If Shohei Ohtani had 22 homers plus a 4.10 ERA in 27 starts, that would qualify as one of the most remarkable seasons ever.
But Ohtani went into Saturday with 34 homers and a 2.35 ERA. He had a 1.254 OPS as a hitter with runners in scoring position (the best in the majors) and a .482 OPS against as a pitcher — third-best among the 116 pitchers who had at least 100 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
Ohtani’s slash line overall as a hitter was .276/.359/.529, with those 34 homers, 94 RBIs and 88 runs scored. So he essentially has been the equivalent of Atlanta’s best hitter, Austin Riley: .279/.349/.534 with 38 homers, 93 RBIs and 88 runs.
Meanwhile, Ohtani had 5.9 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference) as a pitcher, fifth-best in the majors. The guy with the second-best strikeout percentage among qualified pitchers, at 33.1, also has two fewer triples (six) as a hitter than the entire Yankees team.
And it should be cited that Ohtani qualifies for both the batting and ERA titles (he needs one inning to assure qualifying for the season).
It still feels impossible that one person can do that. It feels even more impossible, having experienced what I think is the greatest individual season in baseball history, to write this sentence: I don’t think he is the AL Most Valuable Player.
He is the Most Remarkable. Most Amazing. Most Stunning. And in any other year, pretty much, he would be the Most Valuable.
There were only two avenues to keep him from going back-to-back as AL MVP — that nothing he did (through no fault of his own) came in the context of helping a team win (shame on the Angels once again), thus, none of it was done under the duress of a playoff chase. And there was someone else in his league who also had an immortal season and did so carrying his team to first place.
I just don’t know how you can be more valuable than Aaron Judge was for the Yankees. Sure, it was the homers. Going into the weekend, he was tied for the most ever by a player with no ties to illegal performance-enhancers. But he had roughly 20-ish more homers than anyone else in the majors (think Secretariat at the Belmont). He was as responsible as any player for his team winning that I have ever seen.
Judge’s ability to play center field capably improved the entire team by getting Aaron Hicks out of the daily lineup and giving manager Aaron Boone flexibility to play a better overall team regularly.
Judge hit in the clutch (1.251 OPS with runners in scoring position and four walk-off hits). When his surroundings were, well, Angel-ic in the second half due to injury or diminished performance all around him, Judge was the singular reason the Yankees won enough not to blow the entirety of a 15 1/2-game division lead. He was the team-first leader when it all could have been about him. He was durable (sixth in the AL in games played). He was no Stadium creation — the homer at Rogers Centre that tied Roger Maris’ AL record of 61 homers was his 31st on the road (do the math, that is 30 at home).
Judge was 16-for-19 in steal attempts — and he wasn’t padding. Fourteen of the thefts came in games in which the score was within two runs one way or the other and 10 came with the Yankees leading or trailing by a run or with the score tied.
And I will give Judge points for this: He did it all after turning down a $213.5 million extension before his free-agent walk year. He did not cave to the pressure. It elevated him. And he elevated the second-best team in the AL. The best, the Astros, had a 32-game lead on the Angels in the AL West. Again, no fault of Ohtani, but the reality he played within.
Imagine having the year Ohtani had and yet, when asked what you remember about 2022, his name will not be the first evoked. This was Judge’s year.
And it is not an easy ballot even beyond that. Andres Gimenez has a higher WAR than Cleveland teammate Jose Ramirez. But Ramirez actually has more intentional walks than Judge, which is the league’s way of saying who it fears most on the team. Plus, Ramirez (like Gimenez) is a superb all-around player while being the veteran presence on the division-winning youngest team in the majors.
Yordan Alvarez emerges for a top-five nod from many strong candidates for the AL-best Astros. I am going to split the baby — I believe Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez had the better overall season (Rookie of the Year) but that Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman had the greater impact for his team, because there is no rarer commodity in the sport than the elite two-way catcher — throw in leadership skills on top of that.
