HHS Awards – 2021 AL MVP

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 [1978] 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.

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Laurie K Decker
Laurie K Decker
25 days ago

1. Salvador Perez
2. Wit Merrifield
3. Vladimir Guerrero
4. Aaron Judge
5. Robbi Ray
6. Carlos Correa
7. Bo Bichette
8. Marcus Semien
9. Jose Ramirez
10. Andrew Benintendi

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
25 days ago

Looks like somebody is a Royals fan!

Out of curiosity, care to explain why Andrew Benintendi (.276/.324/.442, 104 OPS+, 17 HR, 73 RBI) gets a vote over Shohei Ohtani (.257/.352/.592, 158 OPS+, 46 HR, 100 RBI)? TBH, it feels like trolling. But I’m going to assume good intentions, and I’m interested to hear an explanation.

Paul E
Paul E
24 days ago

LKD,
Very interesting take on the past season. You must have been very disappointed to see Jorge Soler play so well in Atlanta?

Doug
Doug
24 days ago

Thinking about Ohtani, obviously, I was wondering what the rule is about a player already in the game being moved to DH. That is, a new player comes into the game, but manager informs the ump that the player being replaced will stay in the game as the DH with the new player batting in the former DH’s position (as in a double switch) or, in the case of the pitcher becoming the new DH, he would bat in the former DH’s position. Once designated as the DH, that player could not move to a new position without his team… Read more »

Last edited 23 days ago by Doug
Doug
Doug
23 days ago
Reply to  Doug

By my reading of rule 6.10 (b), there is nothing that would stop a manager moving his replaced pitcher to the DH position at the time a new pitcher enters the game. Would be interesting to see a manager try to do that, to see how the umpires would deal with it. – 6.10 (b) (7) effectively precludes replaced players at positions other than pitcher from moving to DH – 6.10 (b) (8) terminates the DH for a team when its pitcher moves to a “position on defense“, but says nothing about a pitcher moving to DH – 6.10 (b)… Read more »

John S
John S
18 days ago
Reply to  Doug

I am a former amateur umpire, and I took clinics at the Wendelsteht Umpire School – admittedly not the same as taking the course itself, but I wanted to establish my credentials. I have studied the rulebook. As an umpire, I think I would accept a pitcher moving to DH only if the manager informed me and the other manager BEFORE THE GAME it could happen, and again when he replaced the pitcher. Regardless of the ruling, I’d be ready for the protest, the ejection, etc etc. The Angels REALLY should get clarification from MLB. Personally I see it as… Read more »

Doug
Doug
17 days ago
Reply to  John S

Thanks for that perspective, John. I agree the Angels should investigate this, if they haven’t already. Most of the time last season (in 20 of 22 starts with the DH rule in effect), LA chose to forgo the DH and have Ohtani bat when he was pitching. But, once he was out of the game or was moved to the outfield, the Angels had to deal with pitchers in the batting order. Despite the latter inconvenience, that approach is still probably the best way to get Ohtani to the plate most often. But, it would be nice to have the… Read more »

Last edited 17 days ago by Doug
Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
24 days ago

My ballot: 1. Shohei Ohtani – Easy choice at #1. You can justify a Cy Young for him. You can justify a Silver Slugger as the DH, or even a Hank Aaron Award. If you’re both among the best pitchers, and the best hitter, it seems to me that you pretty unquestionably have the most value. 2. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. – Without Ohtani, Guerrero would’ve walked away with this award. You can make the argument that Guerrero, at age 22, has had a better offensive season than any by his Hall of Fame father. It’s a strong #2. 3. Carlos… Read more »

Doug
Doug
24 days ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

“You can justify a Cy Young for him.” That’s laying it on a little thick. Maybe with another 40+ IP. But, valid point nonetheless. Two-thirds of CYA season plus the SS for 9 WAR total is going to be tough to beat anytime.

Last edited 24 days ago by Doug
Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
23 days ago
Reply to  Doug

Well, TBH, that was a typo. I meant to write “You can justify a Cy Young vote for him,” which would’ve made more sense. But yeah, like you say: 2/3 of a CYA season and nearly winning the HR crown… it’s Ruthian. 1918 Ruthian, to be specific.

