The Shohei Ohtani love has officially gone off the rails.
Enter CC Sabathia.
The other day on MLB Network, the former left-handed ace proclaimed Ohtani as the best player ever. Talk about prisoner of the moment.
Folks need to pump the brakes.
“He’s the best player to ever play baseball,” Sabathia said. “He’s the MVP every year that he’s healthy.
“He continues to get better as a pitcher. You have to give him the MVP. He’s having a better year than last year.”
But what Sabathia has failed to realize is that New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge is having a historic season, the most impactful (read: valuable) season hands down.
The Ohtani-is-the-best-ever talk is way too premature. What he’s been able to accomplish — this is his fifth MLB season — is incredible. But the fact remains that he’s a lifetime .265 hitter. And, he hasn’t won a Cy Young.
Sure, when you put what he’s doing together, it’s hard not to marvel at his ability.
But there must be context.
Being great isn’t just about compiling numbers. Those numbers need to be meaningful, come in big spots, and lift your team when they need you most.
When the Los Angeles Angels needed Ohtani the most — during the 14-game losing streak that cost their team the season and manager Joe Maddon his gig — he was nowhere to be found. Not at the plate — he produced a .192/.333/.383 slash line — or on the mound, where he pitched to a 9.00 ERA in two starts, allowing five home runs during that time.
That’s why Aaron Judge is clearly the American League MVP this season. With his two homers in the Yankees’ 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday at Fenway, Judge is batting .310 with 57 homers and 123 RBI.
And he’s doing this in a pennant race, no less.
For those blinded by Ohtani’s two-way glare, Judge is chasing down Roger Maris’ American League home run record of 61. And, for good measure, Judge is in the race to win the Triple Crown. He leads the league in HR and RBI and is fourth in batting average, nine points off the lead.
For context, since 1956, only four players have won the Triple Crown. Miguel Cabrera last won it in 2012. Before that, it was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
Judge is having a season to remember and is the main reason why the Yankees are atop their division and will again get to the postseason with a chance to compete for a World Series.
Meanwhile, in Southern California, Ohtani hasn’t had a meaningful at-bat since May.
He hasn’t faced a pressure situation at the plate or on the mound. He is liberated. All he has to do is go out and play. Winning isn’t in the equation. That’s a tremendous burden lifted.
Judge, on the other hand, faces the pressure to perform every night. NYC, not to mention the Yankees, are counting on him to deliver in big spots.
And the slugger has done it time and time again. He is must-see TV. The bathroom or a snack can wait if Judge is stepping up to the plate.
We get it. Ohtani was something to behold a year ago. We saw a unicorn with our own eyes.
Still, remember this, as a hitter, he’s not the best hitter in the game. And as a pitcher, he’s not the best pitcher in the game. If Ohtani won a Cy Young and an MVP in the same season, Sabathia and folks like him would have a stronger argument. But he hasn’t come close to that.
For sure, what he’s doing is incredible, and hasn’t been seen in the game since Babe Ruth played. He’s a super talent and a one-of-a-kind, currently.
It doesn’t mean others in the future can’t do the same thing. Before Shohei showed up, it wasn’t allowed quite frankly. Most players were forced to choose.
Judge has impacted his team the most. That is exactly what the definition of MVP is all about. It’s not about numbers alone. How did they impact the game?
Even Sabathia couldn’t discount Judge totally. “I understand everything Judge is doing,” he said. “I think it’s incredible to watch him chase down 61 home runs in a Yankees uniform. If it wasn’t for him, they probably wouldn’t be in the playoff picture.”
Many wish Ohtani will ultimately be the greatest player ever, but he isn’t this season. That belongs to Judge.