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MLB Roundtable: Picking the MVP of the First Two Months

Who has been the MVP of each league over the first two months of the season?
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The MVP race is starting to take shape as we enter the final weekend of May. Mike Trout was having his best season yet before a calf strain landed him on the injured list, likely until mid-July or August. In his absence, another Angel has taken over as the AL MVP favorite. Meanwhile, the NL race has more contenders.

Sports Illustrated's baseball writers took a look at each league's MVP after the first two months of the season.

shohei-ohtani-hitting

Tom Verducci

American League: Shohei Ohtani

The AL two-month MVP is Shohei Ohtani of the Angels. Don’t bother telling me that the Angels don’t pitch well and their defense is terrible. What Ohtani is doing is somehow underrated. His achievements as a hitter and pitcher are so extraordinary the competitiveness of his team is not relevant.

National League: Ronald Acuña Jr.

In the NL, I give an edge to Ronald Acuña Jr. over Fernando Tatis Jr., if only because of volume. Acuña, the home run leader, has played in 12 more games, which is more than a 25% gap this time of year.

Stephanie Apstein

American League: Shohei Ohtani

Neither FanGraphs nor Baseball-Reference WAR agrees with me here, but it's hard not to pick Ohtani so far. He has appeared in 47 of the Angels' first 50 games, and he has a 154 OPS+ and a 187 ERA+. He's also an event every time he does anything. If he stays healthy, this will be the most impressive season ever by a baseball player.

National League: Max Muncy

I will take Max Muncy here by a hair over Nick Castellanos, mostly because Muncy has played five more games, and in a season when seemingly everyone is injured all the time, I think simply standing on the field as often as possible does a huge service to your team. Especially if you have an OBP of .450!

Emma Baccellieri

American League: Shohei Ohtani

While I do think there are some interesting other candidates here—Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Byron Buxton particularly stand out—I don't see how you can go with anyone other than the guy doing something that hasn't been seen in a century. That might change if he can't stay healthy, or if the team decides to be more cautious with how he's used, but for now, I can't pass up an OPS+ more than 150 and an ERA+ more than 180.

Cincinnati Reds right fielder Nick Castellanos (2) reacts after hitting a solo home run to give the 3-2 lead in the seventh inning during a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Monday, April 5, 2021, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Reds won, 5-3.

National League: Nick Castellanos

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He leads the league in a slew of offensive categories, and while his defense certainly isn't adding much value here, it also isn't subtracting much this season, which represents an improvement over years past. That's enough to make me feel secure in picking him over Max Muncy—if both keep hitting like this, though, it should make for an interesting race through the summer.

Will Laws

American League: Shohei Ohtani

The fact that both of the current favorites play for sub-.500 teams feels notable, even if it scarcely matters to the voters anymore. Amid yet another disappointing season in Anaheim, made even more painful this time with the loss of Mike Trout, one man has done his best to keep both the Angels offense and rotation afloat. Shohei Ohtani leads the league in win probability added (2.0)—and that's without his pitching factored in! He ranks behind only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in home runs, and behind only Shane Bieber in strikeouts per nine innings (min. 30 innings pitched). Beyond the numbers, the degree of difficulty of balancing an act no one in baseball has for more than a century has to be factored in. If Ohtani keeps up his pace—and even if he slows down a little—this will be the year we remember for his two-way exploits.

Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuna

National League: Ronald Acuña Jr.

Ronald Acuña Jr. isn't on pace for a 40–40 season, but he is on pace for the 50/20 club, which at four members (Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Brady Anderson, Willie Mays) is equally exclusive. The 23-year-old has always hit the ball hard and far during his time in the majors, but a more disciplined plate approach has led to a major decrease in his strikeout rate during an era that's especially hard to accomplish. As a result, he's been the National League's most fearsome hitter. He reigns supreme in both traditional stats (NL-best 15 home runs) and Statcast metrics, ranking in the 97th percentile of average exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, expected batting average, expected slugging percentage, chase rate and sprint speed. He's been slightly below average on defense, but still far better than Fernando Tatis Jr. (MLB-high 12 errors), whom the oddsmakers deem his closest competitor for this award.

