Japanese import Shohei Ohtani will be a starting pitcher for the Anaheim Angels. We know American League pitchers don’t hit unless they’re the visitor during interleague play, so the Angels have stated their intention to use Ohtani at designated hitter during his off days.
As I watched the above video, I found it more impressive than watching him pitch. I’m no scout but I have a basic understanding of what they look at and for (granted, both clips I saw were in controlled environments).
“I saw Griffey in the Minor Leagues and A-Rod as an amateur,” one international scouting director said. “The buzz about Ohtani is similar to those guys and guys like Strasburg. Compared to Griffey and A-Rod, he isn’t as polished a hitter and probably doesn’t have the same upside. But he does have the chance to be a Strasburg. What is unique is that he does both.”
If I had my druthers, I’d develop Ohtani into a hitter (DH and/or OF).
There is a reason that players like Ohtani are once in a generation. It’s really hard to excel both hitting and pitching at a high level. It can work in high school and even college but when you reach pro-level you focus on one or the other.
Take a glance at both the five-year average offensive output for pitchers and the top 10 hitting pitchers (minimum 150 PA) from 2013-2017.
So, you have two below average hitters among ten pretty bad ones. Ohtani is projected to be neither of those but I’m not sure he’s going to succeed at both ends of a pitch.
Its one thing playing in a league where the talent is quite thin (not to say the NPB is a slouch league), but the abilities of Major League Baseball players are a completely different monster.
Here’s what Ohtani did in the NPB league, both pitching and hitting.
In 2018, Ohtani is projected to be a three-win pitcher (3-1 K to BB ratio/1.21 WHIP/3.63 FIP) and slightly less than a one-win hitter (.341 wOBA/116 wRC+/29.3 K%).
When Ohtani had his most plate appearances, he stood out offensively (2016). Same thing when he pitched in 2015 and 2016. Keep in mind that NPB teams use six-man rotations and that Ohtani will be expected to get as close to 200 IP as possible. In his five years of professional ball, he’s yet to pitch even three-quarters of that.
Oh yeah. There’s that injury he had last year.
One of the selling points on Ohtani is his ability to throw in the triple digits. He’ll be pressured (either by the organization or self-expectation) to continue that in MLB. Being that he’ll turn 24 this July, is it going to be worth the risk to push his arm that hard this early in his career? Should he succumb to another injury, how would it affect his baseball livelihood as a hitter as well?
His pitching is already good enough to compete in America, but it would take Ohtani longer to develop into the hitter he has potential to be; maybe a few extra months in the Anaheim farm system. Is that something the front office (or ownership) would be willing to do for a guy they just dropped $200 million on?
At the risk of dehumanizing baseball players, they are an investment. It’s not always reasonable to expect immediate returns when the investment isn’t established.
With the injury and the workload he’ll be faced with, why risk/push a good thing? It would be great to see him do both, as we’ve yet to see a complete talent like this since Babe Ruth. It may be another generation before it happens again. Yet, Ohtani’s future should be developed at the plate, not throwing to it.