The 2023 Major League Baseball regular season will be over at this time in two weeks. We know that Angels super-duper star Shohei Ohtani is and that his Angels are going to miss the playoffs, again. Will either of these factors conspire against Ohtani and prevent him from winning his second AL MVP in three seasons?
I’ve been asked if Ohtani should still win MVP by a good number of people, so let’s check it out.
First up, here are Ohtani’s final numbers: .304/.412/.654 (183 OPS+), 151 hits, 26 doubles, eight triples, 44 home runs, 95 RBI, 102 runs and 20 stolen bases. Also, on the mound he was 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 167 strikeouts compared to 55 walks in 132 innings.
Ohtani is going to lead the league in home runs, as he has a nine-bomb lead. He’s second in runs right now and will likely finish around the top five. He’s got a shot to hang around in the top 10 in RBI. He’s got a chance to hold on and lead in total bases. He’s going to finish in the top five in batting average, and he has a chance to lead in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.
All this from an All-Star caliber pitcher.
Simply, there’s no question that Ohtani has been far and away the best baseball player in the 2023 season. There are only two possible arguments against him winning the AL MVP and those would be that his teammates aren’t good enough — sorry, I mean the whole, tired, “if he’s so valuable, why doesn’t his team win more” nonsense — and that he didn’t play in enough games.
First up, we’ll deal with the argument that the MVP has to come from a contender. It’s insanity to me that some people treat this discussion like it’s basketball, where the best player to single-handedly dominate a game. A hitter can only bat once every nine times in the order and a starting pitcher only works once every five or six games. There’s only so much one player can do in baseball and anyone who thinks the most valuable players can somehow prop up a terrible supporting cast into, say, 90 wins just doesn’t understand how baseball works. The most valuable players are the best players. Any kind of mental gymnastics done to bestow “value” points on a player is done with an agenda.
But, sure, we’ll humor those people. If you want to argue that a player has to come from a contender and therefore Ohtani doesn’t deserve to win the MVP, we have to come up with a player who does deserve it.
The best bet here among contenders is Seager.
Seager is playing for a team that is fighting for a playoff spot. He’s hitting .337/.399/.651 with 41 doubles, 31 home runs, 92 RBI, 83 runs and the aforementioned 6.7 WAR. The Rangers have 13 games left. If Seager plays in every one of them, he’ll finish the season with 119 games played, or 16 fewer than Ohtani. The Rangers are 59-47 (.557) when he plays and 23-20 (.535) when he doesn’t.
There isn’t much arguing that Seager is having a phenomenal season and that he’s greatly valuable to the Rangers. They were certainly a worse team without him, but not exponentially so. Plus, in terms of Ohtani’s shortfall in games played, Seager can’t even get close to him there.
We’d run into issues with every player we put up against Ohtani.
- Marcus Semien, Rangers: He entered Sunday third in WAR after Ohtani and Seager. He’s hitting .276/.348/.465 with 37 doubles, four triples, 24 homers, 89 RBI, 112 runs and 14 stolen bases along with great defense at second base. It’s a great season, but not MVP-worthy.
- Julio Rodríguez, Mariners: Entering Sunday, Julio was hitting .290/.345/.504 (135 OPS+) with 35 doubles, two triples, 30 homers, 99 RBI, 95 runs, 36 steals and 5.8 WAR. He’s been amazing down the stretch, but his numbers are dwarfed by Ohtani’s.
- Gunner Henderson of the Orioles and Alex Bregman or Kyle Tucker on the Astros would also be the “best player on strong contenders,” but the numbers just don’t even come close to measuring up. For the Rays, it’s probably Yandy Díaz and the same thing applies.
We’re left with the strongest contender against Ohtani being Seager and he has a major shortfall on games played.
Speaking of the games played issue, Ohtani’s 135 shouldn’t pose an issue at all. Mike Trout won with 134 games played in 2019.
Also, keep in mind that we’re talking about a player with 135 games played as a designated hitter and 23 starts on the mound. There’s no way that’s too short of a season to earn MVP honors.
Basically, no, the injuries to Ohtani don’t do much to change the AL MVP race. It should still be Ohtani first and then everyone else.