Most Valuable Player: Does Guerrero Jr. stand a chance against Ohtani?

The youth movement in baseball is real, and if you need evidence look no further than this year’s MVP race.

Half of the six finalists finished this season as 22-year-olds, proving that experience isn’t everything. The other half includes a two-way standout, a former MVP and a position-switching, power-hitting middle infielder.

Learn about what stands out from each MVP candidate right here:

AL MVP candidates

Shohei Ohtani — Los Angeles Angels

155 G | .257 BA | 46 HR | 100 RBI | 158 OPS+ | 5.1 fWAR

23 GS | 130.1 IP | 3.18 ERA | 156 K | 141 ERA+ | 3.0 fWAR

As a hitter alone, Ohtani’s production might have been enough to put him in the MVP conversation. But of course, he’s much more than merely a hitter.

This season, Ohtani turned in a two-way, Babe-Ruthian performance unlike anything seen by this generation or the last. That resulted in him accruing the highest WAR by both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs’ measurements.

He’s in select company as a hitter, one of seven with 400-plus plate appearances and a 150 OPS+ or better, and as a pitcher, one of 17 with 100-plus innings and a 140 ERA+ or better. As you might suspect, he’s the only player who accomplished both.

The 27-year-old finished just two home runs off the MLB lead, while also striking out 10.8 hitters per nine innings. Nobody is supposed to be able to do that.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.Toronto Blue Jays

161 G | .311 BA | 48 HR | 111 RBI | 169 OPS+ | 6.7 fWAR

It feels unfair to cast Guerrero Jr.’s first two MLB seasons as disappointments — despite the grandiose expectations — given how young he was and the fact he still produced an above-average OPS rate (109 OPS+ over 183 total games). But whew, the 22-year-old’s breakout campaign this year was quite a sight to see.

Guerrero, a former consensus top prospect in baseball, fit the billing by tying for the league-lead in home runs, leading the majors in total bases (363) and winning the Hank Aaron Award as the AL’s top hitter.

Win or lose, Guerrero is already an MVP recipient: He became the youngest All-Star Game MVP at this year’s midsummer event in Colorado.

Marcus Semien — Toronto Blue Jays

162 G | .265 BA | 45 HR | 69 RBI | 133 OPS+ | 6.6 fWAR

Semien earned every penny — and a lot more — of his one-year, $18 million deal with the Blue Jays this season. He played in each game, won his first Silver Slugger Award and appeared in his first All-Star Game. He also posted new career highs in homers, RBIs, steals (15) and slugging percentage (.538).

Oh, and let’s not forget that he became a primary second baseman for the first time in his career, winning his first Gold Glove Award in the process. No matter how high Toronto’s expectations were for the nine-year veteran, he undoubtedly exceeded them.

Good timing by Semien to show out right before walking to free agency. In a star-studded class of middle infielders, his name is among those shining the most.

NL MVP candidates

Bryce Harper — Philadelphia Phillies

141 G | .309 BA | 35 HR | 84 RBI | 179 OPS+ | 6.6 fWAR

The now-two-time Hank Aaron Award winner is seeking his second MVP, after winning his first in 2015 with the Nationals. Back then, Harper was an arbitration-aged up-and-comer; now, his $330 million price tag over 13 years is the largest free-agent pact in league history.

With great direct deposits come great expectations. Considering Harper was booed by his own fans just a month into his first season in Philadelphia, it’d go a long way with the notoriously ornery fanbase for him to earn MVP honours now.

MLB’s leader in doubles (42), slugging percentage (.615) and OPS+ made sure to leave a strong impression in the stretch run, posting a 1.194 OPS from August onward.

Juan Soto — Washington Nationals

151 G | .313 BA | 29 HR | 95 RBI | 175 OPS+ | 6.6 fWAR

Soto is a hitter beyond his years in many ways, including his level of patience that’s unrivalled by his peers. Soto was in the 100th percentile of chase rate this season, as tracked by Baseball Savant, which translated to MLB-highs in walks (145) and on-base percentage (.465).

That’s a lot of Soto Shuffling.

As disciplined and efficient as Soto was all season, he really ratcheted it up in the second half. After the all-star break, the outfielder reached safely in more than half of his plate appearances (.525 OBP). He also walked 87 times, a sum that only five other hitters cleared all season.

Fernando Tatis Jr. — San Diego Padres

130 G | .282 BA | 42 HR | 97 RBI | 166 OPS+ | 6.1 fWAR

A shoulder injury cost Tatis 32 games, leaving baseball fans and pundits to wonder how high his NL-best home run total could’ve climbed. Still, in the at-bats he had, Tatis was the typical bat-flipping, highlight-reel-filling phenom we’ve grown accustomed to in three seasons.

His handiwork in the field was less spectacular: No shortstop with 60-plus starts had a lower fielding percentage (.940), and only Bo Bichette committed more errors (24 versus Tatis’s 21).

As a result, Tatis was asked to experiment in the outfield for the first time as a pro, making 23 appearances between center and right. Still, to lead the league in home runs, at age 22, while balancing the learning curve of a new position and the recovery from an injury is downright impressive.



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