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Why Aaron Judge’s MVP case vs. Shohei Ohtani doesn’t even need to include Yankees’ record

Ignore the standings and just pick the best player for AL MVP: Aaron Judge

Exactly one week ago, I outlined why the race for AL MVP might be a little closer than many people are considering. I didn’t take any sides but instead illustrated all the reasons that Shohei Ohtani shouldn’t be outright dismissed against Yankees slugger Aaron Judge. The biggest pushback I got from pro-Judge people usually involved comparing the two teams for which those players suit up. Specifically, the Yankees are in the first place and the Angels are terrible, so that means Ohtani couldn’t possibly be as “valuable” as Judge.

That’s incredibly frustrating. We can do so much better. There’s a strong case to be made that Aaron Judge should win the MVP that doesn’t involve “his teammates are better than Ohtani’s.”

Just to reiterate some points made last week, here are my thoughts, for the millionth time (this might not even be hyperbole), on people leaning so heavily on team performance for an individual award in baseball:

This isn’t basketball, where one player can dominate the ball on offense every single possession and then can guard the best player on the other team every defensive possession. There’s simply only so much one baseball player can do. He can only bat once every nine spots in the lineup, sometimes only three times a game. Usually, it’s four times a game, hardly a large enough share of the offensive “possession” to adequately move the needle on a nightly basis for a bad team. On defense, he can only impact the play when the ball is hit in certain places. Sometimes for an outfielder like Judge, that would be zero times in a game. When it comes to pitching, a player still only impacts one side of the game and that’s only once every five games for starting pitchers — and maybe one or two innings every few games as a reliever.

All this is to reiterate a mantra we’ve used here for years: Baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team game. It’s a series of individual matchups. One player can’t actually “carry” a team.

A good number of people translated this as “Matt would vote for Ohtani” and even “Matt hates the Yankees.”

Au contraire.

I’d vote for Judge. I just get tired of bad arguments. Team performance doesn’t have anything to do with Judge being a worthy MVP. It’s an individual award. As an individual, he’s more than deserving.

One of my colleagues recently said to me, “it was going to take a historically great season to beat Ohtani, and, well … ”


It isn’t just that Judge is leading in lots of categories or has huge counting numbers. He’s lapping the competition.

The home runs are the headline and they should be. A judge has 57 heading into Thursday and he’s very likely to be the first player to top 60 without a cloud of PED suspicion since 1961. That, greatly, matters to a lot of people (believe me, I’ve heard plenty about it in light of this).

Perhaps more impressive than that — which is really saying something — is how much Judge is crushing everyone. No one else has 50 homers. No one else even has 40. Kyle Schwarber is the NL leader with 37 home runs. In the AL, Mike Trout is second with 35.

Since Babe Ruth, the other runs at 60 homers came in tandems. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had each other. When Barry Bonds hit 73, Sosa hit 64. Roger Maris’ 61-homer season was part of the M&M boys, as Mickey Mantle hit 54. In 2017, Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 and Judge had 52. Ryan Howard’s 58-homer season in 2006 saw David Ortiz hit 54. And so on.

It’s funny that usually when Babe Ruth has been invoked in MVP discussions these last two seasons it’s due to Ohtani and his two-way prowess, but this time around, it’s Judge. The last time we saw a hitter dwarf the field like this in home runs was Ruth. No player has had a 20-plus home run lead since Ruth finished 1928 with 54. Hack Wilson and Jim Bottomley finished tied for the NL lead with 31 (Lou Gehrig was second in the AL with 27).

That’s how you turn an argument on its head, right? Judge is the one doing something for the first time since Ruth now.

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