1. Judge, Yankees. 2. Ohtani, Angels. 3. Ramirez, Guardians. 4. Alvarez, Astros. 5. Rutschman, Orioles.
Yasmani Grandal, White Sox
There were so many disappointing performances on the league’s most disappointing team, none more so than Grandal, whose on-base prowess dimmed and whose power vanished. He still has one season to go on a four-year, $73 million pact. Might this have been Joey Gallo if he had not been traded from the Yankees to the NL (Dodgers)?
2. Javy Baez, Tigers. 3. Spencer Torkelson, Tigers. 4. Kole Calhoun, Rangers. 5. Yuli Gurriel, Astros.
Manny Machado, Padres
Partnerships were huge in the NL this year. Paul Goldschmidt had Nolan Arenado with the Cardinals. Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor had each other, and still — for sheer value on how the Mets won — is it possible Edwin Diaz was the team MVP? Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman formed the best top 1-2-3 of any lineup in the majors for the Dodgers. Who was Robin to Machado’s Batman?
Fernando Tatis Jr. never played in 2022, first due to a wrist injury, then because of a PED-related suspension. Juan Soto was not the force the Padres envisioned after essentially emptying their farm system to acquire him at the deadline from Washington. By the way, Soto and Tatis finished second and third in the NL MVP voting last year.
Yet, the Fangraphs’ version of WAR had Machado (7.1) basically tied with Arenado and Goldschmidt (7.2), who had each other for protection. Machado had 14 more homers than anyone else on his team. He was hitting .319 with a 1.005 OPS with men in scoring position. He is a tick down from Arenado, but Machado is nevertheless a terrific third baseman. Like Judge, Machado has carried a team that would have been offensively challenged without him. His value as a solo act to his team exceeds the partnerships.
2. Goldschmidt, Cardinals. 3. Betts, Dodgers. 4. Lindor, Mets. 5. Arenado, Cardinals.
Avisail Garcia, Marlins
When you run a low-payroll team, you cannot be as wrong as Miami was in giving Garcia a four-year, $53 million pact plus three years at $36 million for Jorge Soler. While Derek Jeter was in charge, they also considered Nick Castellanos, who went to the Phillies for five years at $100 million. All had poor seasons. Perhaps the winner should have been Robinson Cano. Remember, in what feels like 10 years ago, when Buck Showalter was being asked how he would find at-bats this season for Cano? Ultimately, Cano spread around his poor farewell results to three NL teams (also the Padres and Braves).
2. Cano, Mets/Padres/Braves. 3. Castellanos, Phillies. 4. Mike Moustakas, Reds. 5. Marcell Ozuna, Braves.
AL CY YOUNG
Justin Verlander, Astros
This a competition among very good candidates who are short of perfect. Verlander had a lead before a calf injury cost him three weeks in the second half. Still, his combination of enough bulk with dominance gives him an edge. Though I really looked at Toronto’s Alek Manoah, who never authored a start of fewer than five innings, never had a complete dud start and did terrific work against the best teams (2.37 ERA in 16 starts vs clubs with winning records).
Who you pitch against matters. Cleveland ace Shane Bieber had thrown 101 2/3 of his AL-high 195 innings against the four other dregs in the AL Central (none above .500) and pitched to a 2.30 ERA. Dylan Cease made nine starts against the Tigers, Royals and Twins and had a 0.81 ERA in those games.
Ohtani, conversely, made 11 starts vs. opponents in the top 10 in average runs per game and had a 2.73 ER and .210 batting average against.
2. Manoah. 3. Cease, White Sox. 4. Ohtani, Angels. 5. Bieber, Guardians/Framber Valdez, Astros.
AL ANTI-CY YOUNG
Jose Berrios, Blue Jays
Manoah and teammate Kevin Gausman were AL Cy Young candidates, Berrios and teammate Yusei Kikuchi were contenders for this dishonor. The split personality of the rotation is among the reasons the Blue Jays failed to track down the Yankees in the AL East.
In the preseason, I actually picked Berrios to win the AL Cy Young, feeling he pitched well in a playoff chase last year after being obtained by Toronto, received a theoretically pressure-removing seven-year, $131 million extension and was in his prime. Instead, he gave up 29 homers among his league-high 196 hits and pitched to a 5.37 ERA.
