Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Shohei Ohtani for the 2021 American League MVP Award? It appears to be a two-star race for the honor, and fans will get to watch them compete against one another — literally — Thursday night in Anaheim.
Ohtani is set to climb the mound for his 17th start in the series finale between the Angels and Blue Jays at 9:38 p.m. ET. Toronto has not announced its lineup, but it’s probable that Guerrero will be waiting for Ohtani right in the heart of the order. The pair take up the top two slots in several AL power-hitting categories. Guerrero enters Thursday leading Ohtani in OPS (1.024 to 1.016), total bases (255 to 250) and RBIs (88 to 84), while Ohtani tops Guerrero in slugging (.654 to .619) and home runs (38 to 35). Ohtani broke through with his MLB-leading 38th homer in Game 3 of this series Wednesday.
Of course, Ohtani’s ability to hit and pitch could end up being the difference maker in this neck-and-neck race for MVP. On top of all the power at the plate referenced above, Ohtani is 6-1 with a 2.93 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 106 strikeouts in 86 innings on the mound. That dual ability has helped Ohtani accrue the highest overall WAR totals per both Baseball-Reference (7.0) and FanGraphs’ (6.6) measurements.
Ohtani’s high-velocity arsenal has overwhelmed many hitters this year, but Guerrero should pose a challenge. Per Statcast, Guerrero is batting .413 and slugging .667 against 95-plus mph pitches (Ohtani’s fastball averages 95.5 mph) and has also hit the most homers (13) against breaking balls (opponents are hitting .188 against Ohtani’s slider).
It’s not very often one gets to see two MVP contenders face each other in a pitcher vs. batter showdown. Tonight is that opportunity.