AP21240073674451

Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) stands in the dugout before a baseball game against the San Diego Padres Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The race for AL Most Valuable Player is more like a chase, with everyone else in pursuit of Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani. And it’s not really a fair competition. Keep that in mind when comparing AL MVP to the other races we’ve looked at — like NL Cy Young and the AL, along with NL Rookie of the Year, the AL race, and NL MVP from earlier Friday. Let’s see where the contenders for AL MVP stand with the regular season about five weeks from its finish.

Using data from Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference and Baseball Prospectus to make an average of his wins above replacement (WAR), Ohtani was more than two full runs ahead of the next player, Blue Jays slugger Marcus Semien, coming into action Friday night. With just 30-something games left in the regular season, it would take a herculean effort by pursuers like Semien and teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr., along with a huge collapse by the leader, for it to happen.

It all comes down to something no one else can match: Ohtani performs in the batter’s box and on the mound — and not like Willians Astudillo pitching mop-up duty, as good as that seems to go for him and the Twins. Ohtani’s case is different. Literally unique. A handful of hitters might have better numbers offensively. The AL Cy Young might go to another pitcher. But nobody does more things better than Ohtani, who has combined hitting and pitching at a level never before achieved in Major League Baseball. Babe Ruth could pitch and he could hit, and the Negro Leagues had its share of players who pulled double duty, but considering the level of competition and anything else you can measure, Ohtani is the first of his kind.

Ohtani’s quest for MVP could be derailed only by two circumstances: fatigue or injury. And it does seem like he might be getting tired. 

Since the start of August, Ohtani is batting ​​.225/.364/.425 with four homers and 30 strikeouts covering 99 plate appearances. It’s not hard to believe, given all that Ohtani has asked himself to do this season, including the Home Run Derby and starting as a pitcher in the All-Star Game, that he might hit a slump. But the MLB regular season is a tough grind even for the best players. Until his recent blow-up against the Orioles, Ohtani had been pitching the best games of his career. The amount of physical and mental energy it takes to prepare for and execute the work of two players in one body must be extraordinary. Ohtani is pushing himself like no other ballplayer ever has. The results have been unprecedented, but it’s also possible Ohtani might be leaving an opening to be overtaken.

So far in August, Guerrero was slumping too, batting .242/.343/.347 with three homers in 24 games. Semien has been solid in that span, batting .252/.312/.576. As the closest pursuers, either will need a stronger September to give AL MVP voters something to think about.

Featured Podcast

See all