What was apparent throughout the entire 2021 MLB season entered the record books Thursday. Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani was officially recognized as the best player in the American League, winning his first MVP award.
Ohtani's excellence was undeniable. At the plate, he hit .257/.372/.592, with 46 home runs. That performance was good for a 158 OPS+, meaning Ohtani was 58 percent better than the average hitter at the plate. He added a league-leading eight triples and stole 26 bases, cementing himself as a true five-tool threat.
Oh, and he also pitched like an ace.
Ohtani put up a 3.18 ERA in 23 starts, emerging as the ace the Angels desperately needed. His elite velocity and unhittable splitter resulted in 156 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings.
Shohei Ohtani answered all his critics in 2021
Since coming to MLB in 2018, Ohtani faced questions about his ability and workload. During his first spring training, scouts questioned whether he could hit major-league pitching. When he got hurt 10 starts into his pitching career, some wondered whether he should give up playing both ways.
Those questions got even louder during Ohtani's slow road back from Tommy John surgery, and reached a crescendo during a miserable 2020, when he never found his footing at the plate or on the mound.
Ohtani, 26, more than answered those doubts in 2021. On his road to proving himself as one of the best players in the game, Ohtani also emerged as one of the most exciting and marketable players in MLB. Nightly videos featuring Ohtani hitting moonshots or making hitters look silly were shared thousands of times on social media. His blazing speed and expressive reactions and gestures are made for the Twitter era.
Those traits made Ohtani the story of the 2021 MLB season. Opponents quickly took notice, and by the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby, other players couldn't help but fawn over Ohtani's ability.
With Ohtani now firmly entrenched as one of the best players in the game, only one question remains: What will he do for an encore?