by Deb Seymour
There has been much written about Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who will go down in history as one of the few legendary Major League Baseball players who “could do it all.” Comparisons to Babe Ruth do not occur often, and we’ve all seen more than our fair share of them this season regarding Ohtani — who is undoubtedly one of the most talented and entertaining professional baseball players to hit the diamond in more than a generation.
I think there’s little doubt that Ohtani will win his share of MLB awards this year. And yet, sports fans love to play the “What if?” game. So let us, just for a brief moment, speculate about who in the American League might be up for a few awards even with Ohtani taking the baseball world by storm this year.
There’s still a month left of the 2021 baseball season, so nothing is as of yet a “lock;” but there are some American League players who are having standout years and they merit our attention. And, some of them, undoubtedly, will win awards.
In the offensive category, as of today, August 4, 2021, according to Baseball Reference and prior to any games being played, Michael Brantley of the Houston Astros is leading all hitters with a 3.16 batting average. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays is leading all hitters with a .407 on-base percentage. And, although Shohei Ohtani is leading all hitters with a .612 slugging percentage, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is actually leading all hitters in the on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) category with an impressive 1.008 OPS.
Meanwhile, although Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals has played the most games to date, at 134 games — and has actually had the most plate appearances and at bats, at 592 and 542, respectively — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leads all AL hitters with 100 runs scored.
Who has the most total bases in the AL this year, to date? Vladimir Guerrero Jr., at 295 total bases. And who has the most hits in the AL this year, to date? You guessed it: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., at 155.
Shohei Ohtani leads the AL with 42 home runs, to date. Who comes in second? Vladimir Guerrero Jr., with 39. Although Shohei Ohtani leads the AL in terms of overall wins above replacement (which includes pitching WAR stats) with an impressive 7.9, in terms of offensive wins above replacement (oWAR), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leads the AL at 5.5.
Are you beginning to sense a theme here? — because I am… We might be getting close to being able to say that the best offensive player in the AL right now is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. So look out for those Blue Jays over the next few years.
On the pitching side of the equation in the AL, we already mentioned that Ohtani’s total WAR is 7.9, but Robbie Ray of the Toronto Blue Jays has the highest pitching WAR at 6.1. Lance Lynn of the Chicago White Sox has the lowest earned run average to date (despite recently having to go on the injured list) with a pretty shiny 2.59 ERA. Robbie Ray comes in second at 2.71, and Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees comes in third at 2.73. Chris Bassitt of the Oakland A’s, who unfortunately was hit badly by a line drive back in August, comes in fourth at 3.22.
Although many would argue that win/loss record no longer matters in baseball stats (including myself), highest in win/loss percentage is Chris Bassitt of the Oakland A’s at .750. Lance Lynn comes in second, tied with Lance McCullers Jr. of the Houston Astros, at .714. Gerrit Cole comes in third, at .700.
In terms of walks and hits per total innings pitched, Gerrit Cole leads with the lowest in the AL at .968. Robbie Ray, Chris Bassitt, and Lance Lynn all follow with stats slightly above 1.000. Cole, Ray, Lynn, and Bassitt also all lead in the category of hits per nine innings pitched, each with stats below .7331.
Similarly to highest number of home runs being one of the sexiest offensive stats in baseball, number of strikeouts per nine innings is one of the sexiest pitching stats in baseball. Leading in this category in the AL is Gerrit Cole at 12.484. Following closely behind are Dylan Cease of the Chicago White Sox, Robbie Ray, Lucas Giolito of the Chicago White Sox, and Lance Lynn, all with over 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
If you’re not beginning to sense two themes here, I can tell you which two I’m sensing: a. the Chicago White Sox sure can pitch; and b. there are basically four pitchers in the AL who are contending for the Cy Young award this year: Bassitt, Cole, Lynn, and Ray. Not coincidentally, these four pitchers all lead the AL in adjusted ERA+, as well, which takes a pitcher’s ERA and normalizes it across the entire league. Adjusted ERA+ also takes into account factors like ballparks pitched in, and who the pitcher’s opponents were.
Who the contenders are for gold gloves across the AL this year is another category worth exploring, but I’ll leave that for another time. Defensive stats are lengthy and cover many positions; which makes them worthy of their own blog post.
For now, let’s just say that after last year’s Covid 19-truncated season, it’s really nice to have a 162-game season again. We’ve seen many no-hitters this year in baseball, also a topic worth exploring. But we’re also seeing some of the best of the best in both leagues (AL and NL) achieving some feats that have never before been accomplished — and I know we’re all extra appreciative of that this year. It’s Labor Day weekend, and there’s still much baseball to be played. So enjoy it — and let’s play ball!
*All statistics presented in this post were sourced from Baseball Reference.