Matt Martell

American League: Shohei Ohtani

At some point, you've just gotta give the award to the person having the most extraordinary season, regardless of what his team is doing. As everyone above has pointed out, Ohtani is one of baseball's best hitters (154 OPS+) and most effective pitchers (187 ERA+). Now, consider the Angels are playing without Mike Trout for the next few months and Anthony Rendon is struggling (75 OPS+). All this said, the other frontrunner, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., is the best offensive player in baseball right now (204 OPS+) and is keeping the Blue Jays afloat in the AL East without George Springer. Also, don't sleep on Aaron Judge, who is having his best year since he won the 2017 Rookie of the Year. Most important though is he's stayed healthy.

Kris Bryant 2021 Cubs

National League: Kris Bryant

Bryant is back, baby. Entering this weekend, the 2016 NL MVP is slashing .320/.405/.604 with 11 home runs and a 182 OPS+. He's doing this while playing a super utility role for the Cubs. Here's his position log through 46 games played this season: 3B (15 games), LF (14), RF (12), CF (8), 1B (6). The Cubs are just a half game behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, and Bryant's resurgence is a big reason why Chicago is in playoff contention. Other MVP candidates include Ronald Acuña Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., Nick Castellanos and Nolan Arenado.

Nick Selbe

American League: Shohei Ohtani

As odd as it feels for a team hovering around last place to have an MVP candidate on its roster, it's even weirder that the player is not Mike Trout. Ohtani is doing things not seen in over a century. He leads the AL in extra-base hits, is second in slugging percentage and third in home runs while sporting a 2.37 ERA and 45 strikeouts through 30 1/3 innings. If he maintains anything close to that production over a full season of, say, 550 plate appearances and 20 pitching starts, he should win the award with ease.

National League: Kris Bryant

Bryant's miserable 2020 season seems like ancient history now, with the former MVP playing perhaps the best baseball of his career. He's been the best hitter in the NL (182 OPS+) and has led a Cubs resurgence back into the playoff picture following an abysmal start. A win for Bryant would make him just the seventh player ever to win the Rookie of the Year award and multiple MVPs, a group that includes Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench, Albert Pujols, Cal Ripken Jr. and Mike Trout—that's not bad company to join heading into free agency.

Michael Shapiro

American League: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

It pains me not to pick Shohei Ohtani here, though ultimately, Guerrero Jr.'s brilliance at the plate has provided more value thus far than Ohtani's two-way brilliance. Vlad Jr. leads baseball in WAR by a healthy margin, and he enters Friday leading the AL in homers, RBIs, slugging and OPS. Ohtani has launched 15 mesmerizing dingers. His at bats are must-watch TV. Yet he's only added 30 innings on the mound thus far, and Los Angeles hasn't been able to capitalize on his starts over the last months. Ohtani is baseball's greatest talent, and he very well could continue this torrid pace en route to the MVP. But it would be unfair not to recognize Guerrero's dominant start as Memorial Day approaches.

May 25, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) points to the sky after hitting a two run home in the third inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

National League: Ronald Acuña Jr.

Kris Bryant's production has dipped over the last month after a dominant April, leaving no clear favorite in a crowded field. Nick Castellanos is mashing everything in sight. Nolan Arenado has been as good as advertised in St. Louis. I'm tempted to make a half-serious case for Jake Cronenworth, who has arguably been the best player on the National League's best team. But I'll choose Acuña Jr. as May comes to a close. He's been the one constant source of offense for a lineup that's yet to find its groove, smacking 15 homers in his first 44 games and sporting a .990 OPS. Acuña has cut his strikeout rate to 18.3%, down from 29.7% last year; and he's posting the best exit velocities of his career. There's no player I'd rather build a team around for the next decade.

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