Wednesday, February 21, 2024

MLB MVP races: Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in two-man race; Fernando Tatis Jr. leads pack in NL

We now have less than a month until the 2021 MLB playoffs begin. There’s still plenty of jockeying to be done in the standings and we track that on a daily basis with the playoff picture.

We’ll continue to check in weekly on MVP, though, so let’s do so right here. 

This assessment isn’t going to be necessarily how I would vote right now, but instead where I believe the vote would fall if it happened right now, based upon years of studying BBWAA voting tendencies and tracking heavily late in each season for the past decade-plus. And let me tell you, even with all that, the situation is very cloudy when it comes to stuff past the very top of the ballot. 

American League

As things stand, this is a two-man race with everyone else left in the dust. 

1. Shohei Ohtani, Angels

We’ve got the leader in home runs and slugging percentage who has also pitched well above average in 20 starts (2.97 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 135 strikeouts in 112 innings). He also has 23 stolen bases. The only thing going against Ohtani is his team being just 69-70, but let’s point out two factors: 

1. That isn’t a horrible record. They are mediocre, not bad. To those asking how valuable he could be, ask yourself what the Angels’ record would be this season if he suffered a season-ending injury in spring training. I have a hint for you, it wouldn’t be close to 69-70. 

2. As evidenced by what he’s done on the mound and at the plate, there’s only so much Ohtani can do to make his team win. He can’t bat or pitch any more frequently. It is a team sport, yes, but it’s a series of individual matchups and Ohtani frequently wins them both on the mound and at the plate. 

2. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Blue Jays

I still think, for now, that the two-way stardom of Ohtani is going to tip the scales, but Guerrero is making a furious charge. He leads the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, runs, hits, total bases, OPS+ and times on base. He’s second in slugging, third in home runs and fourth in RBI. With the Blue Jays surging toward a playoff spot, there’s a decent chance he can overcome the two-way prowess of Ohtani, though I feel he’s not there yet. I could be wrong, though. This feels razor thin right now.  

As noted earlier, there really isn’t anyone else in the ballpark here. It’s two players having other-worldly seasons. If either one was in the NL, we wouldn’t really have any MVP races. 

Those competing for third place probably include, in no particular order: Marcus Semien, Carlos Correa, Cedric Mullins, Salvador Perez, Matt Olson, Aaron Judge, Rafael Devers, Brandon Lowe, José Ramirez and José Abreu. 

If things continue on this path, we’ll hone in more on the race for third place in the coming weeks. 

National League

Now we’re talkin’ … 

The Frontrunner: Fernando Tatis, Jr., Padres

As the Padres cling to playoff position, I believe Tatis is clinging to the top spot here. He holds the lead on the position-player WAR leaderboard, but it’s only by 0.1 and there are six others within 0.6. Tatis leads the league in slugging percentage by a huge margin, which helps him to sit second in OPS — and lead in OPS+ — despite being outside the top 10 in on-base percentage. He’s also not in the top 10 in batting average. He’s got a big lead with 37 homers (Pete Alonso and Adam Duvall are tied for second with 32). 

Tatis is also third in runs, tied for seventh in RBI, is second in stolen bases and tied for second in extra-base hits.

Will the shoulder end up costing him? He’s played in 106 games and missed 32. 

Right on his heels

[Note: These are not ranked]

Max Muncy, Dodgers

One of the players trailing Tatis by just 0.1 WAR, Muncy has been a steadying presence in the Dodgers’ lineup this season while it has dealt with several key injuries and whatever has happened with Cody Bellinger. Muncy sits seventh in the league in OPS (sixth in OBP, eighth in SLG) and has 30 homers. He trails only Tatis, Harper and Soto in OPS+. 

Trea Turner, Dodgers

Turner is only 0.4 off the WAR lead while sitting in a virtual tie for the batting title right now. He leads the league in hits by 11 while also leading in steals. He’s fourth in total bases, sixth in runs, and is tied for seventh in homers. That’s some nice power for a table-setter. Turner took over as Dodgers’ leadoff man when Mookie Betts was on the injured list and the Dodgers have gone 22-6 with Turner hitting leadoff. 

Bryce Harper, Phillies

Ready for some rate stats? Harper is sixth in average, second in OBP, second in SLG, first in OPS and second in OPS+. He’s doing a heck of a job trying to carry that contending offense, as he has 28 homers (tied for seventh), 32 doubles (tied for fourth) but just 66 RBI. Part of that is being tied for second in walks. Part of it is that he isn’t getting much help. Per baseball-reference, the average hitter with Harper’s 497 plate appearances has come to bat with 299 runners on base this year. Harper has come up with just 264. He’s hit .301/.449/.452 with runners in scoring position and .327/.451/.556 with runners on base. At some, there’s only so much he can do. This is to say, ignore the RBI total and this case really comes into focus. 

Juan Soto, Nationals

The popular disqualifier on Soto will be that the Nationals are 57-81 and haven’t contended for a while. He’s also second in WAR, seventh in average, leads in OBP, is third in OPS, second in runs, third in OPS+ and — get this — leads the league in walks by 39(!). Couldn’t you argue a guy who pitched to so less often by opponents is the most valuable player, by virtue of everyone being too scared to face him? 

Still in the mix

Nick Castellanos, Joey Votto, Jesse Winker, Reds: Doubles-machine Castellanos is in a virtual tie for the batting title and is also third in slugging. Votto has been nuts since he came back from injury. Winker is fourth in OPS behind the monsters Harper, Tatis and Soto. Castellanos probably has the upper leg here, but all three are in similar territory. 

Austin Riley, Braves: What a breakout season. Riley is sixth in WAR, fourth in average, ninth in slugging, fourth in hits, tied for fifth in homers and sixth in RBI. While we’re on the Braves, Duvall has a shot to lead in home runs and RBI while Freddie Freeman leads in runs scored. Ozzie Albies leads in total bases and is tied for second in RBI. I think Riley is the top candidate right now, though. 

Bryan Reynolds, Pirates: He’s fifth in WAR, eighth in average, fifth in OBP, sixth in hits, tied for seventh in total bases and seventh in OPS+

Manny Machado, Padres: Still an exceptional defender at third base, Machado is fifth in RBI and eighth in WAR. 

Nolan Arenado, Cardinals: If they squeeze into the playoffs, he’s going to get a look. 

Brandon Crawford, Giants: The Giants are truly a sum of their parts, as they have the best record in baseball and barely show any position player anywhere on relevant top-10 leaderboards. Crawford probably has the best case since Buster Posey has only played in 93 games. 

Pitchers? The NL leader in WAR is Phillies ace Zack Wheeler, thanks to leading the majors in innings, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts in addition to his good run prevention. Believe it or not Reds starter Wade Miley is second. Dodgers starter Walker Buehler and Brewers starters Corbin Burnes and/or Brandon Woodruff could make noise and don’t forget about the new Dodgers ace, Max Scherzer. Oh, and let’s throw Kevin Gausman on here, given my note above on Crawford/Giants. 

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