How Will the Angels Use Shohei Ohtani in the Playoffs?

Shohei Ohtani is a certified freak of nature. Doing things nobody has done in generations, the 23-year-old rookie is thriving as a pitcher and a batter in 2018’s specialized major league landscape. If he stays healthy, he’s a shoe-in for the American League Rookie of the Year honors, and even on the team with the best player in the sport (Mike Trout), Ohtani deserves to be the game’s biggest story on the daily.

As a hitter, he’s slashing .325/.366/.597 with five home runs, 16 runs batted in, and a 0.7 offensive bWAR after just 82 plate appearances. On the mound for the Los Angeles Angels, he’s 3-1 with a 3.58 ERA, 43 strikeouts (11.8 per nine innings), a 1.102 WHIP, and an ERA+ of 118 after 32.2 innings of work. His talent borders on supernatural, and his ability to prosper in two roles — completely opposite of the other — is something to forever cherish.

Nevertheless, anybody who watches postseason baseball, especially in today’s game, knows that the script for how to handle player deployment in the regular season goes right out the window in October. As starting pitching rotations shrink, you have starters pitching in relief, and with the importance of every individual at-bat being amplified, you see a slew of pinch-hitters and late-game defensive replacements.

This wouldn’t normally apply to Ohtani, whose unique talents have led the Angels brass to implement playing restrictions and a six-man starting rotation. For example, the right-handed pitcher generally starts on Sunday afternoons specifically (four of his six starts thus far have come on Sundays, with his seventh tentatively scheduled for another Sunday game), and the left-handed batter does not appear in the lineup on days directly before or after his pitching day.

Ohtani has not started a game on the hill without at least six days of rest in between starts. He has not started as the designated hitter in the Halos’ scorecard in the game before or after his pitching appearances. When you’re 23, a rookie, and just getting up to speed in North American ball, this way of acclimating yourself to the game is beneficial.

How the @Angels will use Shohei Ohtani in the playoffs remains to be seen. @TomDorsa takes a look at the options.Click To Tweet

As previously mentioned, though, nothing is the same in the playoffs as they are in the 162-game regular season. The way Ohtani will be used in the postseason — if the Angels, currently in a Wild Card spot in the AL, qualify — will be equal parts confusing, fun, and somewhat revolutionary.

At this point, nobody — not Ohtani, anyone else in the dugout, or even manager Mike Scioscia — is completely sure of all the details of how his workload will change, so let’s pencil down some options and think about which will work best for Ohtani and the Angels, okay? Okay.

Plan #1: Stick to the Script

Ohtani has proven that both his bat and his arm are too valuable to keep out of the lineup. However, he is just 23, and Scioscia tends to overmanage his staff at times. It’s unlikely that the plan will be the same in the postseason — start in the rotation once a week, hit three times a week — but it also isn’t impossible. For me, a fan of chaos, I don’t like it.

Plan #2: Oh, hey, 23-year-old rookie, you’re now our ace

Ohtani has the best WHIP, best K/9, and fewest hits per nine innings of any Angels starter. Obviously the potential of playing in the Wild Card Game throws a wrench in the works, but there’s a chance that they’ll use Ohtani solely as a pitcher — their number-one pitcher, no less — and sacrifice his hitting for his excellence on the bump. I want to see Ohtani play two ways in the biggest games of the season, but still, that’d be pretty neat to have Ohtani as your ace.

Plan #3: This sounds like a normal sentence: Top of The Order Catalyst Shohei Ohtani

In a three-game series against the Houston Astros over the past few days, Ohtani has been hitting second behind Trout in the Angels’ batting lineup. It’s clear that his bat is far too valuable to be kept away from the dish, and/or shoved down the lineup in favor of guys like Albert Pujols or Zack Cozart. Does Scioscia agree, maybe even to the point of just making him a full-time hitter in the playoffs?

Every postseason game is a do-or-die affair, and if Ohtani really is a precious, upscale hitting presence, you don’t want to keep a stick of lumber out of his hands, but if he’s hitting in every playoff game, he can’t pitch. Hmm.

Plan #4: Welcome to Right Field, Bud

Kole Calhoun has had such a miserable season that his OPS+ currently sits at 12. That’s not a typo — it’s 12. The normal, everyday right-fielder is hitting .165, has struck out 39 times compared to just five walks, has just three extra base hits, and been worth -0.8 bWAR. Ohtani played a whole bunch of outfield in Nippon Professional Baseball, and even if Scioscia and crew stated in the offseason that he’s exclusively a DH and a pitcher, it might be worth a try.

How this changes his pitching deployment is yet to be seen, but if he isn’t on the hill, you can place him in right field and hope for the best. It also allows you to use Pujols or Luis Valbuena as the DH. I’m not Scioscia (thankfully) but all things need to be considered.

Plan #5: The Fireman (side note: he is also a hitter)

In the playoffs, we often see starting pitchers fall into super relief roles, or as Andrew Miller is called, “The Fireman.” Ohtani could be that, and also a pinch-hitting, maybe DH, maybe right-field guy. There are a lot of moving parts in this plan, but imagine having a bench player that could provide both a timely hit in a late innings situation and a couple innings of relief work in the same series.

This would involve benching Ohtani entirely, which seems ridiculous, but you could utilize his never-before-seen two-way talent in a multitude of ways. He could be like Miller and Matt Stairs packaged into one dude, and hell, maybe he could relieve the starter and pinch hit in the same game.

Plan #6: All Out Two-Way Chaos

Ohtani pitches and hits in every single playoff game. His arms fall off by Game 4 of the AL Divisional Series and he’s given a bat that he tucks in between his legs and swings at the ball with.

Plan #7: Okay, alright, let’s actually make a plan

Ohtani is just something else, and this seems like the most logical plan, so I saved it for last. That’s right, I made you read all the other stuff just to reach this conclusion.

Treat him like a regular starter. Start him every four games, and if you need, use him in relief on short rest; even Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw appeared as relievers in the 2017 postseason. Ohtani clearly has the stuff to be a playoff starter, and like we’ve seen from many of MLB’s elite starting arms, he would be fine in a relief role.

But alsoooooo, use him as a DH in every non-pitching game. Don’t have him take off before and after he starts; he’s too valuable to be taken off the scorecard. So, alright, here, it’s the AL Championship Series, we’re going seven games, and here’s Ohtani’s schedule:

GAME 1: Designated hitter.
GAME 2: Fine, you can start as the pitcher. Knock 'em dead.
GAME 3: Designated hitter.
GAME 4: Designated hitter.
GAME 5: Designated hitter.
GAME 6: Hey, look at that, Ohtani is pitching.
GAME 7: Designated hitter.

We know nothing of how Ohtani will be used in the playoffs, if his postseason debut even comes in 2018. All we know is that things will get mighty interesting, and knowing Mike Scioscia, he’ll come up with a plan that wasn’t featured here and the Angels will lose in the Wild Card Game 11-0. Can’t wait.

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