Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim phenom Shohei Ohtani is tearing Major League Baseball (MLB) apart — both on the mound and in the batters box.
But with only 69 at bats and 32.2 innings pitched, Ohtani and Angel fans alike are clamoring to see him on the field more often.
“Once the season and the schedule get tougher throughout the summer, hopefully I can make them want to play me more. I would like to play more. If not, that’s what it is. I have to follow what they have to say,” Ohtani told reporters in April.
At only 23 years of age, Ohtani is excelling as both a starting pitcher and a designated hitter, a feat that only the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth, successfully accomplished in the 1918 season (bleacherreport.com). ShoTime currently holds a 3-1 win-loss record in 6 games started, a 3.58 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and 43 strikeouts in 32.2 IP.
Entering the season, Angels manager Mike Scioscia told MLB.com about the challenges of Ohtani’s two-way playing capabilities. “There is a lot of effort a pitcher has to put into pitching, and obviously it might erode some of the opportunities he has to hit,” said Scioscia. “But I think we need to be flexible as we go through this to work this out.”
Ohtani’s regiment remains at one pitching start per week and four starts as a designated hitter, putting him on the bench the day before and the day after a pitching start. But why not have him hit more often? Fear of injury. Ohtani has already landed himself on the disabled list (DL) twice this season with minor injuries — a mild sprained ankle and a blister on his pitching hand.
With a slash line of .348 AVG/.392 OBP/.652 SLG, Ohtani has showcased superior potential in the box, but critics argue that both his pitching and hitting statistics may be the result of lack of information/adjustments by competing clubs or even more commonplace, a small sample size.
In acquiring Ohtani, the Angels agreed to a posting fee of $20 million to his former club, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and extended a $2.315 million signing bonus to Ohtani himself. Because of his rookie status, the Angels are only obligated to pay him the league minimum, $545,000 per year over the next three seasons.
Yes, Ohtani’s endeavor to be an above average two-way player seems far fetched and yes, the sample size may be limited, but two months into the season, Ohtani has proved to be the most exciting player in MLB — gaining more recognition and media coverage than teammate and MLB’s undisputed best player, Mike Trout.
When asked about Ohtani’s skill-set, Trout told USA Today Sports, “I know it’s going to be tough on him doing both things, but I think he’s going to wow us. Really, I think he’ll wow everyone.” Quite the compliment coming from a two-time American League (AL) MVP.
Nothing is promised in MLB (except paying upwards of $12 for a domestic beer), so who is to say that Ohtani will not opt-out of his current contract after three years? During his courtship it was clear that money was not at the forefront of his negotiations, but big money looms in this young star’s bright future. And with Trout hitting the free agent market in 2020, it is unlikely the Angels will re-sign both Trout and Ohtani.
Given Ohtani’s current contract structure, if the Halos were to look past potential injury risks and allow Ohtani to get more at bats, ultimately extracting the best value from his salary, major results could come to fruition for the AL West division contenders.