By Ben Verlander
FOX Sports MLB Analyst
The 2022 AL MVP debate has been intensifying late. It’s one of the most divisive topics in sports, and for good reason; both contenders are having extremely impressive seasons.
Aaron Judge is putting together one of the best offensive seasons in MLB history while leading the first-place New York Yankees.
Shohei Ohtani continues to do things that have never been seen before. He’s putting up great numbers at the plate and fantastic numbers on the mound and doing so for a Los Angeles Angels team that has been on the wrong side of .500 for months.
Related: Watch Judge chase the American League home run record Thursday night against the Red Sox at 7:15 pm ET on FOX.
For some people, the argument becomes, “Are you really that valuable if your team isn’t winning?”
The answer is yes.
Baseball is different from the other major American sports.
In basketball, if the MVP is on your team, you’re going to make the playoffs. Think about LeBron James. In his prime, he could go to any team at any time and make it a contender.
In football, nearly all MVPs are quarterbacks. If your team has the best QB, guess what? You’re going to make the playoffs.
Baseball isn’t that way. You could have the best player in the world and still not field a very good team. For the past decade, the best player in the world has been Mike Trout. The Angels’ center fielder has won three MVP awards and played in one postseason series. The Angels were swept in three games.
Related: FOX Sports’ AL MVP hub, with stats, updates and cases for both Judge and Ohtani
In football, the MVP of the league has failed to make the playoffs only twice: Johnny Unitas in 1967 and OJ Simpson in 1973.
In basketball, it has happened only one time. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the only player in NBA history who won the MVP award and didn’t make the playoffs. That happened in the 1975-76 season.
When was the last time it happened in baseball? Look no further than 2021, when the MVP in both leagues missed out on the playoffs: Bryce Harper in the National League and Shohei Ohtani in the American League.
Shohei Ohtani vs Aaron Judge: AL MVP update as the race heats up
Ben Verlander and Alex Curry give a weekly American League MVP update as Judge and Ohtani make their cases.
In the past six years, five of the 12 MVP winners in Major League Baseball have failed to make the playoffs.
You can’t fault a baseball player for the talent around him. If the Yankees and Angels swapped Judge for Ohtani, the Angels still wouldn’t be a good team. The Yankees would still likely win the AL East. So why are we penalizing a player for those he’s surrounded by?
The reason it’s so different in baseball is that no matter how valuable you are, there are eight other players who need to hit, and there are 27 outs to create on the other end. Most of the game is out of one player’s control.
But what if I were to tell you there is one player who does BOTH things at an elite level? Wouldn’t that player generally be considered the most “valuable” in the league?
Well, that player is Shohei Ohtani.
The value of Ohtani comes from his ability to both pitch and hit at an elite level. And he’s not just doing both as a gimmick; he’s really good at both.
You’re getting all of that talent, all of that value, out of one roster spot. From that one spot, you’re getting a middle-of-the-lineup bat as well as the ace of your staff, and you’re leaving an extra roster spot, which adds value on its own.
On the mound, Ohtani is having a comparable season to Braves ace Max Fried. Take a look:
Fried: 13 wins, 2.52 ERA (164 ERA+, meaning he’s 64% better than league average), 159 K, 2.79 FIP
Ohtani: 13 wins, 2.43 ERA (165 ERA+, 65% better than league average) 196 K, 2.44 FIP
At the plate, Ohtani compares favorably to Braves MVP candidate Austin Riley.
Riley: .276 batting average, 34 HRs, 92 RBIs, .891 OPS (143 OPS+, 43% better than league average)
Ohtani: .268 average, 34 HRs, 89 RBIs, .891 OPS (148 OPS+, 48% better than league average)
Shohei Ohtani continues to rewrite MLB history
Ben Verlander talks about Shohei Ohtani’s latest dominance on the mound and at the plate as he nears a new milestone.
Is Ohtani having an offensive season as good as Judge’s? No. But that has never been the argument.
Judge is absolutely having an MVP season. He will almost certainly break the American League home run record. He’s bearing down on the first Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera in 2012. He’s doing it all while playing for the first-place Yankees.
But Ohtani is Max Fried plus Austin Riley in one.
As long as there’s a player capable of pitching and hitting at an elite level, he will be difficult to beat. What Ohtani is doing is beyond rare. It’s unprecedented.
And that’s why I believe the most valuable player is Shohei Ohtani.
Ben Verlander is an MLB analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter @Ben Verlander.
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