Toronto Blue Jays: Haven’t we learned by now?
If there’s one thing we should have learned from the 2021 Toronto Blue Jays, it’s that we should never count them out of anything.
Whether that’s a scorching hot streak that got them back in the postseason race, or turning a no-hitter into an 10-run lead during the last inning, it’s pretty tough to predict anything about the Blue Jays this season. With that in mind, I don’t understand why so many folks think that the AL MVP race has already been decided.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that if the season ended today that Shohei Ohtani of the Angels would be the clear winner, and deservedly so. As a legitimate two-way star having a historic season, it’s hard to argue that there’s any individual bringing more value to their team.
That said, I don’t think we should rule out the possibility that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could overtake him over the season’s final weeks. Allow me to explain why I’m not ready to call this race.
First of all, it’s become an exciting development that young Vlad is in pursuit of a Triple Crown, something that hasn’t been done since Miguel Cabrera back in 2012, and prior to that it hadn’t happened for 45 years going back to Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. It’s not an accomplishment that we get to witness very often, and it lead to an AL MVP award for Cabrera in 2012 for his efforts, and the same for Yastrzemski in ’67.
How close is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to reaching the same historic milestone? As of the end of play on Friday night he leads the American League in home runs with 46, and also in batting average at .318. He’s currently in third place in RBI and eight behind the leader in Salvador Perez, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could catch up in that third category as well. If the 22 year old managed to pull that off he’d have a pretty serious accolade to add to the argument for him as the MVP.
Secondly, I think we have to remember that the MVP award is determined by voting and not by stats. As a result, the voters don’t always choose the best player on paper, and there’s no guarantee they’re going to hand the award to Ohtani. As I said before, I think it’s highly likely that the Japanese sensation wins the honour, but I don’t think it’s a given at this stage, especially if he doesn’t pitch again for the rest of the season.
Look no further than the last Blue Jays player to win the MVP award in Josh Donaldson in 2015. He had an incredible season that resulted in 7.1 bWAR, but that was only good for third in the AL. Manny Machado played with the Orioles at that time and finished the season with 7.5 bWAR, and Mike Trout ran away from the field with 9.6. The difference wasn’t as drastic by the fWAR measure on Fangraphs, nor is WAR the only stat that matters here, but it gives us a fairly recent point of reference.
According to Baseball Reference, Ohtani holds the MLB lead with 7.7, and Vlad Jr. isn’t all that far behind with 6.3. If the Blue Jays slugger can stay hot and help lead his exciting young team to the postseason, that’s always going to factor into the equation as well. Fangraphs has the gap as a little tighter with 7.3 for Ohtani and 6.5 for Vlad Jr.
Last but not least, I’ve simply learned that these Blue Jays are never out of a game, or likely an award race, until it’s over. There are more important things for Guerrero Jr. to worry about, such as helping his team win enough of their remaining games to make the playoffs, but a strong finish would go a long way to helping accomplish both goals. At this point, and after everything we’ve seen this year, I’m not ruling anything out.