The choice for the 2016 Pacific League MVP was a no-brainer.
The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters won the pennant and their best player, Shohei Ohtani, put together a season unlike almost any in NPB history. Ohtani hit .322 with 22 home runs and a 1.004 on-base plus slugging percentage while also pitching and going 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA, 174 strikeouts and a hold. He was one of two PL batters with a .300 average and at least 20 home runs, one of three PL pitchers with at least 170 strikeouts and — of course — one of one to do both.
Ohtani was such an easy choice, the only thing that prevented him from being a unanimous selection was one voter who felt Fighters reliever Naoki Miyanishi’s 39 holds warranted recognition.
Ohtani, now in MLB with the Los Angeles Angels, has more competition for the American League MVP award this year. With respect to Miyanishi, the Toronto Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is more worthy of taking away some votes, but choosing Ohtani should not be a hard call to make.
Ohtani bolstered his MVP campaign Sunday with a 10-strikeout performance over eight innings against the Oakland Athletics — Ohtani allowed two solo homers and didn’t factor in the decision in a 3-2 Angels loss.
“He did beautifully, competed again, and started missing some bats again,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Pretty much had everything working today — they hit two homers.”
This was after Ohtani was scratched from his scheduled start on Friday due to arm soreness, which led Maddon to openly wonder if he would pitch again in 2021.
“I need to keep on throwing,” Ohtani said Sunday. “Everytime I throw, I learn something and I’m getting better. I’m going to be pitching next year and beyond, so this whole experience this year is going to help me down the road.”
Ohtani the pitcher is 9-2 with a 3.28 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 146 strikeouts in 123⅓ innings in 2021. As a batter, he has 44 home runs, second most in MLB, 94 RBIs, 23 stolen bases and a .945 OPS, though his batting average has dipped to .255.
For those scoring at home, that’s a 40-home run, 20-stolen base season — the first in the AL since 2011 — from a player who has also struck out over 140 batters and currently has an ERA under 3.30. If he gets another win on the mound, he’ll be the first player with at least 10 pitching wins and 10 home runs since Babe Ruth in 1918.
Ohtani’s 2016 season was something NPB fans hadn’t seen before. Now he’s bigger, stronger, more savvy and benefitting from more experience as he does things no one has done in nearly a century — if ever — on the game’s biggest stage. Forget an MVP campaign, it’s not a stretch to wonder if Ohtani is having the most outstanding single season in MLB history.
Still, the MVP race, essentially down to Ohtani and Guerrero, could be interesting.
That’s due to that impossible to quantify, nebulous notion of value — the “V” in MVP. Everyone calculates it differently. For some, the MVP is an award for the best player. Others feel it should go to someone who played at a high level and contributed to a winning team. If value is synonymous with best, then Ohtani is the MVP. If it’s a question of who put up big numbers for a good team, well, that’s Guerrero.
Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote for the award. According to the BBWAA website, the ballot that goes out to voters reads: “There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.”
Guerrero has snatched the home run lead away from Ohtani and sits tied atop MLB with 46. He also leads the majors with a .320 batting average and is tied for fourth with 105 RBIs — only nine behind the co-leaders — with a chance to lead both the AL and the National League in the Triple Crown categories.
The Blue Jays are also 84-66 and in the thick of the AL wild card race, and some voters like honoring players on winning teams. So Guerrero winning a Triple Crown for a playoff team — or even coming this close — will give some voters something to think about.
You can easily make the argument Toronto isn’t as good without him and would not be in the playoff picture. The Angels, on the other hand, are 72-78. Without Ohtani, they might be worse, but no more or less relevant than they are now.
Guerrero began Monday with 6.8 WAR (tied for the best in MLB) this year per Baseball Reference. Ohtani had a 4.5 WAR as a hitter alone and a 3.7 pitching WAR. To find a similar stat line you need to go back to 1922, when Bullet Rogan, who played for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues, recorded a 4.5 WAR as a batter and 4.6 as a pitcher.
Guerrero has been outstanding. Ohtani has been historic.
He could change baseball in a way similar to how the influence of the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry has every kid who laces up a pair of sneakers jacking up 3s in bunches.
Ohtani wasn’t a unanimous selection when he won his first pro MVP and he won’t be if he wins this time either — even if he should be. What was true in 2016, however, should ring true today as well. Ohtani is a history-making supernova of a baseball player, and whether he wins by one vote or 100, he should be the MVP.
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