Can Shohei Ohtani still win MVP if Vlad Jr. hits for the Triple Crown?

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Shohei Ohtani is having, by all accounts, an unprecedented season, belting 44 homers (double his previous career-best and three off the Angels’ franchise mark held by Troy Glaus) while pitching to a dominant 3.36 ERA in 21 starts. For months, Ohtani’s inevitable coronation as American League MVP has felt like a foregone conclusion, though scorching-hot Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is doing his best to make things interesting.

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Not only has Guerrero taken over the major-league lead in home runs (45, one better than his old man’s career-high of 44 set in 2000), but he’s also within shouting distance of the Triple Crown, pacing the American League in batting average (.315) while trailing only Salvador Perez and reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu in RBI. More importantly, Guerrero’s Blue Jays­—winners of 12 of their last 14—have soared to the top of the American League Wild Card standings, positioning them for their second playoff appearance in as many years. Through no fault of Ohtani’s own, the Angels will, barring a miracle of the highest order, extend their postseason drought to seven seasons when they stage the final game on their 2021 calendar two weeks from Sunday.

Guerrero’s emergence, coupled with Toronto’s late playoff push, has prompted a debate over the 22-year-old’s MVP candidacy. Should Guerrero win the Triple Crown—a feat achieved just once in the past 50 years—AND lead Toronto to an unlikely Wild Card berth over divisional foes Boston and New York, could MVP voters really deny him?

The answer is a resounding “yes,” at least if you ask Audacy Insider Jon Heyman, who, despite a relatively lackluster second half (.219/.352/.449 slash line since the All-Star break with 73 strikeouts in 178 at-bats), still considers Ohtani’s MVP case open and shut. The betting community seems to share that point of view as Ohtani remains a colossal -7000 favorite on FanDuel Sportsbook (Vlad, for all his September heroics, is pegged as a distant +1500 longshot). Though it's rare for a Triple Crown winner to not also win MVP, it has happened on occasion with Ted Williams' 1947 campaign the most recent example.

Ohtani’s .257 batting average would be among the lowest ever for an MVP, though his pitching contributions and prodigious power trump any perceived deficiencies, even if the 27-year-old’s monster season has been wasted on a frustrating Angels team that can’t get out of its own way. Besides, average isn’t nearly as important in today’s feast or famine MLB, where home runs are prioritized above all else (hence baseball’s league-wide .243 average and collective 23.3-percent strikeout rate).

Guerrero has firmly established himself as one of the league’s premier talents and should have an MVP award—or several—in his future. But 2021 undoubtedly belongs to Ohtani.

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