Can Vladdy break slump in the big moment?
TORONTO — Dante Bichette knows what it feels like to finish as a bridesmaid in an MVP race.
Twenty-six years ago, Bichette, who earned MVP votes in four separate seasons during his career, watched as Barry Larkin walked away with the 1995 National League MVP award.
For Bichette, a league-leading 40 homers and 128 RBI were not enough to convince voters he was the best player in the National League that season.
“I was a little frustrated, yeah,” Bichette recalls. “In the end, when I looked back, I probably got robbed. It was because it was the first year in Coors Field and everyone kind of docked my numbers because it’s Coors Field.
“I didn’t even think Larkin was going to win it. I thought, ‘Yeah, they’re going to screw me on the Coors Field thing and they’re going to give it to Greg Maddux.’ And he finished third.”
Baseball was a much different world back then, and how players are valued has changed significantly.
That year, Bichette was worth just 1.2 bWAR.
Maddux was worth 9.6.
Larkin, the winner, posted a 5.9 bWAR campaign, piling up 51 stolen bases, 15 homers and playing terrific shortstop defence.
Instead of the ace or the big bopper playing in thin air, voters went with the top-of-the-lineup table-setter.
Fast forward to this year and even though the MVP race is over in most people’s minds, it’s another pick-your-poison scenario with Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as the runaway favourites.
A historic season from a two-way player whose team isn’t close to the playoff race or a monster statistical campaign from a player whose team is likely to win 90 games?
Oddsmakers see Ohtani as the runaway favourite heading into the final days of the regular season, but around batting cages within the game there’s a certain belief it should be much more of a debate.
Bichette, who’s spending his days behind the scenes as a resource for Jays hitters during the final month of the season, may be a touch biased considering the uniform, but the nuance of Ohtani’s value is making it tough for some to figure out if he’s the MVP.
Especially when Vladdy Jr. was making a run at the triple crown earlier this month, before cooling off significantly over the past week.
“I can really see both sides of it,” Bichette said. “The guy pitches and hits. That’s two players, right?
“Maybe it is the most the valuable thing, but I think the best year in baseball right now is being had by Vladimir Guerrero.”
With Ohtani now shut down on the pitching side for 2021, the 27-year-old finishes with a 9-2 record and a 3.18 ERA across 130.1 innings. That output was worth 2.9 fWAR, making him the 17th-most valuable starter in the American League.
That’s a pretty good asset in itself.
But add in the 45 homers Ohtani has walloped in his 616 trips to the plate, and once the Babe Ruth comparisons begin, the narrative changes significantly.
It’s not hyperbole, either. The only comp for what Ohtani is doing is one of the greatest players of all time.
Adding in the 4.9 fWAR Ohtani has produced with the bat, it becomes very difficult to ignore 7.8 fWAR and impact contributions from the mound and the middle of the order.
Jays ace Robbie Ray, who’s embroiled in his own awards debate, doesn’t have an answer, either, but watching from afar has the 29-year-old asking an important question, the same one the Los Angeles Angels front office will have to answer before handing Ohtani a monster contract extension.
“I don’t know,” Ray said of who would get his MVP vote, “and, honestly, I don’t know how long he can keep up what he’s doing. It seems to be a lot to ask of your body, so we’ll see how long he’ll be able to keep it up.”
That sentiment alone may win Ohtani the award.
There’s no guarantee a season like this will ever be seen again.