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The state of the AL MVP debate entering the season’s final week

The Judge/Ohtani saga has been going on for what feels like a millennia. Now that the last week is upon us, has anything changed?

92nd MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Over the course of the current MLB season, we as fans of the sport have witnessed some incredible individual performances. On the west coast, Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani is breaking the mold, pitching at an incredible level and hitting among the best in the American league as well. Over on the east coast, Aaron Judge is making history with his production at the plate. He’s mashing home runs left and right, while also competing for a triple crown against Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox and Luis Arraez from the Minnesota Twins.

Since both of these players are so talented and they’re performing at the top of their respective games, there’s no surprise that the debate about the AL MVP has heated up as the season comes to the final week. My colleague Sam Chapman wrote about the nuances of the debate, and his points still hold. There are so many different factors that apply here, particularly because the debate hinges on how much you credit you grant Ohtani for his sensational two-way play.

But what do the statistics look like now that we’ve reached the season’s week? How much of this debate hinges on Ohtani’s pitching? For starters, the hitting doesn’t even compare. Judge leads the American League in batting average (.314), on-base percentage (.425), slugging percentage (.695), wRC+ (209!!!), and finally, in fWAR with 10.9. He also currently sits with 60 home runs, one away from tying Roger Maris’ 1961 total of 61. To reiterate, what Judge has been doing at the plate this season is historic.

I don’t want to disregard Ohtani either, because he has still been a top hitter. He’s slashing .271/.357/.530 with a wRC+ of 145 and fWAR 3.8. His lefty power bat in the Angels lineup is always going to be valuable. He’s nowhere near the level Judge is at currently, but that has more to do with Judge’s excellence rather than any fault of Ohtani’s.

Now, here is where everything begins to get complicated. Ohtani has been one of the best pitchers in the American League this year. If he had not been, then this argument may be moot. But Ohtani clocks in at an AL-high K/9 (11.94), fourth in ERA (2.47), second in FIP (2.52) and xFIP (2.72), and a 5.0 pitching fWAR. Not too shabby. There are valid arguments out there that he should be in contention for the AL Cy Young.

There are so many angles to approach this argument with. One straightforward way to look at things is that Judge’s fWAR is higher than Ohtani’s combined hitting and pitching fWAR. It’s certainly compelling that Judge’s total still easily dwarfs Ohatni’s combined total, though fWAR isn’t the be-all-end-all.

The one pitfall comes in the fact that fWAR is not the only metric that should be used when it comes to debating which player is more valuable. However, the question could be asked, does it become more important in this context than it would be in any other one where the statistics are more comparable?

In Ohtani’s favor, there is the argument that no one can do what he’s doing by playing four days and then pitching at an elite level on the fifth while also hitting on that same day. The uniqueness of his skillset is important to remember. His ability to fill multiple roles allows the Angels flexibility in building out their roster. There must be some value in that, value that escapes a metric like fWAR. But is it anywhere near enough value to bridge the apparent statistical gap between Ohtani and Judge?

The fact of the matter remains that this debate is not going to get any easier heading into the final week, and both players have cases to be at the top of the ballot. Ultimately, whoever eventually comes out on top, it’s probably best to just be thrilled that we are witnessing two of the most remarkable players of the modern generation. That’s what is most important.