“Sho Time’ is about ready to start for the L.A. Angels. With the 2020 Major League Baseball season just a few days away, one of the more interesting stories that has been evolving for the Los Angeles Angels is that of Shohei Ohtani.
Ohtani, in case you don’t know, is both a pitcher and a hitter for the Angels, and first made his splash in the big leagues in 2018. Why is he so interesting? It’s because not only does he pitch, he hits as well, and his statistics – to date – are pretty stellar. So stellar, in fact, that he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award 2018.
Sho Time signed a deal with the Angels in December of 2017. As far back as 2012, he had declared out of high school that he wanted to go directly to the Majors instead of opting to play in Japan where he was born.
In negotiating with MLB teams and the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, he did end up staying with the Japanese team. He would play in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), the highest level of baseball in Japan, with the Ham Fighters between 2013 and 2017.
Shohei Ohtani: The Pitcher
In 2013 with the Ham Fighters, Ohtani showed some brief glimpses of his potential. In 61-2/3 innings of work, Ohtani logged a record of 3–0, with a 4.23 ERA. He issued 33 walks, but also fanned 46. I know, not dazzling by any means. The 2014 season was different, however. Still with The Ham Fighters, he was went 11–4 with a 2.61 ERA in 24 starts (155.1 IP). That season he fanned 179 (third in NPB). His 10.4 K/9 was the best in the league and opponents hit just .223 against him.
His success as a pitcher just kept on rolling after this, with a 10–4, 1.86 on the mound, and 174 K in 140 IP in 2016. In 2017, he followed with a less spectacular 3–2 record, 3.20 ERA and 29 strikeouts.
Shohei Ohtani: The Hitter
Much like his pitching, his hitting didn’t initially stand out either. Despite that fact, Ohtahni playing a dual role as a hitter and a pitcher was getting a significant amount of attention in Japan’s NPB. Ohtani slashed .238/.284/.376 in 204 plate appearances, and didn’t really breakout until 2016. That year in 104 games and 382 plate appearances, he smacked 22 home runs. He also had 18 doubles, 67 RBIs, and batted .322 with an OBP of .416. Furthermore, he scored 65 runs and had seven stolen bases. Ohtania also won the Best Nine Award as the designated hitter.
By 2017, Ohtani was close to getting into MLB, but the details surrounding posting would still have to be worked out. Posting is a complicated process that exists between the NPB and MLB. Ichiro Suzuki and Masahiro Tanaka are two of the high-profile players who went through this process before coming to the majors.
While still with the Ham Fighters in 2017, Ohtani had an ankle surgery which affected his ability to be posted to the majors. Despite that, the Angels signed him in December and promptly set about rehabbing the UCL sprain in his right elbow.
He earned a roster spot as the Opening Day designated hitter and then pitched on April 1st of 2018. Unfortunately, the UCL issue in right elbow reared its ugly head again.
Despite nagging injuries to his elbow (and also dealing with blisters), Ohtani put together a fine rookie season. He batted .285 with a .361 on-base-percentage, along with 22 home runs, 10 stolen bases and 61 RBIs. His .564 slugging percentage ranked seventh overall among MLB players with at least 350 plate appearances for this season.
In 10 starts on the mound, he notched a 4–2 record with a 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 63 strikeouts.
When it was announced that he was to have Tommy John Surgery in September of 2018, many feared that he may not recover very quickly. He was back early in the 2019 season, before September proved to be a month of doom for a second time as he succumbed to another injury.
Ohtani A future Babe Ruth In The Making?
As shocking as it may seem, Ohtani drew comparisons to the Babe in 2018 as well. He became the first major leaguer in nearly a century to hit 15 home runs and pitch 50 innings in a season, something Ruth did in 1919. Ohtani also joined Ruth as the only pair of MLB players with 10 pitching appearances and 20 homers in a season.
Comparisons to the Babe aside, the jury may still be out on Ohtani. Given his short time in the majors and his battle with some serious injuries, people remain skeptical. If he can stay healthy and make an impact in the shortened 2020 season, the Angels could have the deadliest trio in baseball with Anthony Rendon, Mike Trout and Sho Time.
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