First baseman had a great season on both sides of the ball
The 2021 MVP Awards were announced on Thursday, and one Oakland A’s player showed up in the American League voting. First baseman Matt Olson finished in eighth place, after a career year in which he established himself as one of the premier hitters in the sport to go along with his already renowned defense.
The award is decided by 30 voters, each of whom choose 10 players ranked from first through 10th. Olson was named on 24 of the 30 ballots, including two 4th-place nods, two 5ths, one 6th, nine 7ths, five 8ths, three 9ths, and two 10ths. The pair of fourth-place votes came from local insider Martin Gallegos, and Mariners writer Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times.
The AL winner was Shohei Ohtani of the Angels, in a unanimous decision. That was no surprise after his unprecedented performance, in which he blasted 46 homers as the best hitter in the league and tossed 130 sparkling innings as a starting pitcher. In the NL, Bryce Harper of the Phillies won a tight race in which five different players received first-place votes.
- DH/P Shohei Ohtani, LAA (420 points, 30 firsts)
- 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr, TOR (269 points)
- 2B Marcus Semien, TOR (232 points)
- OF Aaron Judge, NYY (171 points)
- SS Carlos Correa, HOU (163 points)
- 3B Jose Ramirez, CLE (133 points)
- C Salvador Perez, KCR (103 points)
- 1B Matt Olson, OAK (90 points)
- OF Cedric Mullins, BAL (87 points)
- 2B Brandon Lowe, TBR (34 points)
- … plus 13 other players got votes
- RF Bryce Harper, PHI (348 points, 17 firsts)
- RF Juan Soto, WAS (274 points, 6 firsts)
- SS Fernando Tatis Jr, SDP (244 points, 2 firsts)
- SS Brandon Crawford, SFG (213 points, 4 firsts)
- SS Trea Turner, WAS/LAD (185 points, 1 first)
- … plus 18 other players got votes
This is the second time that Olson has gotten MVP votes, but by far his highest finish. In 2019 he landed in 21st place, showing up on one ballot in the 10th slot. He fared much better this year, after posting his best season yet on the field.
The lefty slugger set career-highs in homers, doubles, OBP, batting average, RBI, and runs, as well as both bWAR (5.8) and fWAR (5.0), but most importantly he slashed his strikeout rate beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. His consistently great production made him the anchor of the A’s lineup and a finalist for the Silver Slugger (won by Guerrero), and on defense he was a finalist for the Gold Glove but was snubbed for that hardware.
- Olson: .271/.371/.540, 146 wRC+, 39 HR, 13.1% BB, 16.8% Ks
While he narrowly missed the 40-homer milestone, he did set a franchise record in the power department by hitting 22 of his dingers against lefty pitchers.
Making Olson’s success even sweeter is that he was coming off a down year in the shortened 2020 season, in which he batted .195 with a 31% strikeout rate. He bounced back in a big way this summer, in no small part because he chopped that K-rate almost in half. Amid his hot start in late-April, I wrote the following about his strikeouts:
I’m not saying he’ll finish the year at 16.7%, I’m saying that if he does then he’s in the MVP conversation.
He finished at 16.8%, and well within the MVP conversation, though it turned out you also had to pitch in order to win the award this year. Placing in the Top 10 is quite an accomplishment, and a fine recognition of Olson’s excellent season — in order to rank higher, he would have needed another handful of dingers (45 at least) and/or the A’s would have needed to make the playoffs.
Perhaps there is an argument that Olson could have finished seventh, above Salvador Perez. The Royals catcher led the majors with a whopping 48 homers, but his team lost 88 games and Olson was still a more productive hitter overall. However, Perez had a great season too, and quantifying catcher defense is difficult, and quibbling between 7th/8th for MVP isn’t worth the time or thought.
Congrats to Olson on a well-deserved Top 10 finish!
A’s MVP history
Here’s the team’s recent history in MVP voting, going back a couple decades. The last time an A’s player finished eighth place or higher was 2019, with Marcus Semien (3rd) and Matt Chapman (6th):
- 1999: Giambi (8), Stairs (17), Jaha (18)
- 2000: Giambi (1), Hudson (15), Tejada (16)
- 2001: Giambi (2), Mulder (13), Tejada (19), Zito (21)
- 2002: Tejada (1), Zito (13), Chavez (14), Koch (18)
- 2003: Tejada (11), Foulke (15), Chavez (17)
- 2004: Kotsay (14), Durazo (23), Chavez (30)
- 2005: Chavez (21), Street (23)
- 2006: Thomas (4)
- 2007: —
- 2008: —
- 2009: —
- 2010: —
- 2011: —
- 2012: Cespedes (10), Reddick (16)
- 2013: Donaldson (4), Coco (15)
- 2014: Donaldson (8)
- 2015: —
- 2016: —
- 2017: Khrush (22)
- 2018: Chapman (7), Khrush (8), Treinen (15), Lowrie (20)
- 2019: Semien (3), Chapman (6), Olson (21)
- 2020: Hendriks (13)
- 2021: Olson (8th)
Other past Oakland winners include Vida Blue (1971), Reggie Jackson (1973), Jose Canseco (1988), Rickey Henderson (1990), and Dennis Eckersley (1992).