Here it is, folks: our final award for the 2021 MLB season! (Sorry for the lateness of the post; New Year’s Day got a little too busy to dash this off.) If you’d like to read about some candidates and join the voting, please continue!
Let’s begin with someone we haven’t seen in these discussion for a while, but who once looked like he’d be in this conversation every year, and who nearly won this award once. It’s Aaron Judge! Remember 2017, when Aaron Judge was a rookie, finished second in the MVP race, and seemed destined to join the list of Yankee greats? Well, since then, he’s struggled to stay healthy, never playing more than 75% of the team’s games until 2021. Of course, as soon as he did so, he instantly became a top MVP candidate once again. Judge’s .273/.387/.544 line was good for a 149 OPS+. That OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ all placed fourth in the league.
And speaking of sluggers from the AL East, no AL MVP discussion in 2021 would be complete without Vladimir Guerrero (Jr., of course… not his Hall of Fame father). Guerrero, while a touted prospect and already a minor celebrity within the game, truly arrived in 2021. He posted a .311/.401/.601 line, a 169 OPS+, 363 Total Bases, 123 runs scored, and 48 HR. Every one of those led the American League, with the latter three numbers leading the majors. Toronto was third in the AL in runs scored, thanks in no small part to Guerrero’s offensive heroics. In statistics using the base-out states and run expectancies, Guerrero was the top hitter in the AL, as well.
Could one Toronto Blue Jay who’s the son of a former Major Leaguer be enough for this conversation? Given that that descriptor somehow applies to like half the Blue Jays’ roster, there’s now way that could be true. So let’s take a look at Bo Bichette. Bichette batted .298/.343/.484 with a 123 OPS+. Now, were those numbers the worst of his three-year career? Yes. But he played more than twice as many games this season as the previous two combined. His 121 runs was second only to teammate Guerrero; he led the AL with 191 hits; he banged 29 homers; and he topped 100 RBI, managing 102. He even stayed in the top-10 in Total bases, with his 310 being 7th in the league. Perhaps most impressive, though, was his 25 stolen bases in only 26 attempts. I would expect more attempts in 2022. Even at a reduced percentage, he should be able to add a great deal of value on the basepaths. (He was also one of only 16 qualifying American Leaguers to take the extra base over 50% of the time as a baserunner.)
While we’re on the Blue Jays, I always highlight a pitcher. So why not the AL leader in… well, everything, Robbie Ray? To quote my paragraph from the AL Cy Young post: “Ray led the AL in… pretty much everything. Had Toronto performed a bit better as a team, you can imagine a world in which he led in wins, too, and snagged himself a Triple Crown. Ray was very effective all season long and kept Toronto in the hunt until the season’s last day (though that final day may harm his candidacy in the eyes of some).” He finished 13-7, and his 2.84 ERA, 193.1 IP, 248 SO, 1.045 WHIP, 154 ERA+, all led the league. While none of those numbers is eye-popping on its own, its a season that looked positively dominant relative to the rest of the crop of AL pitchers.
Somehow, the Blue Jays didn’t win the American League… or even their division. But we haven’t gotten to the guy who both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference say was the Jays’ best player in 2021: Marcus Semien. The Jays’ new acquisition in 2021 had a 133 OPS+ on a .265/.334/.538 line. Other than games played and plate appearances, he doesn’t show up at the top of the leaderboard in any statistical category. So how do these value systems rate him so highly? Well, he played exclusively at second and short – important, up-the-middle positions, where he was a plus defender. But he also had a 102-RBI season. not only that, but he ranked third on his team – and fourth in the league – in runs scored with 115, and fourth in homers with 45. Not bad from a middle infielder, providing constant value with across-the-board, above-average skills. (For what it’s worth, Semien this year was in the hallowed group of players who added value, via WAR, in all its sub-categories: batting, baserunning, avoiding the double play, fielding, and position.)
Shifting gears, perhaps the best under-the-radar story of the year belonged to Salvador Perez. Salvy has been a mainstay at catcher for the Royals for over a decade at this point. In the abbreviated 2020 season, he put up a 159 OPS+ in 37 games. He continued the hot streak in 2021, batting .273/.316/.544, for a 126 OPS+. Prior to 2020, he’d never had more than a 106 OPS+ in a qualifying season. Now he has two such seasons in his 30s. His hitting has become so invaluable to the franchise that the Royals play him nearly every day – 161 games in 2021, DHing when not catching. All that playing time allowed Perez to lead, not only the Royals, but the Majors in both HR (48) and RBI (121). Depending on how you count, Perez may or may not have set the record for most HR in a season by a catcher. (15 of his homers came as a DH; so he holds the record for people playing most of their games as catcher, but not the most for a player as a catcher.) That RBI number is the third-best in a single season in franchise history, and the 48 homers matched Jorge Soler’s 2019 team record. (Those are the only two seasons in Royals history in which a player hit 39 or more homers.)
