Thursday, April 26, 2018

Shohei Ohtani: The Next Babe Ruth?

There are plenty of intriguing story lines so far in the first month of the 2018 season.  With still 5 days left in the month, MLB has already set a record with 28 weather cancellations in April, including a wild one in Toronto in which the retractable roof broke due to falling ice.  As of this post, Albert Pujols is only 6 hits shy of 3,000.  The Mets and Red Sox have gotten off to surprisingly hot starts, while Rob Manfred and all of South Florida are about ready to crucify Derek Jeter for his mission to field the worst team in baseball history.  But the biggest story of all has to be the young dual-threat Japanese phenom - Shohei Ohtani.
Ohtani is attempting to do something that has not been done regularly and successfully in nearly a century - spend an entire season as both a starting pitcher and hitter.  He was quite successful at this in Japan before signing with Anaheim, posting a .286 average and 2.52 ERA in 5 seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters, including a 2016 Pacific League MVP award.  Understandably, nearly every American baseball analyst doubted this would translate to the US, or that he would even start the year in the majors, despite immediately being branded as MLB's #1 prospect.  Many thought his hitting would be a gimmick to sell tickets for awhile before he eventually transitioned to a full-time pitcher.  However, in the first month of the season, Ohtani has more than held his own both in the box and on the rubber:
     Batting:  .333 BA, .997 OPS, 3 HR and 11 RBI in 11 games
     Pitching:  2-1, 4.43 ERA, 26 Ks in 20.1 IP
The Angels generally have been letting him pitch one day a week (which is customary in Japan), and DH'ing 2-3 times in between starts.  He has not pitched in a National League park yet, which will be a nightmare for whoever that team ends up being.  The big question marks for him coming into the league were if he would be able to handle the inside pitch as a hitter, would he be able to control his 100+MPH heat on the mound, and could he withstand the rigors of a longer MLB season?  So far he is proving people wrong.  Pitchers in Japan did not dare throw anything on the inside half of the plate when he was hitting to avoid the shame of injuring Japan's biggest baseball star, but he has had some of his biggest hits on high-inside heat this year, including an impressive bases-clearing triple in a game last week.  He did struggle with his command in his last start, issuing 5 walks, but he also struck out 7 - including reigning MVP Jose Altuve twice - and touched 100 MPH 8 times on the gun.  He has logged over half of the 100 MPH readings this year in all of MLB combined.

Only time will tell if he will be able to keep this up, but for now it is really fun to watch.  As 23-year old it would lead me to believe he is only going to improve in both areas as he learns how to pitch and grows into his body, especially given his reported work ethic.  Let's get to the elephant in the room here - Ohtani is doing things that have not been done since Babe Ruth during his tenure with the Red Sox.  Whether it is fair or not to compare a rookie Japanese prospect to arguably the greatest player of all time, it was bound to happen as he is the only true comparison.  Will Ohtani be the next Babe Ruth, or more like the next Brooks Kieschnick?  Likely somewhere in between, but who knows?  Japanese pitchers tend to flame out early in their careers because of how early they start oversees, so perhaps he focuses on pitching now and becomes a DH in the latter half of his career?  If you ask 100 people about Ohtani you will get 100 opinions and that is what is so intriguing about this unprecedented talent.

Brewers 16-9 (4 @ Cubs, 3 @ Reds, 3 v. Pirates)
Reds 5-19 (3 @ Twins, 3 v. Brewers, 3 v. Marlins)
Twins 8-11 (3 v. Reds, 3 v. Blue Jays, 4 @ White Sox)

Erik - 2 (+4 worked)
Peter - 3

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