Angels' mess might cost Ohtani another MVP award

July 19, 2022 09:50 PM
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Only a fool would attempt to discredit Shohei Ohtani’s talents as a two-way baseball player. At the same time, it’s not foolish to debate whether he deserves to repeat as American League MVP because there’s an argument to be made against the Angels star.

The Angels are again a miserable mess, 14 games below .500 at the All-Star break, and the team’s futility is the primary anti-Ohtani argument. I disagree, for the record, but am willing to listen to the other side of the story.

I’m also listening because of Aaron Judge, who’s making a strong case to be MVP, and it’s possible to have immense appreciation for Ohtani and still be pro-Judge. The Yankees own the best record in baseball, and Judge has a lot to do with the success.

“It’s Judge and it’s not that close at this point,” said Wayne Krivsky, who has had an extensive career in baseball management and is a former general manager of the Cincinnati Reds. “I just think it means something to be on a winning or contending team.”

The AL MVP race is close, at least according to oddsmakers. DraftKings lists Ohtani as the -115 favorite, with Judge as the second choice at 150. The Westgate SuperBook is even higher on Ohtani at -175.

DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said the price on Ohtani “is probably based on money, not opinion,” and he’s of the opinion the wrong player is favored.

“I think Judge should be the favorite,” Avello said. “It has to be factored in how a team is doing. Judge has helped his team win. Ohtani has helped his team, but they haven’t won, and you can’t do it yourself in baseball.”

Judge leads the major leagues with 33 home runs and ranks third in RBIs with 70. He’s batting .284 and has played in 89 of the team’s 92 games.

Ohtani’s offensive numbers come up short by comparison. He’s batting .258 with 19 homers and 56 RBIs while also playing in 89 of 92 games. But as a pitcher, Ohtani is about as good as it gets, going 9-4 in 15 starts with a 2.38 ERA and 0.99 WHIP.

Strikeouts are another interesting stat to consider. In 87 innings, Ohtani has compiled 123 strikeouts — that’s 12.7 strikeouts per 9 innings, better than Yankees ace Gerrit Cole’s 11.7. Some say Ohtani strikes out too much at the plate, and he has whiffed 91 times in 333 at-bats, but that’s better than Judge’s 100 strikeouts in 338 at-bats.

In the Wins Above Replacement category, which many numbers nerds lean on, Ohtani has a combined 4.9 WAR (3.2 pitching, 1.7 hitting) and Judge checks in at 4.4.

All things considered, the MVP race is close. The biggest difference is the Yankees are 64-28 and the Angels are 39-53, but it’s not Ohtani’s fault he’s starring for the majors’ version of “The Bad News Bears.”

Since the beginning of June, the Angels are 6-1 in Ohtani’s starts on the mound and 6-29 when anyone else starts. From May 25 to June 8, the Angels lost 14 games in a row. Ohtani ended the losing streak by beating the Red Sox 5-2, a game in which he pitched seven innings and allowed one run and also hit a two-run homer. In a jam at one point in that game, he struck out Boston’s Rafael Devers with a 101 mph fastball.

“Ohtani is an amazing talent,” said Krivsky, who lives in Las Vegas. “You can’t knock the guy. Nobody can do what he does. He’s a real phenomenon with freakish ability. He’s always had elite stuff, but he’s quickly becoming an elite pitcher, a huge difference. I wouldn’t call him an elite hitter, but he certainly has elite power.

“As for MVP, I put more emphasis on a position player on a winning/contending/playoff-caliber team. From my perspective, it’s more difficult performing at a high level day in and day out on a pennant-contending team, and I lean heavily to the position player side for this award.”

For a majority of the past decade, Angels outfielder Mike Trout was regarded as the best player in baseball. Trout won AL MVP awards in 2014, 2016 and 2019, and the Angels’ records in those years were 98-64, 74-88 and 72-90, respectively. Trout’s only postseason appearance was in 2014, and he has zero career playoff wins.

To the voters’ credit, Ohtani won MVP last year while playing for another hopeless Angels team that finished 77-85. He appeared in 156 games, hitting .257 with 46 homers and 100 RBIs while also posting a 9-2 record in 23 pitching starts. How can a player be more valuable than that?

It says a lot about the incompetence within the Angels’ organization that they cannot win with “Shotime” and Trout. It’s sad, really.

“Winning doesn’t matter in the MVP, at least in how they vote,” Westgate baseball oddsmaker Ed Salmons said. “I guess it doesn’t matter because Trout was MVP on bad teams. Ohtani’s a top-10 pitcher and he’s hitting 40 home runs. The difference now is Ohtani is pitching way better than he did last year. He has been incredible this year.”

Ohtani is the 700 fourth choice on the Westgate AL Cy Young odds board. The even-money favorite is the Rays’ Shane McClanahan, who started the All-Star Game.

“I value Ohtani more highly for the Cy Young Award this year than MVP, not that he doesn’t deserve consideration,” Krivsky said. “I think he’s made huge strides on the pitching side in 2022, especially in terms of throwing more innings, and will probably qualify for the ERA title this year, unlike 2021.”

Judge was an MVP long shot when the season started, and Salmons said the Westgate took a $500 wager on Judge at 40-1 odds and a $1,000 bet at 25-1. Ohtani also has attracted heavy betting since opening at 9-2 odds.

While I believe Ohtani is more valuable as a two-way player and deserves the award, I would not complain if Judge wins a close vote. The current odds value is with Judge, and the Yankees’ far superior record seems likely to push him over the top.

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