TEMPE, Ariz. — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. emerged as a superstar in 2021, turning in a season unlike we’d ever seen from a player in his Age 22 season.
The Blue Jays’ first baseman hit 48 home runs, scored 123 runs, had 111 RBIs and turned in a slash line of .311/.401/.604. In the entire history of the AL and NL, only 13 other players had ever recorded seasons matching or exceeding Guerrero’s output in all six categories (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle and Alex Rodriguez did it multiple times). No one had ever done it before his Age 24 season.
Junior Guerrero’s season was truly amazing.
And yet, he didn’t receive a single first-place vote in the AL MVP balloting. Shohei Ohtani won the award with all 30 first-place votes, and it wasn’t even a controversial result. In a season when Guerrero was historic, Ohtani was transcendent. The group he joined didn’t have 13 other members, it had zero other members.
Ohtani hit 46 home runs, stole 26 bases and had eight triples — no player in MLB history had ever posted those numbers in those three categories in the same season — to go with 100 RBIs, a .965 OPS and 4.9 bWAR as the Angels’ DH. He also was one of the better starting pitchers in the AL, posting a 3.18 ERA/3.52 FIP with 10.8 strikeouts per nine in 23 starts, with a 4.1 bWAR on the mound.
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So, yeah. Double-duty Ohtani got all 30 first-place votes and Guerrero collected 29 of the 30 second-place votes (Sal Perez got the other second-place tally). That raises the question: Can anyone other than Ohtani win the AL MVP in 2022? Or 2023? Or 2024?
He’s only 27, folks.
“It would be hard to see him not winning it if he’s healthy for a whole year,” Angels teammate David Fletcher told The Sporting News. “He works harder than anyone out here, and it’s nice to see all that pay off.”
Fletcher is not wrong.
The health element is key, obviously. Any sort of IL stint that involves a month or more opens the window. No doubt. But if he stays healthy?
“If he repeats what he did last year, or anything close to that, he’ll do it again,” Angels manager Joe Maddon told TSN. “It’s just about health. It’s about health.”
The truth is, we’re still all wrapping our baseball brains around what Ohtani accomplished last year. Nobody alive had ever seen anything like it. We lack any real context. Babe Ruth did both in 1919, but the sport of Ohtani’s era barely resembles the baseball of that era. Finding context and figuring out how to judge the value of one player who is an All-Star caliber hitter and an All-Star caliber pitcher is tough.
If he’s healthy and his power numbers drop 15 percent but his pitching numbers are 5 percent better, is he still the MVP? Yeah, almost certainly. If his ERA rises to 3.65 and he “only” hits 37 home runs, is he still the MVP? Yeah, probably. Because even though the baseball-watching public might compare seasons, MVP voters — two credentialed BBWAA members in each of the 15 AL cities — will not. They’ll compare Ohtani’s 2022 to every other player’s 2022, and it’s hard to see how a player making that much of an impact as a hitter and as a pitcher isn’t the most valuable player in the league.
So while we have these debates about what type of “drop” it would take in Ohtani’s stats to give someone else a shot at winning the MVP — they’re fun, I admit — keep this little tidbit in mind: Ohtani’s still getting better. Chance are very real that there will not be any drop at all, but that he just might post better numbers.
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“This guy is all about competing, and he’s got this real high baseball acumen, his IQ. He sees things, he knows things that it takes a long time for the average player to know,” Maddon said. “He’s quiet but when he opens up, all he’s been doing is observing and analyzing. When he pitches, you can give him the most elaborate scouting report possible, but I promise you he will adapt based on what he’s seeing in the moment. Same thing in the batter’s box. Same thing when he’s trying to steal a base. That’s just who he is. It’s just different. Give him credit. That’s how he grew up. He’s pretty much dedicated his whole life to the game, and that’s why you’re seeing what you’re seeing.”
And Maddon made sure to point out one more reason to think Ohtani could be even better at the plate in 2022.
“He’s going to get better on offense because the names are Trout, Rendon, Walsh, etcetera, etcetera. Last year he was naked (in the lineup) a lot of the season,” the Angels’ skipper said. “Last year, when people were critical of the end of the year, to me that just means you’re not paying attention. They were not pitching to him, and he was going out of his zone a bit just to try and help the team win. But if those other guys are in place, he’s not going to have to go through that again, thus you’re going to see a better result.”
He told reporters at the beginning of spring camp that he feels “a lot stronger than last year.” If that’s true?
“That’s pretty scary for the rest of the league,” Fletcher said with a grin.
Once again, Fletcher is not wrong.