Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher/DH Shohei Ohtani in 2021 has already proved to be a reliable purveyor of baseball miracles. As we move deeper into the season an Ohtani keeps on thriving in his two roles, it becomes more and more plausible that he'll achieve his biggest miracle of all -- becoming the American League MVP for 2021 on the strength of his hitting and pitching.
Ahead of what will be a pivotal trip to the mound on Friday against the Oakland Athletics -- for reasons we'll lay out below -- it's time to undertake a forward-looking examination of Ohtani's eventual MVP case.
Specifically, we ask: What would it take? From now until the end of the regular season, Ohtani needs to take care of matters on six different fronts if he's to have a genuine shot at winning the MVP vote. Let's now take them one by one.
1. He needs to keep crushing the ball at the plate
This space continues to wield an impressive mastery of the obvious. Ohtani is going to be a hitter more than he's going to be a pitcher this season. At this writing, he's registered 187 plate appearances at the plate and 129 batters faced on the mound. That trend will almost certainly hold the rest of the way, which means his performance at the plate will likely be the driver of his overall value.
More specifically, power is Ohtani's calling card at the plate, given that he doesn't hit for all high of an average or draw enough walks to yield a lofty OBP. On the power front, he's slugging a robust .626, and his 15 home runs right now rank second in the AL. Ohtani doesn't necessarily need to top the loop in homers in order to make a serious push for the MVP award, but he probably does need to remain on the leaderboard -- in large measure because the homers constitute such a large chunk of his offensive value.
The good news is that Ohtani's underlying indicators suggest he's going to keep it up. Consider:
Ohtani ranks in the 98th percentile of MLB in expected slugging percentage.
He ranks in the 90th percentile in average exit velocity.
He ranks in the 100th percent in maximum exit velocity.
He ranks in the 92nd percentile in hard-hit rate.
He ranks in the 100th percentile in "barrels," or balls that leave the bat with the ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle.
When it comes to quality of contact, few can compare to Ohtani the hitter in 2021, and that bodes well for his near-term future. That's why, given health, he's probably going to continue crushing the ball.
2. He needs to top 100 innings pitched (or thereabouts)
The historically rare feat of providing significant value as a hitter and pitcher is what will animate Ohatni's MVP case. That means he needs to at least "survive and advance" as a member of the Angels' rotation for the remainder of the season.
After Friday's trip to the bump, he'll have made seven starts in the Angels' first 51 games. At that pace, Ohtani will wind up making 22 or 23 starts in 2021, and based on his current average innings per start that should get him to 115 innings or so for the regular season. That's well shy of qualifying status, but topping 100 innings on the mound would probably carry some symbolic value for certain voters.