With May in the books, it is time to look at the 2021 MLB MVP ladder in both the American League and the National League. If the season ended today, who would snag the league MVPs?
Stats are accurate as of May 31.
See how the rankings changed from April.
2021 MLB MVP: American League
No.1: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays (+2)
After a strong April, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. continued to rake in May. He currently leads the Majors in home runs and OPS+ while pacing the American League on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. Guerrero also leads the AL in oWAR and total bases. His batted ball data also stands out as he sports a 93rd-percentile hard-hit rate and a 99th-percentile average exit velocity. This consistent power has fueled a 98th-percentile xwOBA.
Guerrero should have some staying power even if his Toronto Blue Jays continue to tail off. Toronto will hope that Guerrero follows in his father’s footsteps and secures the AL MVP.
No.2: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (New)
Having a 149 OPS+ is impressive. Having a 163 ERA+ is impressive (even if it is just 36.1 innings). Shohei Ohtani is simultaneously an elite hitter and an elite pitcher. If Ohtani continues to shine like this (an OPS above .900 and an ERA below 3.00), he will be a shoo-in for MVP. Ohtani is third in the AL in WAR and second in the AL in slugging as of writing.
While his microscopic ERA might be fool’s gold because of Ohtani’s exorbitant walk rate, the hitting will keep Ohtani in contention even if he is a league-average pitcher. Even with a poor strikeout and walk rates (as a hitter), Ohtani is in the 89th percentile in xwOBA. Not too shabby for the ace of the staff.
No.3: Adolis Garcia, Texas Rangers (New)
File this under the “who on earth?!” section of MLB history. Coming into 2021, Adolis Garcia had 24 MLB plate appearances. In those, he slashed .087/.125/.130 with a -30 OPS+. In 2021, Garcia is slashing .286/.323/.589 with a 149 OPS+. He led the Majors with 16 home runs through May, and he has even stolen six bases. For as well as Garcia has played in the batter’s box (10th in the AL in oWAR), he may be even better as a defensive centerfielder. He is in the 95th percentile in outs above average, and he is third in the AL in dWAR.
Like Ohtani, Garcia has room to grow in his strikeout and walk rates, but an expected slugging percentage of .566 is in the 93rd percentile. Time will tell if El Bombi is the real deal or not, but through May, he is in the thick of the AL MVP race.
No.4: J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox (+0)
The model of consistency, J.D. Martinez currently leads the American League in hits and batting average. He boasts a stellar .323/.396/.578 slash line with an elite 168 OPS+. He has even been a competent defender (+0 OAA, +2 fielding runs) when he has been asked to play a corner outfield spot for the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox leads the AL Wild Card race largely due to the second-best offense in the league. Martinez is a key cog in Boston’s early-season success, and he will be a driving force through the summer.
No.5: Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins (-4)
Even after missing more than half of the season to this point, Byron Buxton ranks third in dWAR, ninth in oWAR, and sixth in total WAR in the AL. It will be exceptionally difficult for him to make up lost time, but he and Mike Trout have been the best two hitters in the American League regardless of the number of games played.
In 24 games and 98 plate appearances, Buxton has slashed .370/.408/.772 for an otherworldly 230 OPS+. He has already missed 30 games, and he is still on the injured list. His MVP hopes may be dashed, but at least he provided excitement for an otherwise depressing Minnesota Twins team.
2021 MLB MVP: National League
No.1: Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds (New)
Sure, batting average may be overrated historically, but Nick Castellanos‘s .361 through May 1 is to be applauded. He leads MLB in batting average, and his 1.060 OPS leads the NL. Castellanos is second in the NL among position players in WAR while being in the top three in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and total bases. The Cincinnati Reds may be a fourth-place team at the time of writing, but Castellanos has done nothing but help matters.
Castellanos’ batted ball data tells a similar story. He is in the 92nd percentile hard-hit rate, 97th in xwOBA, 99th in expected batting average, and 98th in expected slugging. Castellanos is taking advantage of a career-low strikeout rate and a career-high line-drive rate.
No.2: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres (New)
While Fernando Tatis Jr. does not currently have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, his NL-leading slugging percentage (even with hitless at-bats added) makes him an easy selection here. He is third among NL position players in WAR, and he leads the NL in oWAR despite missing a chunk of the season. He has a slash line of .293/.376/.693 while leading the NL in stolen bases. Even while being a poor defender at shortstop (1st percentile in outs above average), Tatis is making it happen for a playoff-bound San Diego Padres team.
Tatis’ Baseball Savant page is littered with dark red numbers (90th percentile and above), but perhaps the most impressive number is his placement in the 100th percentile of expected slugging. His expected slash line is a mouthwatering .303/.437/.683.
No.3: Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers (New)
Max Muncy is simply walking here. He leads MLB in walks, and his .433 on-base percentage leads the NL. He leads NL position players in WAR, and his 174 OPS+ is in another stratosphere. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ first baseman has also been stellar in the field, being in the 95th percentile in outs above average. Few players can boast Gold Glove-caliber defense and a .982 OPS. Muncy can.
Muncy is in the 100th percentile in walk rate and chase rate, boosting his xwOBA to a healthy 98th percentile. While Muncy has always walked much more than the average hitter, his 19.6% walk rate is 3.2% higher than any other season in Muncy’s career.
No.4: Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves (-3)
After a blistering April with a 1.148 OPS, Ronald Acuna Jr. has fallen back to earth. Acuna’s “down month” was eight home runs and a .843 OPS, so you should take “down month” with a grain of salt. Acuna opened June with a home run, a walk, four runs scored, and a pair of steals. That home run was his 17th of the season, matching the Major League lead.
Acuna is in the 100th percentile in both xwOBA and expected slugging, and he has a 99th-percentile hard-hit rate. While he has not been quite as good defensively as he had been in his first three seasons, he might be the best hitter in baseball.
No.5: Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers (New)
Brandon Woodruff leads the NL in ERA, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, hits per nine, and home runs allowed per nine. While this comes with the caveat that Jacob deGrom will likely get back to the innings pitched minimum in his next start, do not discount how dominant Woodruff has been in 2021. He leads the NL in WAR, and he was borderline unfair in May. Across six starts, Woodruff posted a 1.07 ERA while allowing just 28 combined walks and hits.
Woodruff’s batted-ball data tells a similar story as he ranks in the 95th percentile in both xwOBA and expected ERA. Woodruff has a 0.94 ERA since April 7.
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