by Paul West
The American League MVP race has basically been down to two candidates for a while now, and it’s expected to come down to the final weeks-if not days–of the season. Most years, that would make sense; many years, the numbers being put up by Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez would have them easily at the top of the MVP race. Both are having fabulous years, with Judge on pace for over 60 home runs and in range to push 70; but neither are having the historic all-purpose season that Shohei Ohtani is.
Ohtani is having a season like literally none before it. He recently became the first player since the Babe Ruth era to win ten games as a pitcher and hit ten home runs in the same season, but his other accomplishments make that sound almost quaint. He’s the best pitcher, the most dangerous hitter, and the fastest player on a major league baseball team; you generally stop seeing that kind of thing after middle school. He’s 6’4″ and over 200 pounds, but he’s absurdly fast for that size. He’s struck out double-digit batters nine times this year, including six times in a row. His home runs are cannon-blast no-doubters, and he once grounded the ball to first base and beat the fielder to the bag. Oh yeah–he’s working on another pitch, a two-seam fastball with late life that would be the envy of many of his colleagues.
As for the matter that the Angels are still alarmingly bad I posit this: how bad would they be without Ohtani? As of July 17th, their record when he pitched was 6-0 and their record otherwise was 6-24; those numbers have stabilized a bit, but it’s still absurd that a team’s best hitter and fastest player is also more or less the only starting pitcher behind whom they win games. Even with historically great Mike Trout on the team, Ohtani’s pitching efforts alone–on top of his hitting and baserunning exploits–make him more of an impact player than someone who’s widely discussed as one of the best ever.
The ‘best player on best team versus most actually valuable to their team regardless of record’ debate is an old one. But Ohtani is not only the best on his team at nearly everything, he’s having a literal one-of-a-kind season. The Angels, with rare exception, only win when he’s their starting pitcher; and when they win otherwise, he’s almost always a main contributor and he frequently does damage late in games. If that doesn’t signify ‘most valuable,’ I’d be hard-pressed to find a better definition.