With the first half of the season 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 July 14.
2021 MLB MVP: American League
No.1: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (+1)
Shohei Ohtani has achieved a sort of mythical quality in 2021. As of the All-Star Break, Ohtani leads Major League Baseball in home runs, total bases, and slugging percentage. Ohtani has racked up 5.6 bWAR and 5.5 fWAR so far, topping both leaderboards. Ohtani is on pace for 10.8 and 10.6 bWAR and fWAR respectively. No active player has hit either milestone, and Barry Bonds is the only person to hit either mark in the wild card era (since 1995).
Even if you exclude pitching stats from the equation, Ohtani would be second in the AL MVP ladder. Ohtani’s pitching does lag behind his hitting, but he is having an all-around solid season on the mound despite an astronomical walk rate.
No.2: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays (-1)
Similar to Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has a laundry list of league-leading stats. Guerrero leads baseball in runs batted in, batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+, wRC+, and wOBA. He leads position players in fWAR, and he is third in bWAR (among position players) despite a harsh anti-first base influence. The 2021 All-Star Game MVP has had quite the coming-out party, posting an obscene .326 ISO.
Guerrero is in the 99th percentile of average exit velocity, xwOBA, expected batting average, and expected slugging. He has even inched toward being a league-average defensive first baseman. Guerrero is having an exceptional season, but he is facing an uphill battle as Ohtani gets to rack up both hitting and pitching stats.
No.3: Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles (New)
A 2021 first-time All-Star, Cedric Mullins is one of few bright spots on the 28-61 Baltimore Orioles. Mullins is having a tremendous all-around season. He has a .314/.380/.541 slash line with a 151 OPS+ and 151 wRC+. He also is in the 90th percentile in sprint speed and 97th percentile in outs above average. Mullins leads the AL in hits, and he is the only American Leaguer with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases.
Is this level of play sustainable? Perhaps not. Mullins is just in the 67th percentile in xwOBA, but Mullins has had an unforgettable season nonetheless. Mullins could be the first AL centerfielder to win the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove in the same season since former Oriole Adam Jones accomplished the feat in 2013.
No.4: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros (New)
Carlos Correa is the ringleader of a dominant Houston Astros team in 2021. Correa has racked up 3.9 bWAR and 3.8 fWAR as the second-straight potential Gold Glove/Silver Slugger player in this list. Correa is slashing .288/.385/.510 with 16 home runs, a 145 OPS+, and a 149 wRC+. He is in the 91st percentile in outs above average, and he ranks in the top 20 percentiles in xwOBA, expected batting average, and walk rate.
Correa is working against two factors that will likely keep him from a high finish in the MVP race. As a member of an exceptional lineup, Correa will split votes with the likes of Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, Kyle Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez. The second factor is any residual hate from voters based on the Houston cheating scandal.
No.5: Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays (New)
In his first season as a second baseman, Marcus Semien has already earned his first career All-Star spot. Semien leads position players in bWAR, even over his teammate Guerrero. This is not Semien’s first foray into MVP-caliber player as he earned a third-place finish in 2019 on the strength of 8.6 bWAR. While he is not quite on that pace (his 2021 pace is for 8.0 over 162 games), he is having another strong season. He is one of five players in MLB with 20 doubles and 20 home runs, bolstering his career-high .528 slugging percentage.
Like Mullins, Semien’s expected stats do not paint the prettiest picture, but MVP ladders are based on what a player has done not what a player is expected to do. Semien could also secure the Gold Glove/Silver Slugger duo as he is in the 91st percentile in outs above average.
2021 MLB MVP: National League
No.1: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets (New)
After posting a superhuman 0.50 ERA through his first 12 starts (72 innings), Jacob deGrom has been mortal in his last three starts. He has a 3.15 ERA in his last 20 innings. Remember, this is the worst three-game stretch of his season. He has been so dominant that posting three straight quality starts is seen as a disappointment.
Sure, the gap is diminishing, but deGrom is still having an incomprehensible season. He still has an ERA of 1.08, lower than the legendary Bob Gibson’s 1.12 in 1968. He leads the NL in strikeouts, but that is only the beginning. He leads MLB in ERA, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, hits per nine, walks per nine, strikeouts per nine, and strikeouts per walk. His 363 ERA+ has never been sniffed by any starting pitcher in the 151-year history of Major League Baseball.
No.2: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres (+0)
Fernando Tatis Jr. is tied with Semien for the Major League-lead in bWAR (among position players), and he only trails the recently-injured Ronald Acuna Jr. in the NL’s fWAR leaderboard. Tatis is slashing .286/.364/.656 with an NL-leading tally of home runs. He also leads the league in stolen bases, OPS, and OPS+. Tatis is the only player in MLB history to have 28 home runs and 20 steals in the first 74 games of a season. Only three other players have a 28/20 stretch in 74 games: Christian Yelich, Barry Bonds, and Eric Davis.
Among those that have played 90% of their games in a season at shortstop and qualified for the batting title, Tatis is just the third to have a 180 or better OPS+. Only Honus Wagner (three times) and Arky Vaughan join Tatis. To put Tatis’ dominance in perspective, Alex Rodriguez never matched Tatis’ .656 slugging percentage or 181 OPS+.
No.3: Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers (+0)
While the NL race is a two-horse race with deGrom and Tatis, Max Muncy has put together a strong third-place campaign. Muncy leads the NL in walks and on-base percentage, and he has a robust .270/.414/.559 slash line. He has a 168 OPS+ and a 165 wRC+. Muncy has also had an exceptional defensive season. In 66 games at first base, Muncy has +6 defensive runs saved. It is a similar story at second base where Muncy is +3 in 28 games.
Muncy only trails Tatis in OPS+ in the NL. His total zone runs at first base leads the NL and is tied with Yuli Gurriel for the most at the position.
No.4: Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants (New)
Brandon Crawford is having the best season of his career. The three-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glover, and 2015 Silver Slugger has a ridiculous .289/.364/.556 slash line as a shortstop. Without Tatis, Crawford would be the overwhelming favorite to win the Silver Slugger. Crawford has a 149 OPS+, a 35-point improvement on his next-best season (2020). He is on pace to post his career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in his 11th season and his age-34 season.
Crawford’s monster season is far from a fluke. He is in the 92nd percentile in xwOBA, 95th percentile in expected slugging percentage and 92nd percentile in barrel rate. He is also living up to his elite defensive reputation with his third season in the top 10 percentile of outs above average.
No.5: Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants (New)
Kevin Gausman enters the second half with a stellar 1.73 ERA. If not for deGrom, Gausman would be the favorite to win the Cy Young. Like Crawford, Gausman is inexplicably having the best season of his career in 2021. He had never made an All-Star team until 2021. Gausman will almost certainly earn the first MVP and Cy Young votes of his career barring an epic collapse.
Gausman’s success stems from his splitter and his four-seam fastball. There are just nine pitches in baseball worth -14 or better run value. Gausman owns two of them. Among pitches that have been thrown 300 times, only deGrom’s slider beats out Gausman’s splitter in terms of generating negative run value per pitch.
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