Paul E
Paul E
18 days ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

Doom,
“You can make the argument that Guerrero, at age 22, has had a better offensive season than any by his Hall of Fame father. It’s a strong #2.”

Vlad Sr spent a long time as a ML regular and the only seasons that come close to his son’s 2021 are his 2000 and 2002. I used oWAR, Rbat, Rbat+, rOBA, RC, and RC/27outs/AIR. If he can lay off the road hotel room service, Junior will have a phenomenal career

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
18 days ago
Reply to  Paul E

I actually think the biggest difference is less about body-type than about “old-player skills” versus “young-player skills,” as defined by Bill James a long time ago. Taking walks, hitting for power, etc. are “old-player skills,” which is to say that they tend to develop later in a career. Players with “old-player” skills who are young… really don’t have anywhere to go. Whereas a Mike Trout, Barry Bonds, or Willie Mays still has somewhere to go when his legs give out, a Vlad Guerrero, Jr. doesn’t have the legs to begin with, and may end up in the Ralph Kiner mold.… Read more »

Tom
Tom
22 days ago
  1. Ohtani
  2. Guerrero
  3. Perez
  4. Judge
  5. Semien
  6. Ramirez
  7. Ray
  8. Correa
  9. Bichette
  10. Tucker
Paul E
Paul E
22 days ago

1) Ohtani 2) Guerrero 3) Semien 4) Olson 5) Correa 6) Devers 7) Judge 8) Ramirez 9) Tucker 10) Perez If Correa can manage to play 150+G each season, he might just be worth the contract he’s going to be signing. I can’t ignore what Ohtani did on the mound but, for that matter, if he played 155 G in RF (and didn’t pitch), he still might be the MVP. If Vlad can push himself away from the dinner table, it might be the best exercise any athlete ever had. I don’t know what Guerrero does for an encore in… Read more »

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
21 days ago
Reply to  Paul E

Glad to see Kyle Tucker getting some awards love on both your and Tom’s ballot (above). He looks like a really good defensive player, and he had a 147 OPS+. Yeah, he missed 1/8 of the season… but it seems like everyone missed time this year. I agree completely about the Correa point. His health is, in my opinion, the only decider as to his future value. The skills are clearly there.

Paul E
Paul E
21 days ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

Tucker contributed 7.3 runs created per 27 outs made versus 6.3 (Correa) and 6.1 (Altuve). Tucker takes a walk and doesn’t strike out anywhere near as much as the avergae modern player. Just a BTW, for his career, Olson is averaging 40 HR’s per 162 games played.

Doug
Doug
15 days ago

My ballot. 1. Shohei Ohtani. Obvious and worthy selection with a type of season not seen in more than a century. 2. Vladimir Guerrero. All that black ink. Tied Ted Williams (1941) and Bryce Harper (2015) as youngest to lead league in OPS with a .300/.400/.600 slash in a full length season. 3. Marcus Semien. Accepted switch to 2B and played like he’d been there his whole career. His 45 HR is a new record for the position. 4. Carlos Correa. Picked up the slack with the departure of George Springer as Astros (surprisingly?) went to the WS again. 5.… Read more »

Last edited 15 days ago by Doug
Paul E
Paul E
15 days ago
Reply to  Doug

Off the top of my head, for the Olson question, it has to be an Indians team with Belle, Thome, and Ramirez?

Doug
Doug
15 days ago
Reply to  Paul E

Good guess, but not correct.

Manny posted those totals only once as an Indian, in 1999, when Thome came up short on OPS+ and Belle was in Baltimore. Belle and Thome did it in 1996, when Manny was short on Runs and OPS+.

Manny and David Ortiz did it for the Red Sox in 2005, one of three times Manny posted those totals in Boston.

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
15 days ago
Reply to  Doug

Paul was in the correct general era – the Selig days, anyway. And Olson was in the right division, but the wrong team. Took me about 10 minutes, but I got it, and now I’m kicking myself for not knowing it immediately. I won’t say anything in case others want to guess.

