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What Shohei Ohtani is doing is so unique and elite that he may not be caught as the AL MVP. He leads the league in home runs and slugging while striking out 11.7 batters for nine innings in 13 starts. But Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is treating that race like he does with fastballs at the plate: he’s not conceding anything.
Guerrero has his own trump card to play: the Triple Crown. Guerrero is behind Ohtani by just three home runs as he leads the league in batting average and RBIs. He’s on track to hit 55 home runs and hit .332. Only three players have reached those thresholds, none in the past 89 years: Jimmie Foxx, Hack Wilson, and Babe Ruth (twice). And all of them when they did it were older than Guerrero, who is 22 years old.
What makes Guerrero such a devastating hitter isn’t just a flat, powerful swing that spins around any speed at any height. (He’s hitting .399 and slugging .757 against fastballs.) It is also that Guerrero is extremely disciplined at the plate. Much has been made of her weight loss as the key to her breakout season. The biggest impact has been the best selection of shots to attack. Guerrero has reduced his persecution rate from 28.9% in 2019 to 21.9% this year. He has more hits on pitches in the strike zone than any batter in baseball.
Add up his batting profile: massive power, elite contact, excellent pitch selection and the way he almost never loses his balance at the plate when he gets duped, and Guerrero remembers Manny Ramirez. And to complete the comparison, note the strong resemblance to the beginning of their careers:
First 273 racing games
|Average||HOUR||RBI||Bed and breakfast||THEN||OPS|
There’s one more element that could tip some voters toward Guerrero: a playoff spot. Toronto has a 67% chance of playing in the postseason. His rotation is better than you think, with pitching coach Pete Walker turning Robbie Ray into a strike pitcher and rookie Alek Manoah making an impact. Ray, Manoah, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Steven Matz are 27-14. The bullpen, which has gone through 26 relievers, could use a power arm like Craig Kimbrel.
The Blue Jays play seven of their next 10 games against Boston, then return to Toronto to play their first games at the Rogers Center in nearly two years, an emotional boost almost guaranteed for the club in the second half.
Guerrero, who has played in every game, could have more significant September moments than Ohtani, the kinds of moments that can leave an impression on MVP voters. And the Blue Jays finish with 14 of their last 23 games against Baltimore and Minnesota, two of the three worst pitching corps in the American League.
Ohtani remains the clear favorite to win the MVP. But Guerrero is on his own historic path to possibly create a debate with echoes of 1941 (Joe DiMaggio on Ted Williams) and 2012 (Miguel Cabrera on Mike Trout).
New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole made the adjustment in baseball’s crackdown on sticky substances. Spin speeds are low on his fastball (-184 rpms) and glider (-180 rpms), but so are the batting averages against those pitches. How did you do it?
After struggling with poor fastball dominance, and getting hit in a start in Boston on May 31, Cole made a key change in his next outing. He moved from the center of the rubber to the far side of first base. His ERA this month is 2.45 – from 4.65 in June – and he has reduced his shooting percentage to the middle of the plate from 28% to 23%.
In 2019, when he “learned” how to spin straights with Houston, Cole threw 340 straights at 2,600 rpm or more. In June and July, with the crackdown in place, it has launched only three of those launches. Its high-spin heater practically disappeared overnight. But Cole is showing that he’s still an elite pitcher without ridiculously high spin rates.
Monday marks a month since the implementation phase of the crackdown on sticky substances began. Overall batting average and slugging increased while RPM decreased by an average of 72.
Before June 21
Greater change in overall turning speed
Minimal change in overall spin speed
More MLB coverage:
• Second Half Mysteries: Inside MLB’s Exciting Stretching Race
• Five Conversations on the ‘Angel and Devil’ Trade Deadline
• In Ohtani’s year, MLB stars are celebrating the best of all
• Three Important Questions Before MLB’s Trade Deadline
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.