Major League Baseball
Shohei Ohtani or Mookie Betts? Aaron Judge or Juan Soto? Making the MVP cases
Major League Baseball

Shohei Ohtani or Mookie Betts? Aaron Judge or Juan Soto? Making the MVP cases

Updated Jun. 7, 2024 1:11 p.m. ET

Stars rarely collide, but when they do, the result can be a fiery blaze of nuclear fusion, the type of natural phenomenon you almost never get to witness and wouldn’t soon forget. This weekend will be the closest version we get — in a baseball sense.

Yankee Stadium won’t be hosting an astrophysics conference, but it will be welcoming both sets of early favorites for the American and National League MVP awards as Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and the Dodgers travel to face Aaron Judge, Juan Soto and the Yankees in the Bronx.

Both duos are on pace for potentially historic offensive seasons as they get set for the star-studded matchup (Saturday's game will air on FOX and the FOX Sports app at 7:35 p.m. ET). 

Judge and Soto lead all qualified MLB players in wRC+ at 202 and 190, respectively. Essentially, they’ve created about twice as many runs as the average league player. They’re on a nearly unprecedented track. If the season ended today, Judge and Soto would go down as one of the most productive offensive duos in nearly 100 years, showcasing something only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig have previously accomplished: 


Top 10 wRC+ seasons by duos: (min 400 AB and 165 wRC+ per player)

- 1927 Yankees: Babe Ruth (208 wRC+) and Lou Gehrig (205 wRC+) = 206.5 average
- 1930 Yankees: Babe Ruth (201 wRC+) and Lou Gehrig (194 wRC+) = 197.5 average
- 2024 Yankees: Aaron Judge (202 wRC+) and Juan Soto (190 wRC+) = 196 average
- 1931 Yankees: Babe Ruth (205 wRC+) and Lou Gehrig (183 wRC+) = 194 average

And the top Dodgers duo would not be too far behind. Ohtani (180 wRC+) and Betts (163 wRC+) would currently slot in ninth all time among duos in wRC+, just ahead of former Braves Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews (1959), even with Betts currently mired in a slump.

In a year in which offense is down considerably, the Yankees’ and Dodgers’ stars don’t seem bothered. Considering Judge and Soto's track record, and the fact that Ohtani and Betts are coming off seasons in which they posted the same (in Ohtani's case) or a superior (in Betts' case) wRC+ than they have right now, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them sustain this — or get even better. 

Time will tell which players in each league might challenge the odds-on MVP favorites in New York and Los Angeles — the competition is much more formidable in the AL than the NL right now — but as they get set to face off this weekend at Yankee Stadium, they look like the clear front-runners. 

Here's more from FOX Sports MLB writers Rowan Kavner and Deesha Thosar on each of their cases and who'd get their vote as of today.

RELATED: Dodgers-Yankees preview: Top player? Best offense, pitching? Trade deadline needs?


Aaron Judge, CF

Key stats: 203 OPS+ (1st in MLB), 21 HR (1st in MLB), 17.8 BB% (1st in MLB), 4.1 fWAR (1st in MLB)

Judge's MVP case

Hitting 60 home runs is back on the table for Judge, and we know what followed after he eclipsed that rare mark a couple of years ago. Judge has an excellent case to win his second MVP award, in part because of his slow start. It was just about a month ago when we were wondering why Judge wasn’t performing at his top level. Questions persisted. Is he playing injured? Is something off inside the Yankees' clubhouse? Is he still impacted by those days off in spring training with abdominal pain? But all of those inquiries melted away as Judge put together a historic May that catapulted him, once again, into the discussion for the top hitter in baseball.

What makes Judge a superior MVP candidate over other American League favorites is his direct impact on his team. When Judge isn’t playing his best, in most cases, neither are the Yankees. When he’s putting together a mind-boggling stretch like he did last month (1.397 OPS, 14 home runs, 27 RBI, 22 walks, 28 games), it creates a ripple effect, and the Yankees perform like the best team in baseball — they're 25-7 since going 15-12 in April. The same can’t be said for every superstar in this Dodgers-Yankees series, and that’s part of what makes Judge remarkably impactful in the AL MVP race. — Deesha Thosar 

Juan Soto, RF

Key stats: 1.229 OPS with RISP (4th in MLB, min. 50 PA), 4.0 fWAR (3rd in MLB), 190 wRC+ (2nd in MLB)

Soto's MVP case

Between the Dominican Republic flags flapping around Yankee Stadium, his logo shuffle at the plate and his interactions with fans in right field, Soto has turned game days into appointment viewing. The main event is when he’s at the plate, batting in front of Judge, to instantly generate nightmares and nausea for the opposing pitcher. Whereas Judge is private, quiet and reserved, Soto’s overly boastful and boisterous behavior is just another ideal match for the Yankees’ lofty expectations and smug fan base. Though we all predicted Soto’s left-handed bat would work wonders in the Bronx, it’s tough to live up to the hype, and it’s even harder to exceed it — like he would if he wins his first MVP award.