Staying in the AL Central, Jose Ramirez once again performed at the level that led to top-three MVP finishes in ’17, ’18, and ’20. Ramirez’s .893 OPS was sixth in the league, and for the second time in his career (2018) joined the 100-R, 100-RBI club. Ramirez has an unusual offensive skill set, in that he doesn’t have a dominant skill, but succeeds across the board. For example, Ramirez took the extra base 69% of the time… tops in the AL. Given that diverse set of skills, where does Ramirez rank relative to his peers?
Leaving the division (but not the time zone), we highlight someone who was finally healthy enough, and playing for the AL’s best team, Carlos Correa. The last time Correa played more than 110 games was 2016. But this year, he was healthy enough to put it all together, and live up to the tremendous potential we’ve all been told he has for years. Correa topped all American League players, regardless of position, in Defensive Runs Saved (20). But not only was he the junior circuit’s best defensive player, he had a 131 OPS+(.279/.366/.485). He set career highs in homers (26) and runs scored (104, breaking 100 for the first time).
Just to make sure we here at HHS aren’t accused of some sort of “East Coast bias” (or, given my location and rooting interests, Midwest bias), it’s best to have have at least one candidate from the West Coast. So let’s make sure to give our annual love to a random Oakland A who comes (essentially) out of nowhere to be an MVP candidate. Is it Josh Donaldson? Khris Davis? Matt Chapman? Nope. This year, it’s Matt Olson. Olson became a (moderately) familiar name in 2019 by putting up a 139 OPS+ in a 127-game season. But this year, his second in a row as Oakland’s everyday first baseman. A 30-double, 30-homer, 100-RBI, 100-R season is nothing to scoff at. He set career highs in virtually every offensive category and, like Correa (or anyone from the franchise that brought us Moneyball), has an excellent defensive reputation.
I think that’s it. It was tough coming up with nine guys. There probably isn’t another one. And with Mike Trout again sidelined by injury, there was no Angels player who played the field to be worth talking about. Their best pitcher had some good numbers (9-2, 3.18 ERA, 141 ERA+, 3.55 SO:BB ratio, 3.52 WHIP), but he only started 23 games for 130.1 innings. Their DH hit pretty well, though (.257/.352/.592, 103 R, 100 RBI, 46 HR, 158 OPS+, most of those numbers ranking in the top 2 or 3). The DH was also the most feared hitter in the league, being walked intentionally 20 times to pace the league. He also led the league in triples and nearly led in homers. (You may remember that much was made of the fact that he nearly passed Jim Rice  as the last player to lead the league in both those usually-disparate categories.) He was also the best situational hitter in the league, leading the league in WPA. Coincidentally, those two Angels actually have the same name: Shohei Ohtani. If only they were one guy! He’d probably run away with the award. Wait a second…
Well, you’ve seen some candidates. Do you have another? I’d be happy to receive votes for whoever you think belongs in the Top-Ten. We’ll close voting… how about the 12th of January, 11:59:59 your local time? Looking forward to seeing your selections! Rules are below, if you need to check ’em out.
Vote by making a comment below and numbering your choices with 1 being the MOST preferred candidate, and 10 being your LEAST preferred candidate of your ten choices. Your ballots will be EXACTLY ten place, just as the BBWAA does. You must vote for 10 players. Scoring will be 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, just as the BBWAA does. You are not required to vote in all elections; only vote in the ones you would like to vote in. You may make vote changes, if the discussion so moves you. If you change your vote, please do so in a new comment, not as a reply to your original comment (it’s a lot easier to find new comments than replies to old ones). Please don’t vote strategically; we’re trying to get the best result, not to manipulate the vote totals based on what others have done. Voting will remain open about one week. When players are tied, tiebreakers go as follows: first tiebreaker is number of ballots on which players were named; second tiebreaker is highest placement on a ballot; third tiebreaker is the first player to be named (as this usually only happens when a bunch of players are tied for last). Results will be posted in a comment at the bottom of the post when balloting closes.