Column: Angels’ Shohei Ohtani’s versatility has case for him to claim MVP again
The changeup struck him above the elbow protector on his right arm.
Shohei Ohtani grimaced and doubled over. The Coliseum was silent.
Ohtani trudged to first base, where Seth Brown said something to him. Ohtani embraced the Oakland Athletics first baseman. Ohtani smiled and gave a thumbs-up to pitcher Cole Irvin.
Ohtani stayed in the game. He still had a chance.
He remains on schedule to be the starting pitcher for the Angels on Wednesday in their season finale, which keeps alive his efforts to earn one of the most remarkable distinctions in baseball history.
A day after Aaron Judge established a single-season American League home run record, Ohtani also will be looking to make history. The achievement should be a reminder of why Ohtani, and not Judge, deserves to be the American League’s most valuable player.
The next inning Ohtani pitches will be his 162nd of the season, the number required for him to qualify for the earned-run average title.
He also has the necessary number of at-bats to qualify for the batting crown.
In other words, by registering three more outs, he will do something no player has ever done.
No player has ever been a qualifying player as a pitcher and hitter.
Ohtani would be the first.
“A few weeks ago, he knew he needed a certain amount of innings,” Angels outfielder Mike Trout said. “And when he has his mind on something, he’s doing it.”
Angels catcher Kurt Suzuki is playing the final games of his 16-year MLB career against the Oakland Athletics, the team that drafted him in 2004.
Public enthusiasm over Ohtani’s two-way act has diminished with time, perhaps because it’s beyond comprehension. Or perhaps because his resounding success has camouflaged the difficulty of what he’s attempting.
Whatever the case, the upcoming milestone should provide useful context.
He’s a full-time hitter who performs at an All-Star level. He’s also a full-time pitcher who performs at an All-Star level.
This season has marked the complete realization of a plan the Angels put in place last year.
Ohtani has more at-bats than Judge, Mookie Betts and Paul Goldschmidt. He’s pitched more innings than Nestor Cortes, Brandon Woodruff and Zack Wheeler.
Ohtani is an everyday presence in the Angels’ lineup. He is also a regular member of the team’s rotation, the Angels treating him like every other starter, extra days off not built into his schedule.
His home runs are down from his MVP season last year, but so is his strikeout rate. His batting average is up. He entered Tuesday batting .275 with 34 home runs and 95 runs batted in.
On the mound, he’s 15-8 with a 2.35 ERA. He has 213 strikeouts. He will go into the final day of the season with four more starts than he made last year and 31 more innings pitched.
He’s one of the top five hitters in the AL, he’s one of the five best pitchers in the AL, and he takes up only one roster spot.
“Judge is having one of the most historic seasons of all-time …,” Chicago Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman posted on Twitter, “but how do you not give the MVP to Ohtani? What he’s doing has never been done before and may never happen again! Both players are more than deserving! There’s no wrong answer!”
Stroman was right. Cases could be made for both players.
Here’s the difference: What Judge did this year has been done before. Judge’s 62 home runs are 11 short of Barry Bonds’ single-season record. Sammy Sosa bettered Judge’s total three times, Mark McGwire twice.
What Ohtani is doing has never been done before, not even by Babe Ruth.
But if Ohtani is awarded the MVP this year, does that mean he should win the prize every year forward in which he remains healthy and performs at this level?
To repeat: What Ohtani is doing has never been done before.
During Mike Trout’s end-of-the-season media availability Tuesday, the AngelS star said this season has been “frustrating” despite putting up big stats.
This is sort of like asking if a player should be the MVP in every season in which he hits 80 home runs.
Judge certainly will be favored by a segment of MVP voters who will take into consideration the New York Yankees’ place in the standings, as if the Angels wouldn’t still be a sub-.500 team if they had Judge instead of Ohtani.
Replace Judge with Ohtani on the Yankees and the Yankees are probably still in first place — plus, they wouldn’t have had to trade four prospects for pitcher Frankie Montas at the trade deadline.
Once again, this isn’t to say Judge doesn’t have a legitimate claim to the MVP award. He does. But the competition shouldn’t be anywhere near as one-sided as portrayed by the New York tabloids, with Ohtani’s claim even more convincing. One more inning on the final day of the season should bring that into focus.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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