Ohtani or Judge? Breaking down the MVP race

September 1st, 2022

This story was excerpted from Rhett Bollinger's Angels Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ANAHEIM -- It was a showdown between American League MVP candidates on Monday night with both Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge homering in front of a sold-out crowd at Angel Stadium.

Ohtani, the reigning AL MVP, remains firmly in the mix for the award this year despite Judge reaching 51 home runs on Tuesday. Ohtani has hit 29 blasts this year but has also posted a 2.67 ERA with 176 strikeouts over 128 innings in 22 starts on the mound. He has the highest strikeout rate among all qualified pitchers and the 11th-best ERA in the Majors.

Add it all up, and Ohtani has a case to be AL MVP for a second straight year despite Judge’s superior offensive numbers. It’s looking like it could be a close race down the stretch and Ohtani said his goal is to play as much as possible the rest of the season and let the chips fall where they may.

"Of course, it's important for a player to be able to have a season like this," Ohtani said through an interpreter. "I want to be able to keep this pace and continue to play in games. I've been able to see the ball pretty good, and it's leading to relatively good results."

Interim manager Phil Nevin also gave his opinion again on the subject on Monday. Nevin, who was the Yankees’ third-base coach from 2019-21, has a strong relationship with Judge but believes Ohtani is the MVP because of his ability to affect the game as an elite two-way player.

"What our guy does, until somebody can do that offensively and what he does on the mound, as far as value in this game and this league, I think it's Shohei,” Nevin said. “But I really love the guy across the field. I know what kind of special person he is."

Nevin was also pleased that Ohtani’s two-run homer proved to be the difference in Monday’s 4-3 win, while Yankees skipper Aaron Boone didn’t appear to be in the mood to marvel at Ohtani or the AL MVP race with his club suffering another loss in a tough August. 

“Ohtani hit a big homer against us that hurt us,” Boone said. “I certainly respect his talent and what he is to this sport. So, I mean, I have that respect and admiration for him and the way he goes about things, but I don't really get caught up in trying to appreciate the opponents -- especially when they're beating us."

Ohtani is set to make his next start on the mound on Saturday against the Astros, as the Angels will give him an extra day of rest after Thursday’s off-day. With another off-day coming on Sept. 8, Ohtani’s next start after that would also come against the Astros in Houston on Sept. 10.  He’s expected to make five more starts down the stretch, which gives him a strong chance of reaching 200 strikeouts for the first time in his career. He also has to get to 162 innings to be qualified for the ERA title.

“Any way you look at it, if you bump him up, he’s going to make the same amount of starts,” Nevin said. “It just works that way with some Saturdays and then a Friday. If we don’t have a day off, he’ll pitch every six days and if we do, he’ll pitch on the seventh day.”