With the 2021 MLB regular season in the books, the attention shifts to the post-season and the major award winners.
Shohei Ohtani, the hitting and pitching sensation for the Los Angeles Angels, is the front-runner to win the American League MVP. While Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. closed the gap as the season progressed, 2021 was the year of Ohtani.
In most years, a position player wins the award, thanks to their dominant slash line or home run total. Some seasons see an unstoppable pitcher, like Justin Verlander (2011) and Clayton Kershaw (2014), capture MVP honours.
But Ohtani’s 2021 performance at the plate and on the mound was historic. The rarity of a player to hit and pitch at a high level, over the course of 162 games, makes Ohtani’s season worthy of an MVP.
Here are Ohtani’s final major stats for 2021: .257/.372/.592, .965 OPS, 46 HR, 100 RBI, 9-2, 3.18 ERA, 1.090 WHIP, 156 K, 130.1 IP.
Let’s dig into some stats that defined Ohtani’s season:
46: On the final day of the regular season, Ohtani recorded his 46th and final home run of 2021. Of the 46, 25 were 110+ m.p.h exit velocity, which leads the big leagues. Combined with the 46 home runs, Ohtani also recorded an MLB-leading eight triples.
Shohei Ohtani's 2021 Spray Chart. Courtesy: Baseball Savant.
He joins Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Jim Rice and Jimmie Foxx as the only players to record 45+ home runs and eight or more triples in the same season.
26: In addition to those 46 home runs, Ohtani showcased speed this season running the bases. He posted 26 stolen bases, which ranked fourth in the big leagues. Jose Canseco (1998) is the only other player in MLB history to record 45+ home runs and 25+ stolen bases.
101: With Ohtani’s 101 runs scored, he becomes the first AL player in MLB history to record 45+ home runs, 25+ stolen bases and 100+ runs scored.
1.555: One of the measures of an MVP-calibre hitter is their ability to perform in high-leverage, clutch situations. In 2021, Ohtani produced a 1.555 OPS with runners in scoring position. This ranked first among American League hitters. Along with a .468 OBP and a .686 SLG with RISP, it demonstrates Ohtani’s impact as a hitter in the game’s biggest moments.
.087: Ohtani is a complete pitcher, evidenced by the five pitches he uses in his arsenal. Of the five, the splitter poses the greatest challenge to opposing hitters. Ohtani’s splitter produces an opposing batting average of .087, the lowest in the big leagues. The weighted on-base average for his splitter is .113, while the whiff rate is 48.5. This means out of all his pitches, Ohtani’s splitter leads to the highest percent of swings and misses against opposing hitters. As shown in the graph below, Ohtani’s splitter produces swings and misses below the strike zone.
Shohei Ohtani's splitter charting swings and misses. Courtesy: Baseball Savant.
14: Ohtani and Guerrero Jr. went back and forth all season long in the home run chase. While the Blue Jays first baseman eclipsed Ohtani with 48 home runs, the Angels two-way player often had the lead while making starts on the mound. In fact, Ohtani make a starting appearance 14 times while holding a share of the home run lead, becoming just the second player to make multiple starts while leading in home runs after Babe Ruth in 1919.
46 HR/156 K: Babe Ruth’s 1919 season is one of the greatest in baseball history and will be compared with Ohtani’s 2021 campaign, as he was a two-way player with the Boston Red Sox. Ruth recorded a league-leading 29 home runs (in the dead ball era) while recording 30 strikeouts when he pitched 133.1 innings. In 2021, Ohtani posted 46 home runs and 156 strikeouts in 130.1 innings pitched. No other player in MLB history had recorded 10+ homers and 100+ strikeouts until Ohtani in 2021.
8.1: According to Baseball Reference, Ohtani’s total wins above replacement (WAR) -- which measures the total impact of a player and his contributions to the team -- for the 2021 season equalled 9.0. This leads the major leagues and was 1.2 wins higher than second place, which belongs to Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler (7.8). In terms of measuring AL players, Ohtani is 1.8 wins above Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who occupies second place (7.2). Guerrero Jr., who is closest to Ohtani in the MVP race, has a WAR of 6.8 per Baseball Reference.
MLB's 2021 WAR Leaders. Courtesy: Baseball Reference.
What’s even more astounding is that Ohtani’s WAR as a pitcher, measured at 4.1. That ranks seventh in the American League out of 471 pitchers listed on Baseball Reference. If you take the whole league, Ohtani is ahead of pitchers such as Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals' starter for the NL Wild Card game (3.5).
For context, Ruth’s WAR in 1919 was higher than Ohtani’s at 9.1. His OPS+ was 219 compared to Ohtani’s 158 while the Angels player recorded an ERA+ of 141, surpassing Ruth’s 102. While it’s difficult to compare eras, it demonstrates that Ohtani was the better two-way player, given that he surpasses the average of the MLB in both hitting and pitching in 2021.
Shohei Ohtani's wOBA vs. MLB average. Courtesy: FanGraphs.
Shohei Ohtani's ERA vs. MLB average Courtesy: FanGraphs.
Statistics courtesy of Los Angeles Angels PR, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, FanGraphs.