Shohei Ohtani’s unanimous win as AL MVP puts star in two senses in rare company


Two-way Angels star Shohei Ohtani was voted American League MVP for 2021, and he won the award unanimously. Ohtani collected all 30 first-place votes in the ballot, giving 420 points in total. The runner-up, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Blue Jays, was 151 points behind Ohtani. (You can consult the complete distribution of votes by click here.)

This is not particularly surprising given the unique nature of Ohtani’s campaign for the 26-year-old. On the mound, he threw a 3.18 ERA / 141+ ERA with 156 strikeouts and 42 unintentional walks in 130 1/3 innings. He also had a quality start in 61% of his trips to the mound. As a batsman – usually as the Angels’ DH on days he wasn’t pitching, but also as an “AL hitting pitcher” – Ohtani cut down from .257 / .372 / .592 (158 OPS +) with 46 at home races and eight triples topped the MLB.

Ohtani also stole 26 bases and took the extra base at an above average clip. It’s pretty common to hear about players who “do it all,” but in Ohtani’s case, that claim comes close to literal, at least in baseball terms. Add it all up, and Ohtani’s Combined WAR of 9.1 has led not only AL but all majors this season and did so by a wide margin. Yes, WAR is a bit of a blunt instrument, but that’s just the case when he considers Ohtani as the best player in the game for 2021.

It’s best to leave a comprehensive rundown of Ohtani’s historic exploits in 2021 to Wikipedia regulars, but we’ll provide a few that illustrate the larger point of his large-scale excellence:

  • At some point during the 2021 season, Ohtani became the first player since Babe Ruth in 1921 – that is, 100 years ago – to make a debut on the mound while leading the majors in the home runs hit, prohibited).
  • Ohtani also became the first starting pitcher in over 50 years to strike number one.

Now let’s come back to the question of Ohtani’s unanimity. It was deserved and it puts him in rare company throughout the sprawl of baseball history. Speaking of which, here’s a look at previous unanimous MVP picks since 1931, when the Baseball Writers Association took over the process and awarded an award in each of the two leagues. This of course is the process we still have today. To the sacred ledger:


Unanimous MVP winner


Hank Greenberg, Tigers (AL)


Carl Hubbell, Giants (NL)


Al Rosen, Cleveland (AL)


Mickey Mantle, Yankees (AL)


Frank Robinson, Orioles (AL)


Orlando Cepeda, Cardinals (NL)


Denny McLain, Tigers (AL)


Reggie Jackson, Athletics (AL)


Mike Schmidt, Phillies (Netherlands)


José Canseco, Athletics (AL)


Frank Thomas, White Sox (AL)


Jeff Bagwell, Astros (Netherlands)


Ken Caminiti, Padres (NL)


Ken Griffey Jr. Mariners (AL)


Barry Bonds, Giants (NL)


Albert Pujols, Cardinals (NL)


Mike Trout, Angels (AL)


Bryce Harper, Nationals (NL)

Now of course you can add Ohtani. As you can see, he becomes just the second Angel to be a unanimous MVP pick, and he’s only the second AL unanimous MVP since 1997. With the sweep of Ohtani, the Angels join the Tigers, Giants and Cardinals are the only franchises to boast multiple unanimous MVPs.

Speaking of the 2021 Angels, they’re hands down the worst team to ever produce a unanimous MVP. The previous record holder were the 2015 Nationals and Harper, who posted a .512 winning percentage. The 2021 Angels finished with a 0.475 winning percentage. There has of course been a constant evolution of thinking that has disillusioned the idea that MVPs must come from rival teams (the voting instructions expressly state that an MVP does not need to play for a competitor) , and it is surely at stake here. Most of the time, however, it shows that Ohtani’s dominance as a hitter and pitcher and his immense power as a world star made these considerations even less relevant in practice.

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