Choosing an Athlete of the Year is often a daunting task. There is a lot to consider: What criteria do you use? Statistics Leadership? Achievements off the field? Everything? None? A subjective mix? And then what statistics are most important? Which are more impressive? Which sport presents the most difficult challenges for its participants?
Those are some of the questions that require scrutiny most years and often produce hours of intense thought and debate. But other times, the answer is so clear that it seems silly to keep talking.
2021 was one of those years, and it’s all down to Shohei Ohtani.
What the rules-killing, mind-blowing, near-superhero unanimous American League MVP did this year for the Angels, and for baseball in general, was so astonishing that it makes the debate over which athletes had the best season hardly worth the trouble. pain. That’s why he’s the easy pick for The Sporting News’ 2021 Athlete of the Year.
Before we continue, we must point out that Ohtani’s season was so special and so unusual that we also voted it the best individual season in the history of the sport.
FAGAN: “Beyond Unbelievable”: Ohtani left his teammates in awe in 2021
But in case you hesitate, or you just didn’t pay attention during the 2021 MLB season, let’s take a look at his unique greatness one more time to show why we should never normalize Shohei Ohtani.
Let’s start with the basics: Ohtani hit 46 home runs, drove in 100 runs and scored 103 runs. He also had eight league-leading 3s. But dig deeper and the picture becomes even clearer and shows how much Ohtani broke away from her competition. To consider:
– Hit a home run every 11.7 at-bats, the best in the American League.
– Nearly 33 percent of his lifts end as home runs, the best in all of baseball.
– He threw the ball 78 times, also more than anyone else, and his barrel percentage of 22.3 percent was also the best in MLB.
– His 20 intentional walks were easily the most in the American League.
– Then there is his “power-speed number”, a metric that attempts to measure the power of a player’s combination of power and speed. Ohtani was 33.2, of course, the best in all of baseball.
He also finished in the top five in a number of offensive categories, including wRC + (152), OPS (.965), heavy hitting percentage (45.1) and total walks (318).
Still not convinced? Okay, but this is important to remember: PUNCH TOO!
Some people still don’t understand the enormity of this trait when they discuss Ohtani’s prowess. It’s not just that he throws, it’s that he throws at an elite level to match his elite skills with the bat. As TSN’s Ryan Fagan put it on our 50 Greatest Seasons project, “Imagine Patrick Mahomes making passes at safety or Alex Ovechkin putting on the big pads and scoring shutouts as goalkeeper once a week. It’s silly to think about that.” Exactly.
The talent that Ohtani displayed in 2021 was not just rare, or even something that occurred once in a generation. He was on a level even beyond that.
MLB hadn’t seen an elite two-way player since Babe Ruth more than 100 years ago. And while comparisons to Ruth are still common in discussions about Ohtani, it’s probably time to put the comparison aside, because Ruth never had as good a season as Ohtani in 2021.
His offensive exploits aside, Ohtani was 9-2 on the mound with a 3.18 ERA. He also struck out 156 batters in just over 130 innings. That’s a good year for anyone, but it is extraordinary for a part-time pitcher. And he wasn’t just getting lucky. He was overbearing and unpleasant.
He had four effective pitches, including a fastball that hit 101 mph. His most effective tee shot was his split-finger fastball, which generated a puff rate of nearly 49 percent and held opponents to .087. The average exit velocity against him was around 88 mph, which means he consistently kept hitters in weak contact.
Overall, he kept his opponents at .207 batting average and .286 on-base percentage, meaning he kept hitters off base all season, which is literally the number one job for a pitcher. .
The total package added a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 9.0, according to Baseball Reference; You guessed it, better than anyone in baseball.
While it’s fair to argue that Ohtani’s production as a hitter was not the best in the American League, or that his performance as a pitcher was not top-notch compared to other players, these arguments are not the point. Ohtani doesn’t need to produce the best numbers in the league anywhere to be of tremendous value.
Even a league-average pitcher who also hit double-digit home runs would be a tremendous talent. Likewise, an average league hitter with a triple-digit fastball and a nasty breakout would have an elite skill set.
But Ohtani isn’t the league average on the mound or at the plate. He’s exceptionally above average, which doesn’t make him historically unique, and he wins awards like American League Most Valuable Player, Sporting News MLB Player of the Year, and Sporting News Athlete of the Year without a second thought.
MORE: Shohei Ohtani Joins Elite Company With Unanimous MVP Award
And none of this goes unnoticed by Ohtani’s MLB teammates. He also constantly surprises them. Pitcher Marcus Stroman even called Ohtani “a mythical legend in human form.”
Ohtani is a mythical legend in human form. What he is doing is beyond incredible. Everyone in the big leagues is in awe of his talent. After games, I run to my phone to see what Ohtani did that night. Lol 😂
– Marcus Stroman (@ STR0) May 19, 2021
No lies have been detected, Stro.
By measurable response metric, Ohtani’s 2021 season was not just historically good, but unprecedented, not just in baseball, but in all sports.
It was the best of the year. It was the best of any year.
The only question now is how much it could improve.