A Healthy, Breakout Season for Shohei Ohtani Would Significantly Propel the Angels

As currently constructed, the Los Angeles Angels aren’t going to the playoffs in 2020. The player that could change that notion? Shohei Ohtani.

In his two years in the show Ohtani has been a sight to behold, specifically at the plate.

From the get-go, he has been a prominent contributor to the Angels offense. Hitting .285, posting a .925 OPS and 151 OPS+, and totaling 22 home runs and 61 RBIs across just 104 games, Ohtani was one of their preeminent hitters. His second season brought more of the same.

Across 106 games he hit .286, posted an .848 OPS and 123 OPS+, and totaled 18 home runs and 62 RBIs. Ohtani has a bit of an uppercut in his swing but it has helped him demolish pitches in his hot zone.

In 2018 Ohtani finished in the top two percent of Major League Baseball in barrel percentage (16.0 percent) and the top four percent in average exit velocity (92.6 mph) and hard-hit percentage (50.2 percent). Last season he finished in the top three percent in average exit velocity (92.8 mph) and the top 10 percent in hard-hit percentage (47.1 percent).

Ohtani started on a consistent basis in the early stages of his rookie season. Recording a 3.31 ERA, a 3.57 FIP, a 1.16 WHIP, and 63 strikeouts across 10 starts, he showcased the ability to be a rotation fixture. He had command of a high 90s fastball and got impressive movement on his splitter, which he made hitters look silly with.

The factor that has hindered Ohtani from taking the next step? Injuries.

Ohtani dealt with elbow pain midway through 2018 and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery, which was why he was limited to 10 starts; he hasn’t pitched since and missed the beginning of the 2019 season. Ohtani later suffered a knee injury towards the end of the regular season.

Two years have produced towering home runs, lethal offerings, and exciting potential for Shohei Ohtani. It also leaves something to be desired.

Had he been able to stay on the diamond, he would’ve continued taking the hill on a consistent basis — perhaps even close to an entire season — and been able to get into more of a groove at the plate. He could be widely viewed as one of the transparent young faces of the sport.

In a shortened season (2020) or the next full MLB season (maybe 2021) Ohtani’s presence for an entire season propels a reeling starting rotation and provides more electricity for an already vibrant offense.

If he were to hypothetically not pitch this season, the Angels rotation would include Julio Teheran, Andrew Heaney, Dylan Bundy, and Griffin Canning; that staff isn’t wowing anyone.

Teheran is a reliable ground-ball pitcher, and Bundy has made 28-plus starts in each of the last three seasons. That said, neither right-hander is moving the needle for this rotation, which has been low-lighted by young starters not turning a corner.

Throw a full-season version of Ohtani into the mix and it’s a different conversation.

Yes, we have seen just 10 starts. It’s difficult to base someone’s future on a mediocre sample size. At the same time, Ohtani was an overwhelming force on the hill in Japan and has showcased similar traits in his brief time on an MLB hill. He’s also 25; he can only get better. Even if the production is down a bit from 2018, his continued presence on their pitching staff gives them an ace-caliber arm.

The Angels are loaded around the diamond: Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Justin Upton, Albert Pujols, Andrelton Simmons, and Brian Goodwin. Nice, right? Now throw Ohtani in there for a full season: their offense is elite.

With Trout and Rendon getting on base at high rates, Ohtani can move them across the basepaths. He’s poised to have an enormous season hitting behind the two sluggers from a run production standpoint. Even hitting away from them, Ohtani can set the table for those behind him; he’s an extra-base hit machine.

The Angels’ identity is their offense. If Ohtani plays up to expectations, they can go toe-to-toe with any pitcher and rotation in the sport. If he performs below expectations, their chances of an unexpected playoff run rapidly diminish; Ohtani is the loose end of their offense given his injury history.

If that factor remains a nagging detriment, it likely keeps him off the mound, further dragging on the Angels’ pitching woes. In a loaded American League West, let alone a stout AL playoff picture the Angels have no margin for error.

It’s impossible to accurately assess the Houston Astros. That said, it’s fair to say that they’re more likely to win 100 games than 50; the Oakland Athletics have a slew of power hitters and budding pitchers; the Texas Rangers bolstered their starting rotation and have a respectable offense.

Concurrently, the New York Yankees added Gerrit Cole in the offseason; the Tampa Bay Rays have won 90-plus games in each of the last two seasons; the Minnesota Twins have a formidable offense coming off a 101-win season; the Cleveland Indians have won 90-plus games in each of the last four seasons despite retooling in each of the last two offseasons; the Chicago White Sox are on the up.

Case in point: the odds are stacked against a mere AL Wild Card berth for the Angels this season.

A full-blown version of Ohtani changes that.

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