Even Shohei Ohtani can see how much he's improved as a player.
The two-way superstar is pushing hard to repeat as American League MVP, battling neck and neck with New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge. The competition is especially stiff this time around, but Ohtani is feeling much better about his performance in 2022 compared to last year.
"I don't like to self-critique myself in any way," Ohtani said, according to Megan Garcia of MLB.com, after surrendering three hits over seven shutout innings against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday. "One thing I could say is, overall, balance-wise, I'm having a better season this year than I had last year."
Ohtani's 2021 breakout with the Los Angeles Angels centered around his explosive offensive performance, which included a .965 OPS, 46 homers, and 26 stolen bases. This season's numbers are down slightly but remain elite, as he ranks top 10 in homers (34), runs (82), slugging (.536), OPS (.891), triples (six), and total bases (278).
It's on the mound where he's truly making jaws drop, having emerged as a bona fide AL Cy Young candidate. Now that he's officially qualified for league leaderboards, Ohtani leads the majors in strikeouts per nine while also sitting sixth in strikeouts, third in FIP, and fifth in both ERA and WAR.
Ohtani's last 2 pitching seasons
|Year||IP||ERA||FIP||WHIP||K/9||WAR (as P)|
Ohtani's pitched shutout baseball in seven of his 16 starts since June 9 and allowed three or more earned runs just twice during that span. He's even found company with some elite pitchers, most notably during a historic four-start stretch in early July. On the two-way front, he'll soon become the first player since 1900 to make 600 plate appearances and face 600 batters in one season, according to Sarah Langs of MLB.com, likely by the end of his next start.
Unfortunately for Ohtani, Judge's push for 60 homers may render his chances of repeating as MVP moot. Even if Judge gets there, it won't be an easy choice for voters, although those around Ohtani in Anaheim may disagree.
"I don't take this for granted at all," Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said of Ohtani. "We're all seeing things that we haven't seen before; to be that dominant on both sides. I've said it before, he's the most valuable player of our game right now and until somebody can come in and do the things he does on both sides, I don't see it going any other way."
Though Yankees manager Aaron Boone admitted the MVP choice is a difficult one, he unsurprisingly responded to Ohtani's pronouncement by endorsing his own superstar.
"I think Shohei might be having a better year (than in 2021), but Judge is having one for the ages," Boone said Sunday, according to Chris Kirschner of The Athletic.