Unanimous! Ohtani takes home AL MVP

Two-way star is fourth Angel to win award, 19th to sweep all first-place votes

November 19th, 2021

ANAHEIM -- Two-way sensation had one of the most incredible seasons in baseball history in 2021 and was fittingly rewarded with the American League MVP Award, as announced Thursday on MLB Network.

Ohtani received all 30 of the first-place votes from the BBWAA, with Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. finishing second and Marcus Semien finishing third. He became the 19th unanimous winner of an MVP Award and the fourth Angels player to win the illustrious hardware, joining Don Baylor (1979), Vladimir Guerrero (2004) and Mike Trout (2014, ’16 and ’19). He’s also the second Japanese-born player to earn the honor, joining Ichiro Suzuki, who won AL MVP as a rookie in 2001.

“Growing up I watched Ichiro and he won MVP, and it got me wanting to play in the big leagues someday,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “Hopefully, I can be that kind of figure to the kids watching me right now. And hopefully even one day I could play with one of those kids that are watching me, which would be very special."

The Tokyo Tower is set to be lit up in Angels colors on Friday at 5:17 p.m. in Japan to celebrate the country’s first MVP in 20 years.

Ohtani, 27, wowed throughout the season, reaching previously unthinkable milestones as both a hitter and a pitcher, as he did things nobody had done since Babe Ruth roughly 100 years ago. At the plate, Ohtani hit .257/.372/.592 with 46 homers, 26 doubles, eight triples, 100 RBIs, 103 runs and 26 stolen bases in 155 games. And on the mound, he made 23 starts and went 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings. He also saw time in the field for the first time in his career -- playing six games in right field and one game in left -- to get more at-bats after coming out of the game as a pitcher.

He led the Majors with 9.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference, which outpaced his peers by a large margin. The second-highest total was Zack Wheeler's 7.7 WAR with the Phillies, while Semien was credited with 7.3 WAR and Guerrero with 6.8.

“Shohei’s season was nothing short of electric,” Trout said. “At times, I felt like I was back in Little League. To watch a player throw eight innings, hit a home run, steal a base and then go play right field was incredible. What impresses me the most about him though, is the way he carries himself both on and off the field.”

Ohtani reached several unprecedented milestones, including becoming the first player in AL or NL history with at least 45 homers, 25 stolen bases and five triples in a season. And no player had ever hit more than 30 homers while making at least 15 starts on the mound. He's just the third starting pitcher to win AL MVP in the past 50 years, following Roger Clemens (1986) and Justin Verlander (2011), and the first to ever win it as a primary DH.

“Shohei came to the States to play among the best on both sides of the ball, and he accomplished that mission on the highest level,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “Knowing him, this award is going to serve as motivation to exceed his previous accomplishments. I cannot wait to watch how his game helps push us to our goal of playing in the last game of the season and winning it.”

Ohtani credited health for his performance throughout the year, after he had shown flashes of what he was capable of in 2018, when he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award but suffered a torn UCL in his right elbow that season that led to Tommy John surgery. Ohtani didn’t pitch in 2019 as a result, and then he dealt with a left knee issue that required surgery late in the ’19 season. He had a down year in 2020 as a result, batting just .190 with seven homers in 44 games and making just two starts and allowing seven runs over 1 2/3 innings.

But with an accelerated offseason program that saw Ohtani ramp things up more than usual, he came into Spring Training on a mission to prove he could still excel as a two-way player. Under new general manager Perry Minasian, the Angels came up with a plan with Ohtani, manager Joe Maddon and Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, to ease his playing restrictions in 2021. It led to Ohtani being in the lineup for nearly every game -- including in 20 of his 23 starts -- which was a major difference from 2018, when he would be held out of the lineup the day before, the day of and the day after he pitched.

“It was definitely challenging, but I had a lot of fun with it,” Ohtani said. “I felt like the expectations were high and I wanted to match those expectations.”

The AL MVP Award was the latest 2021 honor for Ohtani, who also won his first Silver Slugger Award as designated hitter and was named the MLBPA Player of the Year as voted on by his peers. He was also named the Player of the Year by Baseball America, Baseball Digest and Sporting News. Commissioner Rob Manfred also honored him with the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award at the World Series, which was the first time Manfred had given out the award. Ohtani also made history in July by becoming the first player selected to the All-Star Game as both a starting pitcher and a position player.

“Shohei had an outstanding season, and his talent speaks for itself,” Minasian said. “It was a privilege watching him on the field on a daily basis, as well as seeing his commitment to improving his craft. He is a great teammate, works incredibly hard on every aspect of the game, and this award is very well-deserved.”

Ohtani, though, said he isn’t one to celebrate his accomplishments, adding that he planned to go to bed early to get ready for more practice and workouts the day after winning the award.

"I don’t really have any special plans,” Ohtani said. “Probably going to spend a lonely night by myself. But actually my mom and sister are in town, so I'll probably see them."