Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, famous for being a revolutionary two-way talent, was the talk of the offseason. It was Ohtani who, Ohtani what, Ohtani when, Ohtani where, and Ohtani why as the next Babe Ruth came stateside, chose his team, and readied to wreak havoc on Major League Baseball.
Through his struggles in spring training and his frustrations with manager Mike Scioscia, to his first career hit and his win as a pitcher in his first start, the cameras and microphones flooded the Los Angeles Angels phenom ranked by many as the number-one prospect in baseball.
And, it all was deserved. There’s something even underappreciated in being a 23-year-old rookie lighting up MLB pitching as a batter, and destroying hitters on the mound, even through all the fanfare and media commotion. It feels like we’re already taking this guy, this innovative, eccentric, one-of-a-kind talent, for granted.
Our world — especially in sports — is becoming increasingly specialized by the day. This is true in baseball as much as in any other facet of life; you’ve got relievers tasked with facing just one batter in a game, or pinch runners who can’t hit a ball to save their lives but can scamper from first to third pretty easily.
Everyone plays their own specific position, seldom wavering from their daily assignment, hitting mostly in the same lineup spot and trying to achieve the same goal every game. Maybe your job is to draw a walk and get on base, or perhaps it’s to hit a weak ground ball and advance a runner — at any rate, every person in the dugout has their own, individual, distinct job. Very scarcely can they adjust to an assignment that isn’t their own.We might already be underappreciating Shohei Ohtani. Let's not do this.Click To Tweet
Like when Alex Rodriguez joined the Yankees, and moved from shortstop to third base to play alongside Derek Jeter. His fielding percentage in his final season as a Texas Ranger was .989 in 1,369.2 innings at short, and as soon as he moved over to the hot corner, it plummeted to .965 in 2004. A-Rod was doing basically the same work: field and throw the ball, but was measurably worse after moving 40 feet to the right.
Rodriguez, like all other athletes, took a long time to fine-tune his play at third because he became so accustomed to working at the shortstop position. He was specialized, and I think it goes to show that someone who can effortlessly do a variety of things – and do it at an elite level – should be commended for their work. Baseball has long been without a two-way force like that.
On a related note, Shohei Ohtani is slashing .354/.400/.677 with five home runs, a 1.077 OPS, 16 RBIs, and a 189 OPS+ in 19 games and 70 plate appearances. In addition, he’s got a 3-1 record with a respectable 4.10 ERA, 1.177 WHIP, 32 strikeouts, and 10.9 strikeouts per nine in 26.1 innings on the hill.
Ohtani, whose next pitching start will be on Sunday afternoon against the Minnesota Twins, smacked his fifth home run of the season last night to deep center field off Twins reliever Trevor Hildenberger, traveling 414 feet and leaving his bat at 108.7 miles per hour, according to Statcast. His power is insane, and this home run is maybe the second-most outrageous thing the rookie has done this season.
We can’t forget his second career pitching start, in which the top-ten offense of the Oakland Athletics bowed down to Ohtani’s pitching ability. The righty thrower struck out 12 A’s and gave up only one hit in seven innings of work, generating 24 swinging strikes in 91 pitches. He was perfect through six and ended with an 86 game score.
I watch MLB Tonight religiously, and I didn’t see as much Ohtani coverage as I wished. I scroll through Twitter frequently, and the hottest topic on the timeline is if Mookie Betts or Charlie Blackmon is actually somehow better than Mike Trout (quick note, no, they are not). We are standing around waiting for Ohtani to, you know, straight up transform the modern the MLB player, and he’s doing it, but nobody is paying attention.
I grew up in the era of Barry Bonds and Ichiro Suzuki, and now that they’re gone, I feel like I didn’t appreciate them enough. Bonds was the most disciplined and powerful hitter ever, and Suzuki was a Gold Glove winning slap-hitter with unparalleled speed. They were unbelievable, and Ohtani is next, and then some.
He’s currently worth 1.2 Baseball-Reference WAR, 0.8 as a hitter and 0.4 as a pitcher, only five starts on the hill and 16 as a DH into his career. He is Swiss Army Knife in a sport of boring forks and spoons, so to speak. A 23-year-old Japanese man who had never even sniffed an MLB ballpark before 2018 has triumphantly become, at least early on in the still young season, one of its premier hitters and up-and-coming pitchers.
The American League Rookie of the Month for April should not pass us by. Let’s not let that happen.