Shohei Ohtani has Angels manager Joe Maddon’s vote for MVP
Vladimir Guerrero clinched the American League most valuable player award and carried the Angels into the playoffs with a furious finish in 2004, a season current manager Joe Maddon spent as the team’s bench coach.
The future Hall of Famer hit .386 with a 1.319 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 11 homers and 23 RBIs in his final 23 games. The Angels, three games back in the AL West on Sept. 24, won seven of their last nine to win the division by one game.
Seventeen years later, Guerrero’s son is following in his father’s footsteps with a September surge that has vaulted the Toronto Blue Jays into playoff contention and the 22-year-old slugger into a race with Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani for the AL MVP.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is on a tear, batting .372 with a 1.119 OPS, 10 homers and 14 RBIs in 22 games entering Tuesday, a streak that has put the first baseman within reach of a rare Triple Crown.
The Blue Jays went 17-5 in those games to move into the second wild-card spot, half a game ahead of the New York Yankees, entering Tuesday. Toronto was 5½ games out of the second wild card on Aug. 28.
It’s unlikely Jo Adell will return from injury this season, but he hopes he has made enough progress to lock in an everyday roster spot in 2022.
“This kid is doing the same thing his Daddy did,” Maddon, speaking before Tuesday night’s 10-5 loss to the Houston Astros, said of Guerrero Jr. “He’s a lot like his Daddy except he has a better eye at the plate.”
Though Guerrero Jr. is barreling down the trail his father blazed in 2004, Maddon said there is “no doubt” who deserves the league’s most coveted award.
“Ohtani is the MVP,” he said. “It’s just his entire body of work. Everything is there regarding what he’s done as a position player, but then you have this other thing, this additive to include, that nobody even comes close to.”
That “other thing,” of course, is pitching. In addition to a .257 average, .951 OPS, 45 homers, 95 RBIs, 95 runs and 23 stolen bases, the right-hander has established himself as one of the league’s best pitchers, with a 9-2 record and 3.28 ERA in 22 starts, 146 strikeouts and 44 walks in 123 1/3 innings. Ohtani hit his 45th homer, a 445-foot shot to right field, Tuesday night against the Astros.
Ohtani, who was selected to the All-Star game as a pitcher and hitter, is a two-way star with the emphasis on “star,” a dynamic player with the ability to crush 450-foot homers and combine triple-digit fastballs with a devastating split-fingered pitch, a skill set that has not been seen since Babe Ruth 100 years ago.
“What Vladdy Jr. is doing has been done,” Maddon said. “What Shohei is doing now has never been done. It’s just unparalleled. It’s one of the best years, maybe the best year in the history of the game, by a baseball player. If that’s not recognized independent of championships, then I don’t know when it would be.”
Ohtani was the heavy favorite for MVP at the All-Star break, when he was batting .279 with a 1.062 OPS, 33 homers and 70 RBIs in 84 games and had a 4-1 record and 3.49 ERA in 13 starts.
But a sluggish second half at the plate — Ohtani was batting .219 with a .770 OPS, 11 homers and 24 RBIs in 59 second-half games entering Tuesday — cracked the door open for Guerrero.
“I’m sure it has,” Maddon said of Guerrero’s MVP candidacy gaining steam, “and I think that’s the reason you’re seeing this dialogue.”
Guerrero led the AL with a .320 average and 46 homers and was tied for fourth with 105 RBIs, 10 behind Kansas City’s Salvador Perez, entering Tuesday. He also led the AL in on-base percentage (.410), slugging (.614), OPS (1.024) and runs (119).
But the Blue Jays lineup features another 40-homer slugger — Marcus Semien — and four 20-homer hitters in Teoscar Hernandez, Bo Bichette, Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Injuries to Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Justin Upton have forced the Angels to bat Phil Gosselin behind Ohtani for much of the last two months. According to Baseball Savant, Ohtani has seen only 43.3% of pitches in the strike zone since Aug. 1, the fourth-lowest rate in baseball.
The Angels look to close out their series against the Houston Astros on a high note and end their six-game losing streak.
“Guerrero is surrounded by different hitters, as opposed to what our guy is surrounded by,” Maddon said. “Ohtani has been doing this pretty much on an island.”
That Guerrero has exceled under pennant-race pressure, while Ohtani’s team has been out of the race for months, should boost Guerrero’s MVP credentials. So would a Triple Crown.
Of the 12 Triple Crown performances since 1920, seven, including Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012, have led to MVP awards; the only exceptions are Ted Williams in 1942 and 1947, Lou Gehrig in 1934, Chuck Klein in 1933 and Rogers Hornsby in 1922.
Ohtani’s offense might not measure up to Guerrero in some categories, but Guerrero has not thrown a pitch. And no other pitcher in baseball could dream of doing what Ohtani does in the batter’s box.
All of which should make Ohtani the MVP, Maddon said.
“If you look at the entire body of work,” Maddon said, “there is no discussion.”
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