We have not written about Shohei Ohtani since the season started, and frankly, now that it’s mid-June, it’s time.
Ohtani is one of the most exciting players in baseball, and his uniqueness in today’s game is something that should regularly be celebrated. He’s performed magnificently on both sides of the ball, and could serve as a worthy All Star as either a pitcher or a hitter; the fact that he’s playing both positions so well is remarkable.
The Angels have been using Ohtani to his full potential, putting him in the outfield when he’s pulled from his starts. Ohtani’s uniqueness even forced MLB’s hand in changing rules specifically for two-way players to not count against the maximum number of pitchers on a roster, as a two-way player is defined as a player who has pitched more than 20 innings and started as a position player in 20 games with at least three plate appearances.
As a hitter, Ohtani is batting .262/.349/.602 with 17 home runs and a 157 wRC+. That home run total is only one behind MLB leading Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Ronand Acuna Jr., both of whom have hammered 18 dingers, and the wRC+ is top-ten in all of baseball. He’s hitting home runs at an excellent clip (nearly every other game) and his 157 wRC+ means he’s hitting 57 percent better than the league average hitter.
The only ding on Ohtani at the dish is his near-30 percent strikeout rate, but that number is only five percentage points higher than league average. For the rest of the value he’s bringing, it’s a sacrifice worth making.
Ohtani has been a capable outfielder, though the reason he’s there at all is to keep his bat in the lineup. He’s speedy-enough, and has attempted to swipe nine bags, successfully nabbing six of them. In another era, he’d be running a lot more often, but alas, it’s 2021, and the Angels have previously been burned by having All Star players get injured on the base paths (most recently Trout’s injury this year running to first base).
Above we addressed how productive a hitter Ohtani has been so far this year, now let’s look at his excellence on the mound as well.
In eight starts so far this season, Ohtani has only allowed 13 earned runs over 42 ⅓ innings. That’s an RA9 of 3.25, and ERA of 2.76 and a FIP of 3.60. His only bad start was a five-inning / four-run outing in Texas in April, every other start he’s kept the Angels in the game.
He’s only allowed four home runs in those 42+ innings, and he’s striking batters out over 34 percent of the time ---- over 10 percentage points higher than the league average pitcher. He’s accumulated nearly one WAR just on the pitching side of the ball alone, and he’s probably only ¼ to his season total innings.
As we know, every MLB team has a representative at the All Star game. With Mike Trout down for two months, Ohtani is going to be the obvious default choice, but he’s actually earned his way into All Star status (nice when that all works out). He is well on his way to earning his way to his first All Star appearance regardless of roster / team parity, and that should be celebrated.
It would be wise for AL Manager Kevin Cash to allow Ohtani to pitch at least an inning in the game, and play at least another inning in the outfield. It would be fun if he started as a position player, came into pitch, and then returned to his position. This would ensure that all of baseball sees there versatility and uniqueness of one of the game’s most exciting players.
Nothing written above hasn’t been written in some form previously, but Ohtani is a great player, a unique player, and a fun player who is worth celebrating. In a game that is becoming increasingly one-dimensional, to have a player at the top of his craft in a multi-faceted way is worth appreciating.