Paul E
Paul E
15 days ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

you talkin’ those steroided Rangers teams? Gonzalez, Palmeiro, I-Rod? Or maybe Edmonds, Salmon, and…..? Erstad, Anderson, and…..? Giambi, Tejada, ….?

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
15 days ago
Reply to  Paul E

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!
This is a giveaway, but… there’s only one franchise in that division you haven’t mentioned. Your brain is doing what mine was. Enjoy kicking yourself later, once you figure it out!

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
15 days ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

Oh crap – I’m embarrassed now; I realize the team I thought was the right answer had a player miss the home runs! I had thought it was the ’96 Mariners:

A-Rod – 141 R, 36 HR, 123 RBI, 161 OPS+
Griffey – 125 R, 49 HR, 140 RBI, 154 OPS+
Gar – 121 R, 26 HR, 103 RBI, 167 OPS+

Now I’m feeling embarrassed and sheepish. If only I could transfer Jay Buhner’s HR to Martinez, they’d be the answer! Poo… now neither one of us knows the answer.

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
15 days ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

Legitimately did find the right answer now! I do have a hint for Paul E (or anyone else):

You named one of the involved players in your post three up from this one, though it was accomplished when he was with a different team. That’s the best I can give you.

Paul E
Paul E
14 days ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

Rolen Edmonds and Pujols in 2004?
If Rolen didn’t have a late season injury, he may have been MVP. He had that kind of talent but injuries precluded him from some big milestones

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
14 days ago
Reply to  Paul E

That’s the one I found. I’m sure Doug will tell us if there is another.

Doug
Doug
14 days ago
Reply to  Paul E

You got it. The 2004 Cardinals are the only team ever with three such players.

Edmonds, at age 34, was part of one of the oldest outfields on a championship team, together with Reggie Sanders (36), Ray Lankford (37), John Mabry (33), So Taguchi (34) and late season acquisition Larry Walker (37). Walker slugged .707 in that year’s post-season, with a pair of homers in each playoff round.

Rolen is one of 13 players (Babe Ruth did it twice) to post those totals in a season of fewer than 600 PA.

Last edited 14 days ago by Doug
Scary Tuna
Scary Tuna
14 days ago
Reply to  Doug

For your other question, Doug, I believe the other third baseman besides Jose Ramirez to have two seasons of 30 HR / 100 RBI / 25 SB / 140 OPS+ was Howard Johnson.

Doug
Editor
14 days ago
Reply to  Scary Tuna

It is HoJo, who posted those numbers in 1989 and 1991, the only seasons of his career that he topped 100 RBI or 140 OPS+.

Some more Johnson trivia:

  • – He’s the only player to top 200 HR and 200 SB in a career of fewer than 6000 PA or 5000 AB.
  • – He just missed having the lowest career post-season BA of any player with a hit. Johnson posted .038 (1 for 26) while Gene Alley was .037 (1 for 27).
Last edited 14 days ago by Doug
Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
15 days ago

Final results are in: 1. Shohei Ohtani, 56 (4) 2. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., 44 3. Marcus Semien, 32 4. Aaron Judge, 30 5. Carlos Correa, 29 6. Salvador Perez, 26 (1) 7. Jose Ramirez, 19 8. Matt Olson, 12 9. Robbie Ray, 11 10. Whit Merrifield, 9 11. Cedric Mullins, 7 12. Bo Bichette, 6 13. Rafael Devers, 5 14. Kyle Tucker, 3 15. Gerrit Cole, 3 16. Andrew Benintendi, 1 17. Brandon Lowe, 1 No surprise here: in spite of being left off one ballot, Shohei Ohtani was unanimous on the remaining four, easily taking the win over Guerrero,… Read more »

Paul E
Paul E
15 days ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

HoF voting will be announced on Jan 25th. Don’t know if there any shoe-ins with the suspected steroid users controversy and the BBWAA holding his politics against Schilling…..