MVP poll: AL race tightens; new NL leader

September 21st, 2021

A month ago, it looked as though both MVP Award races were close to being decided. But with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the National League race has a new frontrunner, while the American League race has tightened, at least according to our latest MVP poll.

As usual, we asked a panel of experts to rank their top three candidates in the AL and NL. Players were assigned a point total on a 5-3-1 scale (5 points for a first-place vote, 3 for a second-place vote, 1 for a third-place vote).

Here are the results. (Stats are through Sunday’s games.)


1) Shohei Ohtani, RHP/DH, Angels (56 first-place votes)
Ohtani remains the AL MVP favorite in the eyes of our panel, but his lead has narrowed. After receiving 90% of the first-place votes in August, Ohtani dropped to 78.9% this time. The Angels’ two-way superstar has lost his grip on MLB’s home run lead and is hitting .223/.353/.431 since the All-Star break after posting a .279/.364/.698 line in the first half.

Still, even with that slump and the Angels’ sub-.500 record, Ohtani probably has this award locked up. He not only has 44 homers, 23 steals and the third-best OPS+ (154) in the AL (min. 500 plate appearances) on offense but also the eighth-best ERA+ (135) and fifth-highest strikeout rate (28.9%) in the league (min. 120 innings). Combining Ohtani's contributions on both sides of the ball, his 8.1 wins above replacement total (per Baseball-Reference) is first in the Majors by a full win.

His impact can’t be overstated. He’s doing things we’ve never seen anyone else do in AL/NL history, Babe Ruth included.

2) Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, Blue Jays (15 first-place votes)
In a typical season, Guerrero would be the clear MVP. He’s flirting with the Triple Crown and leads the Majors in homers (46), hits (178), batting average (.321), runs scored (119) and total bases (342), and he leads the AL in OPS (1.029), all at age 22.

Guerrero’s MVP case has received a boost in the past few weeks as the Blue Jays have surged back into the postseason race with an 18-4 record in their past 22 games, a stretch in which Toronto’s first baseman has produced a .375/.439/.750 slash line with 10 homers, 14 RBIs and 25 runs scored.

Unfortunately for Guerrero, this isn’t a typical season, or a typical MVP race. Ohtani’s unprecedented performance will likely give him the edge over the young Blue Jays slugger.

3) Marcus Semien, 2B, Blue Jays
Signed to a one-year, $18 million deal only a week after the Blue Jays inked George Springer for $150 million over six years last offseason, Semien made a successful position switch from shortstop to second base and just became the fifth second baseman in AL/NL history to reach the 40-homer mark in a season. Nobody in the Majors has more extra-base hits than Semien (80) this year.

A strong defensive player to boot, the 31-year-old is tied with teammates Guerrero and Robbie Ray for second in the AL in bWAR (6.8) behind Ohtani, and he hasn’t missed a game all season. If these poll results end up matching the BBWAA results, it would mark Semien’s second third-place AL MVP finish in three years.

Others receiving votes: Salvador Perez (KC), Matt Olson (OAK), Aaron Judge (NYY), José Ramírez (CLE), Cedric Mullins (BAL), Xander Bogaerts (BOS), Carlos Correa (HOU), José Abreu (CWS)


1) Bryce Harper, OF, Phillies (42 first-place votes)
The Phillies were two games under .500 at the end of July, but they have managed to stay in the postseason hunt thanks in large part to Harper, who has registered a .346/.464/.795 slash line, 17 homers, 17 doubles, 42 RBIs and 36 walks in 45 games since the start of August.

Harper now leads MLB in slugging (.624) and OPS (1.052), and he’s first in the NL in extra-base hits (72) and second in on-base percentage (.428).

The 28-year-old’s performance has helped Philadelphia close to within two games of the first-place Braves in the NL East. Meanwhile, the Padres have collapsed, opening the door for Harper to grab the NL MVP Award away from Fernando Tatis Jr., the NL leader in our August poll. It would be the second MVP Award for Harper, the NL winner in 2015.

2) Fernando Tatis Jr., SS/OF, Padres (27 first-place votes)
If the Padres don’t make the playoffs, it won’t be Tatis’ fault. While the 22-year-old’s production has slipped a bit since he returned from his latest IL stint, he still has delivered eight homers and an .892 OPS over his past 30 games. San Diego won 10 of them.

From an individual numbers perspective, this is extremely close.

Tatis: 39 HR, 92 RBIs, 94 R, 25 SB, .285/.368/.620, 6.4 bWAR
Harper: 33 HR, 80 RBIs, 93 R, 13 SB, .313/.428/.624, 5.4 bWAR

The Padres and Phillies also entered Monday with identical 76-73 records.

But the narrative is working against Tatis. Whether Tatis is at fault or not, it’s difficult for voters to pick an MVP from a team that has played itself out of a postseason spot by going 10-24 in its past 34 games, especially when the alternative choice has performed significantly better down the stretch and is on a team going in the opposite direction.

3) Juan Soto, OF, Nationals (1 first-place vote)
If you tuned out the Nationals after they dealt Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Josh Harrison, Yan Gomes, Daniel Hudson, Brad Hand and Jon Lester prior to the Trade Deadline, you might have missed the fact that Soto has reached base at a .529 clip since the start of August, hitting .348 with eight homers and a 1.114 OPS across 44 games. The 22-year-old leads the Majors in OBP (.459) for the second straight year and ranks second (.990) behind Harper on the NL OPS leaderboard. He could win his second straight batting title, too, with Turner just one point ahead.

Washington is in last place in the NL East, but many of our voters clearly aren't holding that against Soto.

Others receiving votes: Max Muncy (LAD), Trea Turner (LAD), Corbin Burnes (MIL; 1 first-place vote), Freddie Freeman (ATL), Joey Votto (CIN), Nick Castellanos (CIN), Zack Wheeler (PHI), Max Scherzer (LAD)