MLB odds: Shohei Ohtani new AL MVP favorite, passes Aaron Judge

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By Edward Egros
FOX Sports MLB Betting Analyst

A fun shift happened in the betting world after Shohei Ohtani completed his six-inning, 12-strikeout, one-earned-run-allowed performance on Wednesday: he is now the favorite to win the American League MVP (+115 on FOX Bet).

Ohtani was the preseason favorite to win the award at +300 and peaked at +375, but thanks to his performance in June and July — plus the Yankees’ slugger Aaron Judge’s recent slump — he is currently close to even odds.   

Over his last six starts, the Angels’ two-way star has an ERA of 0.45 (1st among qualifiers), a WHIP of 0.78 (4th in MLB) and a strikeout rate of 38.7% (1st in the AL). His hitting may not be as dominant, but his isolated power (ISO), which only calculates extra-base hits into an average, ranks Ohtani in the top 25 in baseball (.236)

Needless to say, he has been on an impressive tear, but can he keep this up? More importantly, should we bet on him to repeat as MVP?

When evaluating pitching, every bettor should know which statistics are the most predictive. Basic box score statistics like ERA and batting average allowed are not ideal for forecasting because they are subject to things outside a pitcher’s control (i.e. the team’s defensive performance). For accurate predictions, It’s better to use a statistic that isolates what a pitcher has control over, such as strikeouts and home runs.   

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is a formula that only includes the events that are entirely the pitcher’s responsibility; and, now that we’re in the Statcast era, there’s Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) that uses projected home run rate allowed instead of actual home runs given up. Because ballparks are different and weather can change from situation to situation, these projections tend to provide a better glimpse into the future. 

Last season, Ohtani ranked 22nd in MLB in xFIP (3.55) among all pitchers who pitched at least 100 innings. In 2022, thanks to those incredible strikeout numbers and a minimal projected home run allowed rate, Ohtani has significantly improved upon this mark, coming in second at 2.43. He’s also updated his repertoire, having elite success with his slider while still putting up impressive numbers with his splitter.   

Another dynamic worth mentioning is preservation. While most starting pitchers have four days of rest between outings, Ohtani gets five or six days of rest so that he does not overexert himself while being a mainstay at designated hitter. Also, the Angels have not expected him to go deep when pitching. He currently ranks 30th in MLB out of 81 qualifiers in innings pitched per start at slightly fewer than six. 

But, getting back to xFIP, what’s fascinating about this difference from last year to this year is that even though it suggests this hot streak of Ohtani’s should cool down, his hitting should heat back up. 

As I’ve mentioned before, expected batting average (xBA) assigns a probability to every at bat that contact will go for a single, double, etc. If a hitter has a lower batting average (BA) than xBA, then they are due for positive regression. In Ohtani’s case, while he’s still displaying the same power he did a season ago, his numbers are overall down. However, his BA – xBA difference of -0.035, coming in 24th in MLB, suggests he is due to have a much better second half at the plate. Also, if you want to go by metrics that highlight his power, his slugging percentage and expected slugging percentage difference rank second, meaning some of those deep fly balls should become home runs soon. 

Even if Shohei Ohtani’s pitching does not lead to absurd strikeout numbers, we should see an even better slugger acquiring more extra-base hits and smashing more home runs. That’s the beauty of being a two-way star! If one thing slumps, the other should shine. 

The novelty has not worn out, it’s still worth betting on Shohei Ohtani to repeat as AL MVP. 

PICK: Shohei Ohtani (+115 at FOX Bet) to win AL MVP

Edward Egros is a sports analytics broadcaster/writer, a sports betting analyst, a data scientist and an adjunct professor of statistics at Pepperdine University. These passions have led him to become a cold brew aficionado. Edward previously worked in local television, notably at the Fox affiliate in Dallas covering the Rangers, Cowboys and high school football.  Follow him on Twitter @EdWithSports. 

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