Ohtani vs. Judge: An MVP Race for the Ages
The 2022 MLB season is turning out to be one of the most memorable in recent history. It seems like every day you hear of a record being broken by one of two guys: Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani. These two players are having historic seasons, treating fans of their respective franchises with memories to cherish. After securing the MVP award in 2021, Ohtani is headed toward a top 2 finish this year. Judge is his only real competition. Could there be a co-MVP like the National league saw in 1979 when Keith Hernandez shared the honor with Willie Stargel? The caliber of production by these two players could very well warrant that type of response from voters.
It is worth mentioning that this article will not feature an opinion on who should win the MVP award in 2022. This piece will look at Judge’s and Ohtani’s seasons and compare the two based on the respective situations in which they are occurring.
Judge is producing at a hall-of-fame level with his bat. As of 9/22/22, he sits just two home runs behind Roger Maris’s American League single-season home run record. In 2021, Judge managed a 149 wRC+, making him 49% better than the average hitter for that statistic. Being almost 50% better than average while having 39 home runs and 98 RBIs was the type of season that Yankees fans and management had been hoping to see from Judge. However, the real peak of his abilities had yet to be on display. Aaron Judge’s 2022 is arguably one of the best offensive seasons since Barry Bonds, whose success is stained by PED usage. The New York slugger is slashing .317/.421/.705 and leading the MLB in 10 major offensive categories. These include home runs, RBIs, runs, extra-base hits, OBP, SLG, OPS, wRC+, wOBA, and fWAR. Taking a look at the actual statistics of any of those categories for him is mind-blowing, with the most impressive being his .705 SLG, 211 wRC+ (111% better than average), and 10.7fWAR. His 10.7 fWAR is 3.7 points higher than the next position player, Paul Goldschmidt at 7.0. Yordan Alvarez of the Astros has a wRC+ of 186, good for second best in all of baseball. Judge is 25% better than the second-best hitter by wRC+ in 2022. The difference between Judge in first and 10th place by wRC+ (which is conveniently Shohei Ohtani) is 65%. Taking a look at his Baseball Savant page, there are several 100th percentile statistics in bright red circles, including barrel percentage, xSLG, and average exit velocity. The only below-average offensive percentiles are K% and Whiff%. However, with his walk % in the 98th percentile, the strikeout numbers become much less relevant.
Aaron Judge Statcast, Visuals & Advanced Metrics | MLB.com | baseballsavant.com
The attention Aaron Judge’s 2022 season is bringing to the game of baseball is outstanding. Fans of the game from all over are tuning in to watch number 99’s every at-bat. Prices of Yankees home game tickets have soared in recent weeks, as everyone wants a chance to see history be made in person. With his team at the top of the AL East and about to secure a playoff spot, Judge’s performance greatly impacts his team’s postseason ambitions. In fact, it could be argued that without him, the Yankees would not win their division or even make the playoffs at all. Judge’s humble attitude and relaxed demeanor on the field are appealing to fans of all ages. He seems to be embracing his success in a very respectful way. The players Judge has passed and looks to pass on the single-season home run leaderboard he is feature names like Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. Aaron Judge is well aware of the legacies that these players have left behind and is refraining from the modern showboating that fans have become accustomed to.
On the other side of the country, two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani is performing better than he did in his MVP campaign in 2021. A lot of fans questioned if they would ever see another season like Ohtani’s in 2021, calling it a “black sheep” type of year with little chance to happen again at the major league level. Ohtani has responded by improving in almost every way in 2022. Being the reason that statistics websites need to add a “pitching” and a “hitting” option for one player's statistics is almost as impressive as Ohtani’s actual numbers. In 144 games as a hitter, he has a 146 wRC+, 3.8 hitting fWAR, and 34 home runs. His percentile rankings, at the plate, rival those of the mighty Aaron Judge. Being in the 99th percentile in xSLG, 98th in barrel %, and 100th in Max Exit Velocity is on par with Shohei’s 2021. While his home run count is down compared to last season’s 46, his dominance on the mound more than offsets the 12 fewer long balls. In 25 games started this year, Ohtani has a 2.43 ERA, a 33.1 K%, and 5.0 pitching fWAR, bringing his total fWAR on the year to 8.8. Comparing his pitching to 2021, Shohei improved upon a large number of stats on the bump, most notably his strikeouts, BB%, HR/9, innings total, and LOB%. This could come across as Ohtani focusing more on the pitching side of his game, as his pitching fWAR went up 2.0 from last year and his batting fWAR dropped 1.2. However, his 8.0 total fWAR in 2021 compared to his 8.8 in 2022 points to Shohei being a more valuable player than the season where he won the award for being the most valuable player. Plus, at the time of writing this, the Angels have 12 more games to play. These remaining games could see Ohtani get closer to his offensive performance numbers from last year and send him over the 9.0 fWAR mark on the year.
Shohei Ohtani Statcast, Visuals & Advanced Metrics | MLB.com | baseballsavant.com
Ohtani and his L.A. Angels are not going to be in the postseason this year. According to some fans, his incredible season is being completely wasted and drowned out by the Angels mediocrity. With Ohtani putting another insane season in the books, the question no longer is “will he do it again?”, but rather “how long will he do this with the Angels?” Mike Trout’s greatness has been largely overshadowed by the franchise’s lack of postseason success, quite possibly the saddest fate that a superstar could have. The biggest treat that fans could ask for is to see Shohei pitch for a contending team. That team, unfortunately, will not be the L.A. Angels anytime soon. His other-worldly athleticism and raw talent could very well be something that the MLB will never see again. His ability to recreate and improve upon his absurd two-way MVP season has never been seen before. Even if his 2022 season does not make him a back-to-back MVP, the ability Shohei displayed throughout the year should not be ignored.
Watching Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani play every day is a gift. These two players are among the most talented the game has ever seen. On one hand, an absolute freak of nature is pitching every 5 days, using 6 different pitches to strike out 33% of the hitters he faces while being one of the best designated hitters in the game at the same time. On the other hand, a massive human being with 60 home runs is inching his way closer to history and very well may break the American League single-season home run record after having already tied Babe Ruth’s highest single-season mark. Having both of these players produce like this in the same season is incredible. The season's final games are the most important for a favorite to emerge. This MVP race will be talked about for generations to come. Both players are doing things that haven’t been seen in decades and may never be seen again. If voters find it impossible to choose between the two, we could see the second-ever instance in MLB history of a co-MVP.