Soto will be up against other workhorses in the voting, but his ability to stay on the field might just be the difference come September. It’s not as if he’s not playing hard; Soto is running into walls in right field on a weekly basis, even looking flustered after some plays as he shakes his hands and legs out. But his intense work ethic has seemed to alter the way even the Yankees operate. After playing in all 162 games last year, Soto has followed it up by playing in all 63 of the Yankees’ games this year. His no-days-off mentality has seemed to force the Yankees’ hand. Recently known for their analytics-driven scheduled rest days, this year Yankees players are playing hard and staying in the lineup the next day. 

Soto’s influence in New York stretches beyond his batting line, and voters could be swayed by the fact that he's never won it before. Plus, it's challenging (perhaps for anyone but Soto) to immediately rise to the occasion while navigating the perils of a contract year on a new team. Yet, in the largest market in the world, the Yankees' pressure to make the playoffs after missing out last year has been reduced. Now that they have Soto, they're once again serious contenders to reach the Fall Classic. — Deesha Thosar 

Other AL MVP challengers: Gunnar Henderson (3.8 fWAR), Bobby Witt Jr. (4.0 fWAR), Kyle Tucker (3.3 fWAR), Jose Ramirez (2.1 fWAR)

How we'd vote today: Soto (Thosar), Judge (Kavner)


Mookie Betts, SS

Key stats: 1.429 BB/K (1st in MLB), 3.2 fWAR (6th in MLB/1st in NL), .406 OBP (4th in MLB), 76 hits (5th in MLB) 

Betts' MVP case

If not for Ronald Acuña Jr.’s record-setting season last year, Betts would have entered this year as the reigning NL MVP. He began the 2024 season looking like a man ready to claim what was nearly his. At the start of May, Betts was leading the majors in every slash line category while adding on the responsibility of playing full-time shortstop for the first time in his professional career, already making him worth close to three wins above replacement in his first 32 games. Of course, his gaudy totals, including an OPS over 1.100, were unsustainable. And though he has been on a bit of a slide since then, he still looks like the favorite right now for NL MVP. 

For all the Dodgers did to revamp their lineup, Bets remains the catalyst, the straw that stirs the team’s success. He's tied with Soto for the fifth-most hits in baseball and is recording the lowest whiff and strikeout rates of his career. He has 12 more walks this season (40) than strikeouts (28), and his boldness defensively to make a drastic change shouldn’t go unnoticed. While the advanced metrics differ in grading Betts’ defense (plus-four defensive runs saved, minus-4 outs above average), the fact that he looks competent and comfortable at shortstop is incredible in itself. How many six-time Gold Glove Award-winning outfielders can seamlessly and willingly make the transition to the hardest position on the infield at 31 years old? As he has demonstrated throughout his career after the occasional down month, you can count on him catching fire at the plate again soon. — Rowan Kavner

Shohei Ohtani, DH

Key stats: .988 OPS (3rd in MLB), 1.101 OPS vs. RHP (1st in MLB), 77 hits (4th in MLB), .335 xBA (2nd in MLB), 59.1% hard-hit rate (4th in MLB)

Ohtani's MVP case

There were myriad reasons Ohtani could have taken a step back in production. He was coming off major reconstructive elbow surgery, the type of procedure that could feasibly zap a player’s power at the plate. He was following up a second career MVP season, one in which he illustrated the best offensive season of his illustrious career, leading the majors in both slugging (.654) and OPS (1.066). He was entering the first year of a record $700 million deal, trying to live up to those expectations, and suddenly found himself embroiled in a betting scandal that led to his friend and interpreter pleading guilty to bank and tax fraud charges after stealing millions of dollars from him, causing him sleepless nights. So, how did he handle all of that? 

By again establishing his place as one of the best hitters in the sport. 

Despite only hitting this year, the only National League player providing more value this season (by fWAR) is his teammate Betts, and Ohtani has been the more productive hitter of the two with an NL-leading .988 OPS and a career-best .322 batting average (his expected batting average is even higher at .335, which is also the highest tally in the National League). For all the extraordinary numbers Ohtani put up last year, he is actually hitting the ball harder, striking out less and hitting for a higher average than ever before. The 14 hardest-hit balls of the Dodgers season have all come off the bat of Ohtani, who also recorded the hardest-hit ball by a Dodger in the Statcast era earlier this year with a 119.2 mph single. Unable to change a game on the mound, he is finding every way he can to still make a massive impact. Ohtani has turned his attention to the basepaths, leading the Dodgers and ranking ninth in MLB with 14 stolen bases this year despite dealing with back and hamstring issues at different points of the first half. It’ll take a remarkable showing from him to even be in the MVP conversation while serving solely as a DH, but he is demonstrating worthy of that tall task. — Rowan Kavner

Other NL MVP challengers: William Contreras (2.6 fWAR), Bryce Harper (2.3 fWAR), Elly De La Cruz (2.5 fWAR) Marcell Ozuna (2.3 fWAR)

How we'd vote today: Betts (Kavner, Thosar)

Rowan Kavner is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the L.A. Dodgers, LA Clippers and Dallas Cowboys. An LSU grad, Rowan was born in California, grew up in Texas, then moved back to the West Coast in 2014. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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