2. Emilio Pagan, Twins. 3. Kikuchi, Blue Jays. 4. Aroldis Chapman, Yankees. 5. Joe Kelly, White Sox.
NL CY YOUNG
Sandy Alcantara, Marlins
He made 20 starts of seven innings and two or fewer earned runs. The next most was Bieber with 12. The next most in the NL was 11. He had a 2.28 ERA over 228 2-3 innings – going into Saturday no other pitcher in the majors had topped 200 innings. Verlander, 2.0. Verlander, 2.0.
2. Max Fried, Braves. 3. Julio Urias, Dodgers. 4. Zac Gallen, Diamondbacks. 5. Yu Darvish, Padres/Carlos Rodon, Giants.
NL ANTI-CY YOUNG
Patrick Corbin, Nationals
The lefty made 30 starts with a 6.08 ERA — he had seven starts of six runs against or more and 15 of five runs or more. In 72 starts since he was a key figure in helping Washington win the 2019 World Series, Corbin is 17-41 with a 5.72 ERA.
2. Sean Manaea, Padres. 3. Madison Bumgarner, Diamondbacks. 4. Mike Minor, Reds. 5. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
He hit .206 without a homer in 20 April games and then, well, wow. He ultimately reached 25 homers and 25 steals in 125 games, topping Mike Trout (128 games) for the fastest ever to start a career. Seattle signed him to a seven-year, $119.3 million extension that could be for a lot longer and worth a lot more. He is electric and a cornerstone.
It was a good year for AL rookies when Felix Bautista, Brock Burke, Jhoan Duran, Reid Detmers, Jose Miranda, Joe Ryan and Bobby Witt Jr. couldn’t squeeze onto this ballot.
2. Rutschman, Orioles. 3. Steven Kwan, Guardians. 4. George Kirby, Mariners. 5. Jeremy Peña, Astros.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Michael Harris, Braves
The only time since 1985 that one team had a pitcher and a hitter finish 1-2 in the Rookie of the Year balloting was the 2011 Braves, with Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman. Atlanta is going to do it again this year. The only question is will it be Harris or Spencer Strider first? Their instant impact was central to the defending champs awakening from a sleepy start to challenge the Mets for the NL East crown. The Braves had hoped Harris could stabilize center field defensively. He did that – and also went into Saturday with 19 homers, 20 steals and an .872 OPS.
Do the Cardinals have a copy machine and just keep bringing up the same player year after year, but change the names — like Brendan Donovan and Lars Nootbar this year? The Reds’ rookie pitching foursome of Graham Ashcraft, Alexis Diaz (Edwin’s brother), Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo offered promise for the future; so perhaps did the Cubs trio of reliever Brandon Hughes, the versatile Christopher Morel and right fielder Seiya Suzuki.
2. Strider, Braves. 3. Donovan, Cardinals. 4. Diaz, Reds. 5. Morel, Cubs.
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Terry Francona, Guardians
No one else seemed to want to win the AL Central, so plaudits to Francona for guiding the majors’ youngest roster to the top. Francona has battled myriad health issues in recent years, but still got the best out of a contact-oriented club lacking in both homer and star power. Francona maximized a rather anonymous bullpen to climb to the top of an AL Central that is without another team currently with a winning record.
2. Brandon Hyde, Orioles. 3. Dusty Baker, Astros. 4. Aaron Boone, Yankees. 5. Scott Servais, Mariners.
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
It should be noted with all of these awards that there was still nearly a week left in the season when I wrote this, thus, there was much in play. Showalter was handed a $290 million payroll, but that also meant he was handed a $290 million payroll and all the pressures that come with it — plus the need to steer the Mets away from a history of underperformance, excuse making and self-immolation. The club has been sharp, professional and generally excellent from Day 1. If this plays out this way, Showalter would win a fourth Manger of the Year award with a fourth different team.
2. Dave Roberts, Dodgers. 3. Brian Snitker, Braves. 4. Oli Marmol, Cardinals. 5. Rob Thomson, Phillies.