AL MVP Race: Cases for Aaron Judge, Shohei Ohtani; odds, stats, predictions

The 2022 MLB season has provided us with one of the most fascinating MVP races of all time.

On the West Coast, Los Angeles Angels pitcher/outfielder Shohei Ohtani is putting together an absolutely unique season. He has a 2.55 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 141 innings, making him one of the best pitchers in the world. He also has hit 34 home runs at the plate and has been 45% better than the average major-league hitter by wRC+ (weighted runs created plus). Essentially, he has been a top-five pitcher and a top-10 hitter while doing both jobs full-time.

On the East Coast, New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge is pursuing history. As of Sept. 15, he has 57 home runs, on pace to break the American League record of 61. He has been easily the best hitter in the world, carried the Yankees all season and leads all of baseball in Fangraphs WAR (9.8) by a wide margin. (All stats through Thursday, Sep. 15).

As the season comes to a close, we’ll keep you updated on how each player is doing while outlining their cases for the AL MVP award.

The definitive case for Shohei Ohtani

The only way we can even measure Ohtani against others is to split him into two players, and both Ohtani the hitter and Ohtani the pitcher compare favorably to most of their peers. Both versions of him would be in the running for the MVP and Cy Young awards. There is precedent for players to win with production just like his.

The 2021 NL Cy Young, the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes, finished that season with a 2.43 ERA over 167 innings. He was dominant enough to strike out 12.6 batters per nine innings. Ohtani the pitcher is on pace to finish 2022 with 158 innings at a 2.55 ERA. He has been dominant enough to strike out 12 batters per nine innings. This is a Cy Young-caliber season. 

Ben Verlander breaks down the AL MVP race

With the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and the Yankees’ Aaron Judge battling for the AL MVP, Ben Verlander explains who he believes should win.

The 2016 NL MVP, the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, logged 39 homers and a 146 OPS+, 46% better than league average as a hitter after factoring in the league and ballparks in which he played. Yes, Bryant played the field, and Ohtani the hitter is a designated hitter. He’s a DH on pace to finish 2022 with 39 homers and a 148 OPS+. This is an MVP-caliber season. 

For more on why Ohtani deserves to win, read Pedro Moura’s full column.

The definitive case for Aaron Judge

Judge’s offensive performance this year is light years better than anyone else in baseball. Kyle Schwarber has 37 home runs, the second-most in baseball. He trails Judge by 20.

That 20-tater gap between leader and runner-up on the home run leaderboard is the largest in baseball history for a season that did not involve Babe Ruth.

From Aug. 2 to Sept. 3, the Yankees went 9-20, scoring an average of 3.29 runs per game. Over that span, Yankees not named Aaron Judge posted a .204 average, a .266 on-base percentage and a .304 slugging percentage, good for a microscopic .570 team OPS. During that same run of games, Judge tossed out a .282/.454/.608 line with an 1.063 OPS, contributing, per weighted runs created, to about a third of his team’s runs. If that wasn’t enough, he also started in center field for 11 of those games.

In the same situation, with that same level of immense pressure, Ohtani might have been just as good. But that’s a guessing game. The fact of the matter is that Judge was that good, he did those things, we saw them. For a month, he kept the world’s most famous baseball team afloat, steering them clear of what would have been the single worst regular season collapse in baseball history.

For more on why Aaron Judge deserves to win, read Jake Mintz’s full column.

Ben Verlander on Shohei’s case

FOX Sports MLB analyst Ben Verlander is posting Tiktok videos on why Ohtani deserves to win the award. 

You can follow Verlander here to see more.

Is it time for another award?

Both players are having years more than worthy of the award. Pedro Moura makes the case for a way to honor Ohtani as well as Judge.

“One possible path could be the creation of some sort of Hitter of the Year honor. Call it the Platinum Slugger, call it whatever you want, but have it supersede the nine hitters who win Silver Sluggers per league, much like the Platinum Glove does for each league’s nine Gold Gloves annually. Major League Baseball could let Baseball Writers’ Association of America members decide the winner, as is done for the Cy Young. Or it could be determined by fan vote, as is done for the Platinum Glove. That might drum up additional interest.”

John Smoltz weighs in

John Smoltz reveals who’s getting his vote for AL MVP during a discussion with Ben Verlander on “Flippin’ Bats.”

Judge chasing history

Judge is on pace to break the American League home run record of 61 in a season. You can follow his pursuit of Roger Maris’ record in our tracker.

Aaron Judge chasing immortality

Ben Verlander welcomes Deesha Thosar to talk about Aaron Judges’ pursuit of the Yankees’ single-season home run record.

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