Angels’ Ohtani’s versatility has case for him to claim MVP again

The switch hit him above the elbow pad on his right arm.

Shohei Ohtani grimaced and doubled over. The Colosseum was silent.

Ohtani trotted to first base where Seth Brown spoke to him. Ohtani hugged the Oakland Athletics first baseman. Ohtani smiled and gave pitcher Cole Irvin a thumbs-up.

Ohtani stayed in the game. He still had a chance.

He remains as scheduled as the starting pitcher for the Angels in their season finale Wednesday, keeping his efforts alive for one of the most notable awards in baseball history.

A day after Aaron Judge set a single-season home run record in the American League, Ohtani is also 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 will be Ohtani Pitches’ 162nd of the season, the number required for him to qualify for the Earned Run Average title.

He also has the necessary number of bats to qualify for the batting crown.

In other words, by registering three more outs, he will do something no player has ever done before.

No player has ever been a qualified player as a pitcher and hitter.

Ohtani would be first.

“A couple of weeks ago, he knew he needed a certain level of innings,” Angels outfielder Mike Trout said. “And when he sets his mind to something, he does it.”

Public enthusiasm for Ohtani’s brace has waned over time, perhaps because it’s incomprehensible. Or perhaps because his resounding success has camouflaged the difficulty of what he is attempting.

Either way, the upcoming milestone should provide useful context.

He’s a full-time slugger who plays at the All-Star level. He is also a full-time pitcher playing at the All-Star level.

This season marked the full implementation of a plan the Angels laid out last year.

Ohtani has more bats than Judge, Mookie Betts and Paul Goldschmidt. He’s pitched more innings than Nestor Cortes, Brandon Woodruff, and Zack Wheeler.

Ohtani is a common presence in the Angels lineup. He’s also a regular member of the team’s rotation, the Angels treat him like any other starter, with extra days off not built into his schedule.

His home runs are down compared to his MVP season last year, but so is his strikeout rate. His batting average has gone up. He started Tuesday with a .275 with 34 home runs and 95 runs hit.

Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani is greeted by his teammates after scoring on a double from Taylor Ward.

Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani is greeted by his teammates after scoring a double from Taylor Ward in the fifth inning against the Oakland Athletics in Oakland on Monday.

(D Ross Cameron / Associated Press)

On the mound he is 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 last year and 31 more innings.

He’s one of the top five players in the AL, he’s one of the top five pitchers in the AL, and he only holds one spot on the list.

“Judge is having one of the most historic seasons ever…” Chicago Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman posted on Twitter, “but how not to give Ohtani the MVP? What he is doing has never been done before and may never happen again! Both players are more than deserved! There is 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 fewer than Barry Bond’s single-season record. Sammy Sosa topped Judge’s overall rating three times and Mark McGwire twice.

What Ohtani does has never been done before, not even by Babe Ruth.

But if Ohtani is awarded MVP this year, does that mean he should win the award every year forward that he stays healthy and plays at this level?

Good yes.

To reiterate, what Ohtani is doing has never been done before.

That’s a bit like asking if a player should be MVP every season they hit 80 homers.

Judge is certainly favored by a segment of MVP voters who will consider 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 close.

Again, that’s not to say that Judge doesn’t have a legitimate claim to the MVP award. He does. But the competition shouldn’t be nearly as one-sided as New York tabloids make it out to be, with Ohtani’s claim being even more compelling. Another inning on the final day of the season should bring that into focus. Angels’ Ohtani’s versatility has case for him to claim MVP again

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