It became clear at about the midway point of the 2021 season that this day would come. The day that Shohei Ohtani would be named the 2021 American League Most Valuable Player.
Entering his fourth year in pro baseball, Ohtani had yet to fulfill the lofty expectations that arrived with him when he decided to play for the Angels in 2018. For those first three years, it seemed the much-anticipated experimentation of a full-time hitter and pitcher might never fully come to fruition. There was a glimmer of it in 2018, but it didn’t appear sustainable in the years that followed.
Then, around June of this year, those watching saw that Ohtani could thrive in both roles. He could do it regularly. And he could do it at a level that no one else in baseball could even imagine possible.
There are a number of statistics that justify the MVP Award that Ohtani received on Thursday. His MLB-leading 9.1 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. His 46 home runs combined with a 3.18 ERA over 130 1/3 innings. His 26 stolen bases. His average exit velocity on the mound was in the league’s top 3 percent. His 29.2 strikeout percentage on the mound was seven points higher than the league average.
He was the best hitter and the best pitcher on the Angels roster. There might have been better hitters in the AL. There might have been better pitchers. But there was no one who could do what Ohtani did.
So let’s look back at his year and the 10 moments that made Ohtani the MVP.
April 4 vs. the White Sox: The crack of the bat
Ohtani had already hit a home run two nights prior, but this game really got the attention of the national audience. It was Sunday Night Baseball on a national broadcast. And Ohtani walloped a 451-foot homer off of Dylan Cease in the first inning. It came off the bat at 115.2 mph. And it’s remembered for the insane crack of the bat.
Ohtani also pitched 4 2/3 innings that night, allowing just one run and striking out seven batters. This game set the tone for the season.
May 5 vs. the Rays: Apologies for being so good
There were a couple of times this season when Ohtani would make a tremendous defensive play on a comebacker, then apologize to the batter.
Perhaps the most overt example was a 93.8 mph liner off the bat of Austin Meadows. Ohtani got a glove on it, then snatched it out of the air with his bare hand. He showed it to Meadows, smiled and seemingly apologized.
Honestly, it was just super badass.