own right, and that is why MVP is going to be such a hard choice for voters. I’m going to lay out both of their seasons, and try to get to the bottom of this award race.
To start, I want to lay out the rules of the debate. Batting average, home runs, RBIs, hits, at-bats are all on the table, as well as defensive stats. A side-by-side look is necessary when you have two seasons as close as these.
|Offensive Statistic||Shohei Ohtani||Vlad Guerrero Jr|
Defensive statistics, however, are a bit harder to directly compare, given the difference in Guerrero Jr and Ohtani’s defensive positions. Those stats will be explored later on. Ohtani does have innings registered playing in right field, but the sample size is so small that it renders itself irrelevant.
Now that the relevant stats have been put out, I want to properly explore each of our contender’s seasons.
Shohei Ohtani (P/DH)
The two-way phenom has been electric this year. Ohtani is having a season for the ages, only just giving up the MLB home run lead, to Vladimir Guerrero Jr and darkhorse MVP candidate, Salvador Perez. He’s also up towards the top of the RBI leaderboard and leading the way with 8.1 WAR this season. His offensive output has been above and beyond what anyone ever expected from him (except maybe the Angels), with one scout saying “He’s basically like a high school hitter because he’s never seen a good curveball”.
Oh, and he’s a pretty good pitcher too. Few players in this league can call themselves two-way players, and even fewer can be successful as one. Boasting a 3.28 ERA, Ohtani will likely be on the outside looking in when it comes to the Cy Young Award.
Ohtani has punched out 146 batters to 44 walks in 22 appearances (123.1 total innings) on the bump this year, or 3.3 Strikeouts to every walk issued this year and about 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. A two-way player with those kinds of stats is easily a favorite for MVP in any season and probably wins outright it if Vlad Guerrero Jr. wasn’t having the year he is.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The Blue Jays’ first baseman is on fire. Never has the league seen someone with this kind of power flaunt it with ease. First showing it off in the 2019 Home Run Derby, Vladdy blasted a record 91 home runs, with an average exit velocity of 104.4 mph. This year, he’s leading the league in two major categories, with 46 home runs and a batting average of .321. Junior is tied for fourth in RBI with 105, second in OPS, at 1.029, and 6.8 WAR, tied for 3rd, to boot.
Have I mentioned yet that he’s only 22 years old?
So what could be the differentiating factor between these two players and the incredible seasons that they are posting? Three words…
The Triple Crown
The history of the fabled Triple Crown is a long and prestigious one. To accomplish it, a player must lead the league in home runs, RBI, and batting average. A total of 10 players have achieved the feat; two have done it twice.
- Roger Hornsby, St Louis Cardinals (1922, 1925)
- Chuck Klein, Phillidelphia Phillies (1933)
- Jimmie Foxx, Phillidelphia Athletics (1933)
- Lou Gerhig, New York Yankees (1934)
- Joe Medwick, St. Louis Cardinals (1937)
- Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox (1942, 1947)
- Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees (1956)
- Frank Robinson, Baltimore Orioles (1966)
- Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox (1967)
- Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (2012)
Every single member of this list had a batting average of at least .316. Who, you may ask, is on the cusp of such a feat? None other than Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
As previously mentioned, Vladdy is tied for the lead in home runs, only with Salvador Perez (who just passed Johnny Bench for most home runs for a primary catcher), and leading the league in batting average (.321). The only stat he is chasing is RBI, which he is tied for fourth with 105.
So… Who Wins MVP?
If he achieves baseball immortality, Vladimir Guerrero Jr should win the AL MVP in a landslide. He’d be six years younger than Miguel Cabrera when he won it in 2012. I don’t doubt in my mind that he’d win it. Without the Triple Crown, however, it is a different conversation.
I believe Ohtani has done enough to at least make it a close vote. Despite that, I believe Guerrero Jr will still win the MVP because, at the end of the day, the Most Valuable Player is the one the keeps his team in the playoff discussion, as Toronto currently has a 1.5 game cushion in the second wild-card spot.
Two young phenoms in the prime of their careers certainly have more of these award races to look forward to. I expect at least one Cy Young in Ohtani’s future and multiple batting titles for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. In the end, the chips will fall where they may, and we will likely be discussing this MVP vote for years to come.