Sep 18, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge (99) hits a home run during the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Judge's production should be enough, in a just world, for him to win American League MVP. It's just too bad that Shohei Ohtani exists.

Judge hit a pair of home runs Sunday, Nos. 58 and 59, to bring him closer to the single-season AL record of 61, which was set by New York Yankees legend Roger Maris in 1961. In doing so, Judge also raised his slash line to .316/.419/.701 to go with a league-leading 127 RBIs, which puts him just a few batting average points from leading the traditional Triple Crown categories. Judge even leads some non-traditional Triple Crown categories, like on-base percentage and isolated power, if you want to get a little nerdy. He's having one of the best hitting seasons in recent history, surely tops since Barry Bonds at his most extreme, and his contemporaries just can’t compare: Judge has 20 more home runs than the next person in line (Kyle Schwarber of the Phillies), a gap not seen in MLB history since 1928.

Ohtani still has that distinction beat. He's hitting and pitching concurrently like no one else — ever — even Ohtani himself a year ago when the Los Angeles Angels two-way wizard won AL MVP for the first time. In his most recent start, Ohtani blanked the Seattle Mariners, a likely playoff team, striking out eight over seven innings in a 2-1 victory. Any argument about Ohtani not playing in any meaningful games since May, as detractors sometimes say, becomes doubly empty (if doubling emptiness is a thing).

Ohtani is not hitting like Judge, but other than Judge and Yordan Álvarez of the Houston Astros, nobody is having a clearly better season at the plate than Ohtani. He has a chance to finish the regular season as the third-best hitter in the league AND finish as the AL’s third-best pitcher (or better!). It's not going to be easy for the electorate, which has to get its collective heads around Ohtani being as good of a hitter as José Ramírez and a better pitcher than Gerrit Cole in the same season.

Judge is out of this world, but Ohtani is from a second dimension.


Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani throws to a Seattle Mariners batter during the first inning of a baseball game in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Even though he was acknowledged widely as the best two-way threat in the history of pro baseball, Ohtani didn't receive any Cy Young votes a year ago. Not first, not second, not 99th. He’s not hitting as potently as he did in 2021, but he’s close. What’s not close is how much better he has pitched. It's in this context Ohtani said: "Overall, balance-wise, I'm having a better season this year than I had last year."

And Judge still could win MVP anyway. There is a good chance, actually, that he will. Judge likely has several factors in his favor as we get closer to the balloting deadline for the BBWAA.

• His stats. Just look at them. But specifically, surpassing the Maris mark and winning a Triple Crown (or just being close) figuratively screams "Vote for me for MVP!" People will.

• The Yankees are in first place in the AL East, and Judge is their best player by a wide margin. Many voters frequently care about how an MVP candidate's performance relates to making his team a winner. "Where would they be without him?" The Angels, alas, are not a winning team. At least one voter (perhaps more) will ding Ohtani because the Angels are 18 games under .500. "If he's so good, why did his team stink?" Yes, that's right, Shohei: Why didn't you do MORE?

• Recall that Ohtani won AL MVP last year and, although most (or all) of the voters will be different people this time, there might be a collective preference to give someone else a chance to be MVP. On that note, are any of the voters going to remember how Judge (after the fact) thought he was robbed by José Altuve for AL MVP in 2017 because of the Astros cheating scandal? A few voters might lump it together into a "It's time to give Judge his day" argument.

For the “stats only” crowd, Judge leads Ohtani in WAR, no matter which platform one uses — Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus. People might even cherry-pick and say: “Judge’s hitting WAR is three times better than Ohtani's! There’s no way Ohtani’s pitching is more valuable.” That's delusional. When it was new, people used to joke: "WAR: What is it good for?" Well, in the case of deciding the AL MVP, the answer might actually be "absolutely nothing,” like the song went.

Here's why.

The stat Wins Above Replacement presumes we can find a replacement player in the first place. For example only, if Judge's performance is worth 10 wins, AJ Pollock's is worth one win. Not everyone agrees, but we can’t use WAR with Ohtani — because he's the only player like himself, with apologies to Michael Lorenzen. If MLB secretly switched them and put Ohtani on the Yankees and Judge on the Angels, what would happen? The Yankees would still be a contender of some kind. Or maybe not, but nobody should care. Because even if the Angels had a better offense with Judge, he'd get obliterated every time he tried to pitch.

Judge is having a better hitting season than Ohtani — by 20%, 30%, 40% — something like that. Established. Asked and answered, your honor. But Judge wouldn’t hack it on the mound.

He might win MVP and probably will, but as long as Judge can't get anybody out, he's never going to be in Shohei's league of one.

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