Shohei Ohtani Makes M.V.P. Case by Flirting With No-Hitter
In his celebrated career with the Los Angeles Angels, Shohei Ohtani, baseball’s only two-way superstar, has never had much trouble drawing attention to his exploits.
But with Aaron Judge of the Yankees at 61 home runs and counting ahead of Friday night’s game, Ohtani has taken something of a back seat despite having arguably been better than he was while winning the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award last season.
On Thursday, Ohtani reminded everyone of his value.
With Judge and the Yankees getting a much-needed day off after the excitement of No. 61 on Wednesday, Ohtani made his move. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the lowly Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, facing the minimum number of batters through seven innings. The only base runner to that point was a walk to start the game that was quickly erased by a double-play.
Ohtani’s pursuit of his first complete game in the United States, and baseball’s second solo no-hitter of the season, ended with a pair of singles in the eighth, but he matched his career high with eight innings pitched, allowed no runs and two hits, and struck out 10. The Angels won, 4-2.
And in a demonstration of his special role, Ohtani did it while going 2 for 4 as the Angels’ No. 3 hitter, which extended his hitting streak to 14 games.
“Every time he takes the mound, you can anticipate something special happening,” Phil Nevin, the interim manager of the Angels, told reporters after the game. “He had everything working. When he got through the seventh, I thought it was going to happen. Unfortunately, we’ll wait until next time.”
With six games left for the Angels this season, Ohtani’s statistics are nothing short of remarkable, and while the M.V.P. will almost assuredly go to Judge, those who argue for Ohtani have a point.
As a pitcher, Ohtani is 15-8 with a 2.35 E.R.A. and 213 strikeouts in 161 innings. Baseball Reference had credited his pitching with 5.4 wins above replacement through Wednesday.
As a batter, he has hit .275 with 34 home runs, 94 runs batted in and 11 stolen bases. That added up to 3.8 WAR through Wednesday.
If he is able to pitch one more inning this season — he should theoretically get one more start — Ohtani would be the first player in the World Series era to qualify for the league leaders lists as both a hitter and pitcher in the same season, according to the Angels. For all of the talk of Babe Ruth’s two-way brilliance, he was a dominant pitcher and then a dominant hitter, but did not have a sustained period where he was a full-time star at both.
Ohtani, who had injuries and team-imposed limitations hold him back in his first few years, has spent the last two seasons proving a player can truly do both.
Judge’s M.V.P. front-runner status is more straightforward: Through Thursday he was the A.L.’s leader in on-base percentage (.425), slugging percentage (.696), home runs (61), R.B.I. (130), runs (130) and walks (106). He plays solid defense in both left and center field, has stolen 16 bases and was credited with 10.4 WAR through Wednesday, to Ohtani’s combined total of 9.2.
The argument to ignore that disparity in WAR comes in the form of the intrinsic — but unaccounted for in WAR — value of Ohtani serving as both an ace-level starter and an All-Star level hitter, which gives the Angels a bonus roster spot to use how they see fit.
Unfortunately for Ohtani, that has not helped his team be competitive, all but ending the argument. Despite herculean efforts from both Mike Trout and Ohtani — cue the Tungsten Arm O’Doyle memes — Los Angeles was 70-86 through Thursday, in third place in the A.L. West, 32 games behind Houston.
Judge is not only the face of a team that won the A.L. East and clinched a first-round bye in the new postseason format, but he has also been routinely credited for keeping the Yankees afloat during an August swoon that very nearly knocked them out of the division lead.
Add in his matching of Maris and his effort to join Miguel Cabrera as the only triple crown winners since Carl Yastrzemski — Minnesota’s Luis Arraez pulled ahead of Judge, at least temporarily, in the batting race with two hits on Thursday — and Judge should take the M.V.P. easily.
Ohtani seems to be fine with that.
“I feel like you guys are more of an expert on the voting. I’ll leave it up to you guys,” Ohtani told reporters after Thursday’s game. “I enjoy watching Judge and saw him hit his 61st.”