Major League Baseball announced their annual awards last week for all deserving players. Perhaps the most obvious winner, at least in the eyes of most MLB fans, was Shohei Ohtani as the American League Most Valuable Player. Ohtani had a season for the ages, as he hit 46 home runs, collected 100 RBIs, and stole 26 bases. Oh yeah, he also started 23 games on the mound for the Angels, throwing 130 1/3 innings. He had a solid earned run average of 3.18, and struck out 156 batters. He compiled a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.55. Ohtani had, by all accounts, a season perhaps unmatched since Babe Ruth pitched and hit many years ago. Yes, he only hit .257 but had an OPS+ of 158.
Even though the Angels were never in playoff contention, Ohtani’s value was as high as it could be. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien, both of the Blue Jays, each had outstanding seasons. Guerrero was as hot as anybody in baseball for a good part of the season. He finished with 48 home runs and 111 RBIs. He also had an OPS+ of 169. Semien meanwhile hit a staggering 45 home runs and drove in 102. There is no doubt that these two Jays had outstanding offensive seasons, each exceeding Ohtani’s offensive output. Yet, when one considers Ohtani’s accomplishments on the mound, Guerrero and Semien had no serious chance to win the AL MVP award.
How Could Shohei Ohtani Be Even More Valuable?
Ohtani was the runaway MVP winner in the AL, and he had a memorable season that will be hard to top. His performance conjured up memories of Ruth, regarded by many as the best player who ever played the game. That is rare air, indeed, for Ohtani, and there is no doubt that he has set a new standard for any future two-way players. It is difficult to imagine anyone even approaching what Ohtani did in 2021. Yet, there may be a way to increase his value even more, and it makes a lot of sense for both Ohtani and the Angels.
We noted above that Ohtani started 23 games for the Angels in 2021. This amount represents around 1/7th of the Angels’ games, reflecting the stats of perhaps a fifth starter. While he was surely effective as a starter, based on prior arm issues, it is unlikely that he will be used as a top-four starter anytime soon. In fact, the Angels are looking to beef up their rotation. They have already signed Noah Syndergaard to a one-year deal, and are in pursuit of Kevin Gausman as well. These signs suggest that the Angels have no present plans to move Ohtani up in the rotation.
So, what could the Angels possibly do to increase Ohtani’s value even more? We are suggesting that Ohtani would be extremely valuable as a closer. Yes, closer. This is an idea that may seem ridiculous at first blush, given that he has never been an MLB closer. That is a fair point, and going from starter to closer is a move that has been done successfully by very few pitchers in recent history. Yet, it seems like something that would benefit both Ohtani and his team, so why not give it a shot?
Why Ohtani Could Be An Ideal Closer
So, here is the rationale behind this revolutionary idea, and it is really quite simple. As mentioned, it does not appear that Ohtani will ever become a top-of-the-rotation type of pitcher. That said, maybe there is a better way to assimilate his pitching skills into the Angels’ staff. Becoming a closer would allow manager Joe Maddon to use Ohtani in certain situations, giving Maddon more flexibility. Ohtani could work out of the bullpen, with Maddon determining how he will be best used. This also eliminates the need to rely on Ohtani to start a number of games.
Secondly, Ohtani has the tools necessary to be a closer. He has demonstrated this through both his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.55, as well his strikeout per nine innings of 10.8. In the closer’s role. Ohtani could come out firing in his one inning of relief, and see his strikeouts go higher. There would be no need to hold back on his fastball, and he would be free to just go out and get three hitters. Game over. There is no doubt that he has the stuff.
The final reason that Shohei Ohtani would be a great closer is more strategic. As a starter, on those nights when Ohtani is not on his game and needs to get pulled, the Angels also lose his bat. The beauty of closing would be that Ohtani would move from DH to the lineup, and hit for himself. Of course, that would only be on the rare occasion when he would blow a save. If Ohtani is the closer, the Angels would not lose his powerful bat. It is like having two players in one. We think it would solve multiple issues for Maddon and the Angels.
An Idea Worth Considering
The Ohtani as closer experiment could be held in spring training. Yes, it is an idea from out of left field, but it offers many benefits to both Ohtani and the Angels. Trying it out in the spring is a win-win proposition. If it works out, Maddon and the Angels will be well-positioned when the season begins. If it becomes an epic failure, the Angels can always move Ohtani back to the fifth starter’s role. However, we believe that this is an idea that will allow the current day Babe Ruth to become even more valuable and create a legacy that will never be challenged. It is worth a shot, and, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
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