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Game Day: Ohtani vs. Judge for MVP – Modesti’s verdict

LA Daily News 10/5/2022 Kevin Modesti, Los Angeles Daily News

Editor’s note: This is the Wednesday Oct. 5 edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning. Baseball’s regular season wraps up today with Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani leading the major leagues in buzz right to the end.

I’ll have my last word on their race for American League MVP after a look at other news:

The last time the newsletter discussed the Most Valuable Player debate between supporters of the Yankees’ Judge and the Angels’ Ohtani, there was about a month to go in the season and I looked forward to all of the “well, interesting” arguments we were going to hear. I haven’t been disappointed.

The straightforward argument for Ohtani is that the 2021 AL MVP continues to do things as a two-way player that nobody has done since Babe Ruth or, we can now say, ever. If he merely pitches one inning today when he starts the Angels’ final game of 2022 at Oakland, he will have enough innings this season to be the first player in major-league history to qualify for the rate-statistic leaders lists as a batter and pitcher. This morning he’s fourth in the league in the catch-all hitting stat adjusted OPS+ (146 — that is, 46% above average) and fourth in adjusted ERA+ (171, 71% above average).

The basic argument for Judge is that he has been the dominant hitter in the majors, he made history when he belted his 62nd home run last night in Texas to break the AL record Roger Maris set in 1961, he’s 16 homers ahead of the next guy in 2022, he has come close to a rare average-homers-RBIs Triple Crown, and he has been the indispensable member of the division-winning Yankees.

Our columnist Jim Alexander took the straightforward approach when endorsed Judge for MVP in a recent notes column.

Alexander wrote: “With apologies to Angels fans campaigning for Shohei Ohtani, doesn’t the American League MVP award – the ‘V’ being for valuable, remember – have to go to Judge? He’s performing for a team that was chasing a division title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Shohei, as amazing as his two-way play has been, is doing it for a team that has been an afterthought since mid-June.”

Jim added: “The bottom line in this space: Could they win – or lose – a division title or a playoff spot without you? But the beauty/agony of the process is that each voter has his or her own notion of what an MVP should be.”

They sure do. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America doesn’t define “MVP” for the 30 voters, two writers from each of the league’s cities, who decide the award. So voters and others can invent all sorts of rationale for picking Judge or Ohtani – or, if they want to get crazy, someone else.

Nick Selbe of SI.com said it should be Ohtani and wrote that 2021 matters in debating 2022: “Judge’s performance in 2022 is remarkable. But it’s not in the same ballpark as what Ohtani has pulled off for the second consecutive year. … Nobody even attempts to do what Ohtani is doing, and has done, for two consecutive years.”

Rylie Smith of Fansided.com claimed, somehow, that Ohtani should feel flattered if he’s beaten out by Judge: “It’s taking someone of an insanely elite caliber to replace(Ohtani as MVP), and that should be taken as a compliment.”

Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette conceded that Judge is likely to be MVP but doesn’t like it: “He will be the unanimous MVP, in fact, but that means voters are going to willfully overlook the greatest season in baseball history. Which is Ohtani’s.”

And Joe Posnanski, blogging on Substack, wrote that Judge will win because “the MVP award is not quite good enough for Shohei Ohtani.”

Posnanski proposed creating a new award: “You would call it The Shohei Award. And every year, you would give it to Shohei Ohtani, because there simply isn’t anyone else in his species.”

I don’t have a vote, but I have voted for many awards in baseball and other sports over the years and I have another way of making the tough call between Judge and Ohtani.

Awards are one way we tell the story of a season. A way we record who made it different and memorable. A way we tell future generations you should have seen him doing that. A way to say this man owned this year. Not this decade or this era, not who changed the game forever. Just who was the player you couldn’t miss this season.

That can lead to supporting the many MVPs who piled up huge numbers for division- and pennant-winning teams. Or an MVP like Andre Dawson (National League, 1987), who was so good he won while playing for the last-place Cubs. Or, the very next year, an MVP like Kirk Gibson (NL, 1988), who won when he didn’t lead the league in a single batting statistic but was the Dodgers’ talisman.

You couldn’t miss Judge this season, a realization that hit home for me on Monday when I found myself working the TV-remote buttons like a madman so I didn’t miss a pitch to Judge or a play in the Rams game. (I succeeded, unlike Judge or the Rams that night.)

It says here that Ohtani was a clear-cut, deserving MVP last year. Ohtani should be the favorite to win MVP next year. Ohtani probably will be baseball’s Player of the Decade, if there is such an honor. Ohtani will be bigger than Judge in history – if he changes the game by inspiring other two-way stars, and especially if he doesn’t because nobody else can do what he does.

But for this year, this season alone, this MVP Award, it belongs to Judge.

I still wouldn’t miss Ohtani pitching today.

TODAY

  • Angels and A’s play Game 162 at Oakland (1 p.m., BSW). Next comes an offseason that could include the sale of the team and a decision about Ohtani’s future in Anaheim beyond 2023.
  • Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw host the Rockies in the regular-season finale (1:20 p.m., SNLA). Then they wait to open the division series Oct. 11 vs. the winner of the Mets-Padres wild-card round.
  • Lakers face the Phoenix Suns in an exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (7 p.m., SPSN)

READERS REACT

After the Rams’ loss to the 49ers on Monday night, I asked readers what the team has to improve to get good enough to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

Twitter user @davestruck said: “Pass protection, no doubt. Matthew Stafford may not be the world’s best quarterback, but not even Tom Brady could get the job done if he was under that kind of pressure.”

NEXT QUESTION

Your turn: Should the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani or the Yankees’ Aaron Judge win the American League Most Valuable Player Award, and what’s your reasoning? Reply by email to KModesti@scng.com or on Twitter @KevinModesti.

280 CHARACTERS

— L.A. and New York sportswriter Lyle Spencer (@LyleSpencer18).

1,000 WORDS

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Thursday at 11:30 a.m., Rams beat writer Gilbert Manzano will be on Twitter Spaces to talk with James H. Williams about the team. Here’s how to join in.

TALK TO ME

Thanks for reading the newsletter. Send suggestions, comments and questions by email at KModesti@scng.com and via Twitter @KevinModesti

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

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