As Major League Baseball continues its All-Star break, we’ll continue updating our looks at the season-long awards by turning our attention to the AL MVP race. Yesterday we looked at AL Cy Young and NL Cy Young races, in the hopes of finding betting values among the top contenders.
The AL MVP race is one of the most intriguing awards of the season. While Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge was long-considered to be the favorite to win the award, last year’s winner, Los Angeles Angels pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, has since moved ahead of Judge as the betting favorite.
The Case for Shohei Ohtani
The case for Shohei Ohtani is simple: he’s an All-Star as a pitcher and a hitter.
This season, Ohtani is hitting .258/.348/.486 with 19 home runs, 56 RBI, 51 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases. Among qualified American League hitters, he’s 11th in home runs, 9th in RBI, 14th in runs, and 17th in OPS. Those are not eye-popping numbers, for sure, but they are the numbers of a dangerous hitter.
He also pairs those numbers with a 9-4 record and 2.38 ERA in 87 innings as a starting pitcher. Ohtani also has a 29.1% strikeout minus walk rate (K-BB%), 0.99 WHIP, and 15.7% swinging strike rate (SwStr%), which are among the best in the American League. So it’s fitting that, as we covered yesterday, he’s currently third in the AL Cy Young race according to the Vegas sportsbooks.
Yet, I like a bet on Ohtani as Cy Young more than I like a bet on him as the MVP. It’s not because I think Ohtani is unlikely to win the MVP, it’s just that I think the odds aren’t very favorable. Ohtani being listed at -105 means that you’d need to bet $105 on him to win the AL MVP in order to win $205, so a $100 profit. It’s a fine bet but when it comes to futures (bets about events in the future), we usually want to attack better odds.
That would apply to his Cy Young odds, which are +850. That means a $100 bet on Ohtani to win the AL Cy Young would earn you an $850 profit. To me, the benefit of placing a bet on Ohtani at these odds is far more intriguing than his current MVP odds.
The Case for Aaron Judge
In fact, I’d rather place a bet on Aaron Judge as the AL MVP.
For starters, as a pure hitter, Judge is more deserving of the award. Judge is 1st in the American League in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), 1st in home runs, 1st in runs scored, 2nd in RBI, 2nd in weighted runs created plus (wRC+), and 2nd in OPS. There actually isn’t a more deserving hitter in the whole league when it comes to MVP voting.
However, we know that the case for Ohtani is that he isn’t just a good hitter but also an elite pitcher. That was the case for Ohtani last year when he won the AL MVP as well. The truth is that it will likely be the case for Ohtani for years to come. At some point, voters are going to feel that it’s unfair to keep crediting him for both.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that this is the right way to view this situation. However, I do believe it’s likely. Ohtani’s performance as a pitcher and hitter could qualify him to be the MVP for the next five or six years, but, at some point, the voters are going to simply vote for the best pure hitter in order to restore some sense of “fairness.”
I believe that this year could be an opportunity to do that. Yes, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. won the triple crown last year and still didn’t win the MVP, but Ohtani’s offensive numbers last year were vastly superior to his production this year. Last year, Ohtani hit 46 home runs while also knocking in 100 runs, scoring 103, and stealing 26 bases. He’s on pace to fall short of all of those numbers in 2022.
That could give voters, right or wrong, the opening to award Judge for a potential triple crown season. Since Judge’s odds (+130 – bet $100 to profit $130) are more favorable than Ohtani’s, I think it’s the more attractive bet. But you may think I’m just being cynical about the MLB voters.
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Is this just a two-person race?
The other question you might ask is whether or not there is another player who could catch Ohtani or Judge in terms of AL MVP consideration. The short answer is simply: No.
Yordan Alvarez is the only other logical hitter to discuss at this point since he’s 1st in OPS, 2nd in home runs, 3rd in runs scored, and 5th in RBI. However, I think it would take an injury to both Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani to open up the door for Alvarez. That’s just not worth betting on for me.