UPDATE: Ohtani saw the headline to this story and answered the question pretty quickly on Sunday Night Baseball vs. the White Sox. Ohtani took the first pitch from Dylan Cease in his first AB of the game and hit a MAMMOTH shot to right center field to give the Halos a 1-0 lead. Check this out. You won’t be able to stop watching.
bing bang bong that’s a dong— Sam Richmond (@samrichmondBR) April 5, 2021
The Los Angeles Angels made a significant move on December 8, 2017 and are hoping for further dividends soon. On that day, the Angels signed two-way Japanese star player Shohei Ohtani out of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. The interest in the multi-talented pitcher and batter was staggering as all 30 major league teams courted him.
Ohtani’s ability to not only hit at a high level, but also pitch is a tantalizing idea because it’s something that we haven’t seen in the MLB since before the advent of the designated hitter. In five seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters, the two-way star slashed .286/.358/.500 with 48 home runs and 166 RBI. On the pitching side, he recorded an ERA of 2.52 with 624 strikeouts in 543 innings pitched.
With that in mind, the Angels knew that they had a potential superstar on their hands if everything played out correctly. As a rookie in 2018, Ohtani proved what he did in NPB was not a fluke and that he could be a successful two-way player.
During his rookie season, Ohtani slashed .285/.361/.564 with 22 home runs and 61 RBI in 367 plate appearances as a designated hitter. The 23-year-old Ohtani also stole 10 bases, while only striking out 102 times. He also took the mound for 10 starts, finishing the season 4-2 with a 3.31 ERS and 1.16 WHIP, while striking out 63 batters in 51.2 innings. He would ultimately parlay his success both at the plate and on the mound into winning the AL Rookie of the Year.
Unfortunately, his rookie season was cut short when he suffered an elbow injury that would require Tommy John surgery. He underwent the procedure in late September, and while the procedure would sideline a pitcher through the entirety of the following season, Ohtani’s hitting skills allowed him to get back on the field in 2019. The 6-foot-4 designated hitter slugged .286/.343/.505 with 18 home runs and 62 RBI. He also increased his stolen bases to 12, along with his strikeouts (110). In June, he became the first Japanese-born MLB player to hit for the cycle.
However, Ohtani ran into injury problems again late in the season. He had surgery in September of that year to repair a bipartite patella in his left knee. Injuries would pop up again in the shortened 2020 season. He appeared in 44 games, and struggled to only hit .190/.291/.366 with seven home runs and 24 RBI. He made two starts as a pitcher and was 0-1 with a 3780 ERA in only 1.2 innings pitched.
While Ohtani has been a competent hitter at the plate over his short-time in Major League Baseball, he has yet to be able to consistently replicate what he did on the mound as a rookie in 2018.
In 2018, Ohtani did not start in many games as a typical starting pitcher would, but he still recorded 10 starts. The Japanese star did not disappoint, producing a record of 4-2 and 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 51.2 innings pitched (11.0 K/9). For his efforts at the plate and on the mound, it did not come as a surprise to see him win ROY.
Last season, Ohtani struggled, only pitching in two games and seeing his ERA explode to 37.80. He dealt with forearm/right elbow issues that he suffered in only his second start for the Angels. They hope that is behind him and Ohtani can return back to his 2018 form, which will make him a strong MVP candidate.
Could Ohtani win MVP?
As of right now, DraftKings Sportsbook has Ohtani’s odds slated +2000 to win the AL MVP and +4000 to win the AL Cy Young. Between the two awards, Ohtani has a better chance to win the MVP because he likely won’t make nearly enough starts to secure the Cy Young.
For him to win the league’s MVP as a two-way player, he’ll need to take a step up from his rookie year and do enough across the board to outshine his all-world teammate Mike Trout.. Remember, Ohtani hit 22 home runs and had a .285 average, to go along with a 3.31 ERA in 2018. With the Angels’ lineup currently constructed as is, Ohtani will have multiple opportunities to produce.
But what he can do on the mound is the big remaining question. The last two years he has dealt with arm injuries that have hindered him. If he can get past the injuries and can throw strikes like we saw in Spring Training, then it’s going to be really hard to not vote for him as AL MVP.