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Aaron Judge’s power surge lifts him past Shohei Ohtani for the AL MVP award

Aaron Judge hit an American League record 62 home runs this season. (Eric Gay/AP)
5 min

Throughout the regular season, one of the dominant storylines of the 2022 baseball discourse centered on the precise meaning of the MVP award. Rarely had an end-of-season honor garnered so much in-season debate, but Aaron Judge’s stunning power surge and Shohei Ohtani’s never-before-seen dominance on the mound and in the batter’s box presented the sport’s many philosophers with some unprecedented questions.

Could one masterful season at the plate be more valuable than elite performance at the plate and as a starter? Was Judge, whose 62 homers set the American League record and who hit .311 for a division winner, more valuable than Ohtani, who finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting and fourth in the AL in homers for the also-ran Los Angeles Angels?

The 30 baseball writers assigned that question when the regular season ended decided Judge’s spectacular season, one that earned him nearly four more Wins Above Replacement (per FanGraphs) than the next closest batter, was worthy of the AL MVP award.

The 30-year-old earned 28 first-place votes to Ohtani’s two to take home the first MVP award of his career. St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt won the National League honor, earning 22 first-place votes to beat San Diego Padres star Manny Machado (seven) and Cardinals teammate Nolan Arenado (one).

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Ohtani had a season worthy of MVP consideration as a hitter and Cy Young consideration as a pitcher, but Judge’s offensive numbers were so well-rounded that his year was one of the best in recent memory. His 62 homers were 16 more than anyone else. His .311 batting average was second only to contact specialist Luis Arraez (.316) of Minnesota among AL hitters. His 1.111 on-base-plus-slugging percentage was the highest for any major leaguer since Albert Pujols finished at 1.114 in 2008. And he did all that while carrying a Yankees team that started strong and then struggled mightily, serving as its lone defense against the onslaught of negative attention that is inevitable when Yankees seasons follow such a pattern.

“It was tough to really enjoy it because of the ups and downs throughout the year,” Judge said Thursday after he was announced as the winner. “You’re chasing the division, you’re chasing a good spot in the postseason, so it wasn’t until really the past couple weeks you can sit back and reflect on the year and see how good it was.”

Ohtani had a more than credible case. He finished in the top 12 in the majors in OPS, home runs and slugging percentage. He finished sixth in strikeouts (219 in 166 innings) and sixth among qualified starters with a 2.33 ERA. He had the second-highest strikeout percentage among qualified starters. He held batters to a .203 batting average — lower than NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara of Miami.

“When you got a guy like Ohtani you’re going up against, man, that’s a tough mountain to climb,” Judge said. “But that’s what you love — you love playing against the best in the game, the best in the world.”

Goldschmidt compiled the most complete season of his decorated career and landed his first all-star nod since 2018. He has won four Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards. He has been an all-star seven times and had finished second in MVP voting twice (2013 and 2015).

“I never felt like I was missing something. I felt like I had some great years throughout my career,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was wanting to prove anything or miss out on anything.”

The 35-year-old finally earned that honor Thursday after leading the NL with a .981 OPS and finishing with a .317 batting average that would have won him the batting title if he had played in the AL. His Cardinals won the NL Central but were swept by Philadelphia in a first-round matchup.

“After we lost in the playoffs, I was pretty down for a few days. Unfortunately, or fortunately, time heals all wounds they say, so you sit back and say, ‘That was a pretty dang good year,’ ” Goldschmidt said. “To me, that was the best year I’ve had in my career.”

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Judge adds his award to an increasingly impressive free agent résumé, one that made him a highlight of this year’s class even before MLB’s awards were announced this week. Judge has played his entire career with the Yankees, but teams including the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants seem to have the money and the need to make compelling offers to him.

As is his way, Judge did not exactly offer details about his future in the hours after he won the award Thursday.

“So far, so good. I had some positive talks with [Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner]. I’m looking forward to getting this free agency process started,” Judge told reporters. “For me, I want to win. I’ve come pretty close with the Yankees. … My ultimate, most important thing is I want to be on a team with a winning culture and a commitment to winning. First and foremost, it’s a winning culture and a winning future.”