With the 2021 Major League Baseball regular season in its waning days, it's time for our final installment in MVP watch. And with that, there is a shift in what we're going to be doing. For the past five weeks or so, I've been estimating how the race was shaping up, using my years of experience in closely watching BBWAA voting behavior to provide a snapshot of how the contenders would likely be slotted.
This time around, I'm going to present what my actual ballots would look like in each league. The good news here if you don't like me and think I don't know what I'm doing is that I don't have a vote on either MVP this year. The good news for the very select few here who do like me and think I'm smart is that I won't be all too different from a lot of the voting body.
I have enough awareness to realize by now most people have skipped down the rankings and have lost interest in my introduction, but I do want to go through my criteria. Hopefully after seeing the rankings, anyone with a question will hop back up here and find the answer.
Here are the things I care about: Individual performance. Baseball is a team sport, yes, but it's nearly all individual plays. A hitter only gets to the plate once every nine spots. Most defenders only get chances when the ball is hit their way. This isn't basketball where one player can single-handedly dominate a game. It's not football where the quarterback is very obviously head and shoulders more important than everyone else and goes a long way in determining what teams are good. A starting pitcher only goes once every five games, so it's awfully tough for me to say any pitcher -- who only pitches, that is -- is one of the 10 most valuable players. They have their own award anyway.
On the individual performance, I care about stats, yes. The triple slash (average/on-base/slugging with average being the least important) along with the ballpark-adjusted metrics like OPS+ and wRC+ would be the most important to me. WAR is a good catch-all, but it isn't the only thing that matters. I like the major counting stats, too, such as hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI (yes, still), runs and stolen bases. I'll definitely consider defensive impact on the positive end with defensive runs saved and outs above average mattering.
I'll also look at win probability added. I've explained before what this is and why it matters. Fans of clutch players getting a bonus should like this.
I am not fully on board with discounting so-called intangibles, however. I reserve the right to give bonus points in my head for a player who I think made a major difference in pushing a team forward with stuff like leadership or performing well in the absence of an important teammate.
Things I don't really care about: Too much emphasis on team performance, such as making the playoffs. See above. I also don't care about something like a "predictive" stat saying a guy played out of his mind this season and that there will likely be a "regression" next year, such as "it's an unsustainable BABIP!" Guess what, when the season is over, he did sustain it. It's a closed book now.
As for any "did you consider (insert player) for the 10th spot?" questions, the answer is very likely yes. I considered everyone who had a good season. I've only got 10 spots per league with dozens of stud players fighting for them.
My AL ballot
1. Shohei Ohtani, Angels
2. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Blue Jays
3. Marcus Semien, Blue Jays
4. Cedric Mullins, Orioles
5. Salvador Perez, Royals
6. Aaron Judge, Yankees
7. Matt Olson, Athletics
8. José Ramírez, Cleveland
9. Carlos Correa, Astros
10. Rafael Devers, Red Sox
I would have absolutely loved to see Vladdy win an MVP at such a young age, but it would be unbelievably foolish to go any other route than Ohtani. He's second in OPS, third in home runs, fifth in stolen bases, first in win probability added, first in WAR and has provided 130 1/3 innings of All-Star-caliber mound work. He can't do anything to make his teammates hit or pitch better, so holding the Angels' record against him shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how baseball works.
The third spot was pretty easy, too. I'd be fine with swapping Mullins and Perez, and it was tough to slot those two, Judge and Olson as it was. Correa gets a big boost on his defensive scores this season along with very good offense.
My NL Ballot
1. Bryce Harper, Phillies
2. Juan Soto, Nationals
3. Fernando Tatis, Jr., Padres
4. Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals
5. Trea Turner, Dodgers
6. Brandon Crawford, Giants
7. Freddie Freeman, Braves
8. Max Muncy, Dodgers
9. Tyler O'Neill, Cardinals
10. Bryan Reynolds, Pirates
One of the biggest things with which to grapple here is, unfortunately, the value of teammates. That is to say, a decent portion of Soto's value is tied to him having a 40-walk lead over Harper with 22 of those being intentional. As such, Soto has a 35-point lead in on-base percentage. So while I don't want to punish anyone for playing for a losing team, Soto's teammates being so much worse than him awards him extra OBP points. On the flip side, doesn't that show just how good he is? The other team is so scared to pitch to him that he walks that much more than everyone. It's tough to nail down and I definitely can see both sides.
Ultimately, I side with Harper due to him leading in slugging, OPS, OPS+ and win probability added while being second to Soto in on-base percentage and third in average. It is paper thin, though, and could even change in the coming days.
Tatis also has a strong argument and I'd consider the top three a Big Three here, accepting no arguments for anyone else for the top spot.
As for the last few spots, they were very tough. A bunch of players, such as Austin Riley, Nick Castellanos and Willy Adames, deserve a mention here.