Shohei Ohtani’s MLB career has been a stark combination of wonder and disappointment. The latter has come in the form of injuries, whereas the former has come in the form of performance. Fortunately for Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels and the MLB world, the 26-year-old is putting his two-way play together in a striking manner.
The Angels’ star has been the most valuable player in the sport this season. Yes, the Angels have played just 41 games, but Ohtani’s impact has been that profound.
Shohei Ohtani has been a force to be reckoned with at the plate
The Angels’ offense is already a high-profile bunch with the likes of Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon present. At full force, one could argue that the Angels have the best offensive trio in the sport with the pair of sluggers and Ohtani.
Ohtani has been flat-out raking this season. He has blasted an MLB-best 14 home runs to go with 33 RBI and an American League-best .632 slugging percentage. Furthermore, Ohtani is in the top one percent of MLB in barrel percentage (21.5%) and top 10% in hard-hit percentage (52.3%) while sporting a 92 mile-per-hour average exit velocity per Statcast.
He’s one of the sport’s most intimidating hitters from the left side and in general. Ohtani’s long, resounding swing is a primary catalyst for manager Joe Maddon’s offense being in the top-third of MLB in hits, home runs, batting average and OPS. He has been their primary base clearer and forced teams to pitch to Trout and Rendon (when they’re on the field), rather than pitching around them.
Across his four seasons in the big leagues, Ohtani has always been a problem for pitching staffs. He has also been the modern-day hitter: a sweeping, somewhat uppercut hitter who has the power to launch balls out of the ballpark or into the gap for extra-base hits.
There are few hitters manufacturing offense and clearing the bases like Ohtani.
Shohei Ohtani has been electric on the hill
Has Shohei Ohtani provided an ample sample size as a starting pitcher this season? He has not, but five starts is better than nothing. Across those outings, Ohtani has been spectacular. He sports a 2.10 ERA, a 210 ERA+ and 40 strikeouts across 25.2 innings.
Ohtani relies on his four seamer and split-fingered fastball to get through at-bats while mixing in a slider every here and there. He has superb command of the offerings, grinds through and finishes at-bats and logs strikeouts at a high rate. Ohtani has been the Angels’ best starting pitcher in 2021.
Sure, we’re talking about one player on an 18-23 Angels team. On the other hand, they’d be multiple games worse without him when taking into account the pivotal nature of Ohtani’s presence in their lineup and rotation.
Even though the sport has become a bullpen-savvy game with less of a reliance on premier starting pitchers, the dominant ace will never fade into the dark. It will stand the test of time because there’s no statistic or analytic for the hopeless feeling a lineup can have when they’re being dominated by an opposing pitcher. Perfect games and no-hitters embody that notion. Albeit the starter stays in the game because history is on the line, the opposing team is virtually unable to do anything against them.
Ohtani has ace-caliber stuff and potential. In 2018 he posted a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts across 10 starts (51.2 innings). Much like 2021, he was efficient, hit the mid 90s with his fastball and finished off hitters.
Shohei Ohtani is currently the most valuable player in MLB
Is Shohei Ohtani flawless? He is not. He could do a better job of making more steady contact, therefore striking out less. Ohtani could also do a better job of not laboring through outings, therefore keeping his pitch count down. That said, what he’s doing this season is rare.
We’re talking about a player who’s performing at a high level as a two-way player. Ohtani has been Bryce Harper at the plate and Brandon Woodruff on the hill. Typically, a player who hits and fields their position well gets an All-Star nod. The same goes for a starting pitcher who pitches efficiently as a team’s ace. In this case, we have a player working under both scenarios.
Someone doing as such is the sport’s most valuable player. Ohtani may not be the sport’s best hitter. Trout, Mookie Betts, Juan Soto and others would have something to say. He may not be the sport’s best starting pitcher. Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer and others would have something to say. But Ohtani is doing something none of them are doing: thriving as both a hitter and pitcher.
Teams will fork over nine figures to get one-half of Ohtani’s skill set for their ball clubs. The Angels are getting a two-for-one deal. None of the aforementioned pitchers are hitting to a noteworthy or impactful degree. The hitters will only appear on the hill when their team is down by 10-plus runs.
What Shohei Ohtani is doing is special and comes around once in a generation. There isn’t a player making an impact in the sport like he has been this season. If the season ended tonight, Ohtani would be the AL MVP and frankly the league MVP.