Ohtani. Guerrero. Semien. MVP voters got it right, as unfair as it might seem to a Blue Jays fan
Following almost any other season, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would have been the runaway winner of the American League most valuable player award. Just not in a year when Shohei Ohtani did things that had not been seen in almost a century.
The great debate about which player should receive the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s biggest award didn’t turn out to be much of a debate at all. Ohtani was the unanimous winner, receiving all 30 first-place votes, while Guerrero finished as the runner-up after being listed second on all but one ballot. Fellow Blue Jay Marcus Semien was third in the results released Thursday night.
There will be some who feel Guerrero was shortchanged by the lopsided vote, and it’s easy to understand why after the year he put together. The slugging 22-year-old had one of the best seasons in franchise history yet fell well shy of becoming the third Jay to win the award.
Guerrero finished his third season as a pro with the major-league lead in runs scored at 123 and was tied with Kansas City’s Salvador Pérez for the most home runs at 48. The Dominican also tied for the AL lead in on-base plus slugging percentage (1.002), tied for second in average (.311) and ranked fifth in RBIs (111). Per FanGraphs, he led all AL hitters with 6.7 wins above replacement.
Guerrero’s performance rivals any of the Jays’ top five all-time, ranking alongside Josh Donaldson in 2015, José Bautista in 2011, Carlos Delgado in 2000, John Olerud in 1993 and George Bell in 1987. Yet unlike Bell and Donaldson, Guerrero doesn’t have an MVP award to call his own, and he has Ohtani to blame.
“I’ve always dealt with a lot of doubters, especially from my days in Japan, but I tried to not let that pressure get to me,” Ohtani said through an interpreter shortly after winning the award. “I just tried to have fun and see what kind of numbers I could put up, what kind of performance I could put up.”
I was one of the BBWAA members who ranked Ohtani first, and after taking a closer look at the numbers it wasn’t that difficult a decision. For as good as Guerrero performed, Ohtani, a two-way star unlike any MLB has seen in recent memory, was that much better.
This would have been a different conversation if Ohtani was an average or even above-average designated hitter and starting pitcher, but he wasn’t. Ohtani put up elite numbers at both positions, and when his performance on both sides of the ball is combined it can only lead to one result.
Consider that Ohtani’s numbers on the mound were better than promising Jays right-hander Alek Manoah. Ohtani threw more innings (130 1/3 vs. 111 2/3), had a lower ERA (3.18 vs. 3.22) and finished with more strikeouts per nine innings (10.8 vs. 10.2). He also had a better fWAR (3.0 vs. 2.0).
Then consider Ohtani’s numbers at the plate were at least somewhat comparable to Semien, who was third on my ballot. Ohtani had the lower batting average (.257 vs. .265) and fewer RBIs (100 vs. 102), but more homers (46 vs. 45), a higher OPS (.965 vs. .873) and stole more bases (26 vs. 15).
Guerrero had an incredible year, but he wasn’t more valuable to the Jays than both those guys put together. Ohtani arguably was, which made this vote relatively easy for me. Based on Thursday’s tally, I wasn’t alone.
“It’s obviously my first time winning the MVP so that was special alone, but getting it unanimously makes it that much more special,” Ohtani said. “It helps me get motivated to keep putting up good numbers and get ready for the next season.”
There was an outside chance Guerrero would have received more support if he’d won the Triple Crown. He entered September with a realistic shot at being the league leader in homers, average and RBIs but fell short in two of those after a two-week dip saw him hit just .229 with a .648 OPS across 13 games in the middle of the month.
Finishing first in each category might have been enough to convince other voters to cast their ballots for Guerrero, but not this writer. Entering that final month, the only thing that would have cost Ohtani the award in my mind was either an injury that kept him out of action or a big drop in his performance. Neither of those things happened.
Some believe the MVP should only go to guys who play for a contending team, and I agree there should be increased value in performing well during meaningful games, but the rules for voting make no mention of that. Instead, the five points are centred on the value of a player to his team, number of games played and general character.
Ohtani checks off each of those boxes with ease.
Sure, the Jays wouldn’t have come close to making the post-season without Guerrero, but it’s equally apparent the Angels wouldn’t have sniffed 77 wins without the first true two-way star since the 1930s. Both players offered a ton of value. I’d argue Ohtani offered more.
In most years, Guerrero would have deserved a better fate. This season he finished where he should have, a very respectable second. Maybe in the future it will be different, but in the year of Ohtani there was only one logical choice for the league’s top award.