Dodgers Duo Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani Could Finish 1-2 for NL MVP

The superstar teammates look like the early favorites for the NL MVP Award.

Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates a home run with Shohei Ohtani against the San Francisco Giants.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 02: Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates a home run with Shohei Ohtani #17 against the San Francisco Giants in the third inning at Dodger Stadium on April 02, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The top two National League players by batting average and on-base percentage hail from the same team.

One leads all of MLB in OPS. The other has the highest OBP in the game and can be found in the top 10 of virtually every category.

Together, they represent the best chance of any teammates in over 20 years to finish first and second for the Most Valuable Player Award.

Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani entered 2024 amongst the favorites for the NL MVP. Surely it couldn’t happen. Such an outcome is improbable, right?

Ad – content continues below

Then we started to see exactly how both Los Angeles Dodgers stars could perform. 

The Rising Son

It’s been over a month since the sporting world learned about the nefarious machinations of Ohtani’s interpreter, business partner, friend and eventual betrayer Ippei Mizuhara. How much this turn of events has impacted the Japanese superstar is unclear. What can’t be denied is Ohtani’s rather pedestrian start to his career with the Dodgers.

Through his first eight games with the club, Ohtani batted .242 with a .631 OPS and three runs batted in. It wouldn’t be until game no. 9 that he would strike through with his first home run, ending the longest homer-less drought to begin a season in his career.

Ohtani has been outstanding ever since. Each facet of his slash line (.387/.460/.773) leads the Majors since April 3. So do his 46 hits and 11 home runs.

Despite taking a day off against division rival Arizona on May 1, the designated hitter did enough throughout the other five games of the week — 11-for-24 (.524) with three homers and seven RBI — to be named the NL Player of the Week for the first time. A three-game sweep of Atlanta was the icing on the cake for Los Angeles. 

Along the way to his team’s 26-13 (.667) start, Ohtani recorded the hardest hit ball (119.2 mph) by a Dodger in the StatCast Era (since 2015). It came on a single against fellow countryman Yusei Kikuchi during a game in Toronto, one of the few places that has rained boos upon Ohtani. (Getting spurned by a love interest — even in free agency — will do that to a city.)

Ad – content continues below

A week prior, Ohtani surpassed Hideki Matsui for most home runs by a Japanese-born player when he recorded the 176th home run of his MLB career. When Ohtani blasted his eighth long ball of the season on May 4, he broke another record, one previously held by his manager Dave Roberts: the Dodgers team record for most home runs by a Japanese-born player.

The 29-year-old sits atop the MLB leaderboards in many of the most significant offensive categories, including stolen bases. Ohtani is stealing bases much more frequently than ever before. If you listened to Roberts during spring training, he telegraphed this area of improvement.

His nine swipes this year are his highest total through his first 38 games of any season. When he stole a career-high 26 bases in 2021, he had six through this point in the year. Last season, it was five at this stage before he finished with 20.

Ohtani is currently on pace for 37 steals. At that pace, it’s not hard to imagine he gets to 40. Can he really continue to steal bases at this accelerated pace to give him a shot at a 40-40 season? 

There’s still no precedent for a pure DH winning the MVP Award. Yet, with his 2.6 fWAR that trails only Betts in the Senior Circuit, finishing 1-2 with Betts may not be Ohtani’s only historically significant achievement that transpires during awards week in November.

Besides, when it comes to Ohtani, never say never. 

Ad – content continues below

Safe Betts

A few weeks ago, it was Betts who was in the same position as Ohtani as the hottest hitter in the sport.

Even though he is batting .339 with an .888 OPS since April 19, Betts’ value has not continued to advance at the same rate, at least according to WAR. He’s still first in the majors according to Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, but others, like Ohtani, have gained ground.

The six-time Gold Glove-winning outfielder is still faring well at shortstop. Most of the defensive metrics grade him as average-to-above-average at this point in the year: 0.9 dWAR, +2 Outs Above Average and +5 Total Zone Fielding Runs.

One concern — a luxury for a Dodgers club that hits three former MVPs in every first inning they play — is that Betts is without a home run since April 13. This span of 23 consecutive games marks only the fourth time in his 11-year career that he’s gone at least 20 games in a single season without homering. It’s also his first time with such a drought in Los Angeles. 

Were the season to end today, Betts would have no problem winning NL MVP. Yet, since we’re only at the quarter pole for the 162-game marathon that is the baseball season, we’re far from ready to cast any votes.

Lucky Number Seven?

Ohtani and Betts have an opportunity to be the seventh set of teammates to win and place in their league’s MVP voting.

Ad – content continues below

The last two times teammates finished first and second both involved Barry Bonds: once in 2000, when he was the runner-up to Jeff Kent with the San Francisco Giants, and once in 1990, when he won his first MVP with the Pittsburgh Pirates, finishing just ahead of Bobby Bonilla.

Four of the six times in history it’s happened, it took place in the NL. Three times, it was a team from California.

Dodgers fans will be less enthused to learn that such a dynamic duo’s team won the World Series only twice: the 1976 Cincinnati Reds (Joe Morgan and George Foster) and 1983 Baltimore Orioles (Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray).

Though a lot of time has passed since we’ve seen the top two spots go to the same club, it seems more about the improbability of the situation than anything related to voter tendency. Consider the fact that the second and third-place finishers in 2023 came from the same club in both the AL and the NL: Corey Seager and Marcus Semien of the Texas Rangers, and Betts and Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers.

Over the past decade, this trend in voting has happened more frequently with Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters from NL cities. Since 2013, a pair of teammates has finished within the top five in the NL a total of five times as compared to three times in the AL. 

Last year’s Senior Circuit results also had the top four vote-getters coming from just two teams. In 2022, the top nine came from six different clubs in the NL. We also saw the top seven split amongst four teams in 2020.

Ad – content continues below

In other words, having two incredibly talented players on the same team should not cannibalize votes from BBWAA members. Ronald Acuña Jr. did not have a problem winning unanimously in 2023 even after teammate Matt Olson became only the ninth player in NL history to slug 54 or more home runs in a single campaign. 

If Betts pulls off the victory, he’ll be only the second man to ever win the MVP in both leagues. Were Ohtani to win, he’d actually beat Betts to that same honor.

Since we’ve never seen a tie for first place in MVP voting, it feels like the largest longshot to think it will happen in 2024. It’s not impossible.

And when it comes to Betts and Ohtani, absolutely anything is possible for the Dodgers’ generational talents.