Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been on a tear during the first half of 2021. The top prospect of three years ago is finally putting together the type of season expected of his talent. Approaching the midway point of the season, Guerrero has a potential Triple Crown in his sights. Most years, he would be the favorite for American League MVP. This year, Vlad Jr.’s facing an unprecedented opponent for that award in a player that no living baseball fan has ever seen before.
Like Vlad’s breakout, Showtime has exploded in Anaheim this spring. Shohei Ohtani is now fully healed from the Tommy John surgery that limited him exclusively to designated hitter the past two seasons. The 26-year-old right-handed pitcher took the mound at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon for his 12th game started this year. He entered the game with a 2.58 ERA. Add to that, 82 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings pitched, having held opposing hitters to a .188 batting average. Enough to earn him a 2.5 bWAR as a starting pitcher alone.
— Bally Sports West (@BallySportWest) June 28, 2021
The ace of the Los Angeles Angels rotation also has league-leading four triples and 28 home runs. He leads all hitters with a 14.8 percent barreled balls per plate appearance. Two percent higher than Fernando Tatis Jr. and Ronald Acuna Jr. He’s not just putting up impressive statistics. He’s not just hitting the pitches he sees, he’s demolishing the balls he hits. A two-way pitching, slugging performance that the game has not seen since Babe Ruth. His 26 home runs averaging a distance of 417 feet only adding to the Ruthian comparisons.
Ohtani has not merely hitting for power but carrying a team that has lost their All-Star, Mike Trout in mid-May. Ohtani has led a winning Angels club since losing Trout. The Japanese superstar has carried the team, assuming the title of the best player in the game in his teammate’s absence. While Guerrero’s offense would likely give him an edge in a head-to-head comparison with Japanese slugger, it’s the pitching that cannot be ignored. Ohtani’s offensive 3.3 WAR ranks fifth to Guerrero’s American League-leading 4.3 WAR. Include the righty’s pitching WAR, then you have a 5.8 overall WAR that dwarfs that of the Toronto All-Star first baseman.
— Bally Sports West (@BallySportWest) March 30, 2021
Ohtani’s legendary season kicked off April 4 during his 2021 pitching debut. A game that featured a home run in his first plate appearance in a DH eligible game as the pitcher. Credit Angels’ manager Joe Maddon for giving Shohei the reigns to determine his playing time. Previous Angels management placed excessive restrictions on the young talent. This year, the Halo’s manager has relinquished those limitations, allowing Ohtani to hit for himself in eight of his first 11 starts. He responded by hitting .304 with three doubles, a home run, scoring five runs while driving in four as a pitcher.
So valuable Ohtani is to the offense, Maddon actually used him as an outfielder in three of those starts. Keeping the left fielder’s bat in the lineup after he’s been relieved for the day on the mound. A move that has proved most successful for the Halos manager. The Angels have come up victorious in five of those eight games in which he multi-tasked as a two-way player.
Showtime turns 27-year-old next week as he continues to garner more attention in MLB circles in July. He’s leading all AL designated hitters in All-Star voting and has agreed to participate in the Home Run Derby. An exhibition that’s hosted in Denver’s mile-high altitude no less. American League manager Kevin Cash had discussions with Maddon last weekend about Ohtani’s usage in the Midsummer Classic. Don’t be surprised to see him appear in a two-way role in that game. Further enhancing the legend of Showtime.
When Trout returns to the Angels lineup after the All-Star break, expect to see more comparisons. Those to legendary baseball tandems like Ruth and Gehrig. The Angels have the duo under control for the next three seasons. Don’t expect Angels’ first-year general manager Perry Minasian to wait as they approach this summer’s trade deadline. Baseball can only benefit from Ohtani and Trout in the postseason sooner rather than later. A playoff appearance that would surely cinch his AL MVP award.
Follow B.J. Martin on Twitter @_HaloLife
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