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The American League MVP race suddenly is worth a discussion, something that wasn’t the case a month or so ago. Here is what happened: Teams stopped throwing strikes to Shohei Ohtani, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been molten hot.
So let the debate begin. Just keep it short. Because as great as Guerrero has been, Ohtani has something the Toronto first baseman cannot match: unprecedented greatness. Guerrero is a rarity. Ohtani is a unicorn. There is no comparison.
In any other season, Guerrero is your prototypical MVP. His strongest argument is that he hits at tremendous levels of average and power. He is hitting .321 with 46 homers and a 1.029 OPS. But that’s been done 35 previous times. He is Derrek Lee of the 2005 Cubs.
What Ohtani has done has never been done before. You will never see it again—unless it’s by Ohtani. He defines the 2021 baseball season the way Roger Maris did 1961 or Bob Gibson '68—or some combination of the two.
Try wrapping your head around this: The same player who has smashed 44 homers also throws the hardest pitch to hit in baseball. On Sunday Ohtani recorded 19 outs on his split-finger fastball, the most in a game with that pitch in 11 years, since Brad Penny had 21 on April 25, 2010. The A’s went 0-for-19 against his splitter, dropping the league average against the pitch to .067.
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Ohtani struck out 10 batters Sunday over eight innings. Over his 22 starts, he has held batters to a .208 batting average while losing just twice. Only four other pitchers in baseball history were that difficult to hit and that hard to beat in at least that many starts: Rich Harden (2008), Greg Maddux (1995), Randy Johnson ('95) and Tom Seaver ('81).
Such a difficult pitcher to hit is also one of the most feared hitters in the game. Ohtani leads the league in intentional walks. Since 1955, when tracking of intentional walks began, only three hitters have hit 44 homers, stolen 23 bases and led the league in intentional walks: Barry Bonds ('93), Ken Griffey Jr. ('99) and Ohtani.
At this time of year, it’s worth a reminder that the MVP is awarded to the most valuable player of the year, not of the past two months or of the pennant race. As teams stopped pitching to Ohtani in a thinned Angels lineup, Guerrero has seized the opportunity to state his case. It’s still not enough. Need convincing? In honor of No. 17, here are 17 more reasons why Ohtani is one of one:
1. With his hitting and pitching, Ohtani is personally responsible for deciding 1,087 plate appearances—that’s more than Babe Ruth, his only legit two-way comparison, accounted for in 1918 (1,042) and 1919 (1,033).
2. Ohtani leads Guerrero in bWAR 8.1–6.8.
3. Guerrero is not the outright leader in WAR on his own club. He is tied with Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray. The last player to win the MVP who did not lead his team in WAR was Miguel Cabrera in 2012. He trailed a pitcher on the Tigers, Justin Verlander.
4. Until Ohtani, no player in baseball history hit more than nine home runs in a season while also starting more than 20 games on the mound. Ohtani has hit 44.
5. Until Ohtani, no player had ever been selected to the All-Star Game as a pitcher and a hitter. Ohtani was the leadoff hitter and winning pitcher for the AL.
6. Ohtani is the eighth pitcher to strike out 10.6 batters per nine and win 80% of his decisions (min. 22 starts). The others are Gerrit Cole, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Corey Kluber, Blake Snell, Clayton Kershaw and Charlie Morton. Those seven combined for five home runs in their careers.
7. Only four AL players ever hit 44 homers and stole 23 bases in a season: Jose Canseco (twice), Alex Rodriguez, Griffey and Ohtani.
8. Ohtani leads the majors in slugging by left-handed batters against left-handed pitchers (.629). He slugs higher against lefties than does Guerrero, a righty.
9. Ohtani hits .391 in high leverage at bats. On the mound in those same spots, he allows an .097 batting average.
10. With runners in scoring position, Ohtani allows a batting average of .128—tied with Pete Richert (1965) for the third lowest ever since such stats have been tracked (min. 22 starts). He trails only Blake Snell (.088 in 2018) and Max Scherzer (.110 in 2021).
11. Facing hitters a third time in a game, Ohtani allows a batting average of .165—the lowest in the league this year and second in MLB only to Scherzer (.145) among pitchers who have faced at least 100 hitters the third time around.
12. Ohtani and Fernando Tatis Jr. are the only players with at least 35 homers and 16 infield hits.
13. Ohtani sees a fastball in the zone only 22.2% of the time—the lowest such rate in MLB other than Randy Arozarena of the Rays (21.8%).
14. Since Aug. 1, with Phil Gosselin most often hitting behind him, Ohtani has seen only 43.3% of pitches in the strike zone, the fourth lowest rate in baseball and down from the 45.9% he saw in the first four months (seventh lowest).
15. Guerrero is surrounded in the lineup by five other Toronto hitters with at least 200 total bases. Ohtani has one.
16. Ohtani takes the extra base 45% of the time, well above the averages for the league (40%) and Guerrero (36%).
17. Ohtani’s split-finger fastball is the toughest pitch to hit among all pitches thrown by all pitchers (min. 100 at-bats): .067. He has thrown 538 splitters in his career and never allowed a home run on the pitch.
More MLB Coverage:
• The Ohtani Rules
• Salvador Perez's Career Year Bucks Trend for Aging Catchers
• Vlad Jr.'s Epic Year Shows the Limit of a Triple Crown
• Blue Jays' Bashing Offense Is the Answer to MLB's Woes
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