Is Shohei Ohtani the real deal? This has seemingly been a question since 2018 when he entered the MLB with the Los Angeles Angels. Ohtani’s unique play style and ability as a pitcher and a designated hitter led to a plethora of doubters who don’t believe he can do both in the bigs. The doubts are not unfounded, there is a reason we see pitchers pitch and field players swing that bat traditionally. It’s almost impossible to manage both successfully. However, enter Shohei Ohtani. He had a great rookie season in 2018 and he looks great again in 2021. Let’s analyze what makes him special, and decide if he’s the real deal.
How is he Special?
The closest thing we have seen to Ohtani recently is Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Madison Bumgarner. MadBum won back-to-back Silver Slugger awards in 2014 and 2015. However, in those two years, Bumgarner had combined 9 homers and a .252 BA. Ohtani, on the other hand, was hitting at a higher percentage with 22 homers in 2018 and 18 in 2019. Clearly, Ohtani is pushing the boundaries of modern positions in baseball with his ability at the plate.
In that 2018 season, Shohei won Rookie of the Year as fans were stunned by his season. On the mound, he had a 3.31 ERA through 10 starts, with 11 strikeouts per nine innings. To put that into perspective Jacob deGrom had an 11.2 strikeout per nine innings mark and won the Cy Young award. In that 2018 season, Ohtani set the standard for what he is capable of and fans release his ceiling is astronomically high.
What’s the Concern?
After reading that last passage and seeing just how electric Shohei was after his rookie season, you may be wondering why this is really a debate. However, this is where things get complicated. When looking at his numbers at the plate, he can clearly hit, and the fact that he is a pitcher makes those numbers even more impressive. However, with his heavy workload comes a high risk for injury.
Right after Ohtani’s Rookie of the Year season in 2018, he had to receive Tommy John surgery. This led to him spending the entirety of 2019 as a Designated Hitter and reappearing on the mound in a shortened 2020 season. That year he had two starts where he went 1.2 innings and finished the year with a 37.80 ERA. Obviously, that ERA means nothing because he only went 1.2 innings the whole season. But, the fact that he only made it that far is concerning.
Because of Shohei’s Tommy John surgery and his heavy workload, the Los Angeles Angels are going to be extremely cautious with him on the mound. We have seen this as in two starts he has only pitched 8.2 innings. Granted, those 8.2 innings have been great as he has a 1.04 ERA with 14 strikeouts and only three hits allowed. I would never argue with limiting Ohtani’s workload because it’s practically impossible for him to stay healthy if he pitches seven innings every start and hits every day.
So, Is Shohei Ohtani The Real Deal?
The problem with labeling Ohtani a star at this point in time is because of his limited experience. While this is his fourth year in the league, it is only the second time we have seen him actively pitching and hitting at the same time. It’s easy to analyze the fact that he has star potential. Just look at his performance in his rookie season and his success with the bat since then. I might revisit this article in October because, at that point, we will have a much clearer picture of Shohei’s capabilities.
Overall, I do think he is the real deal. Injury concerns and workload will limit him from reaching his pitching potential. However, I think he will hit 20 plus homers virtually every season he stays healthy. Ohtani will be an All-Star and fan favorite for years to come. He will produce with the best bats in baseball while being a solid, above-average pitcher. Because of this, I think Shohei Ohtani will be a great baseball player who hits nukes and gets on base while pitching with a 2.90-3.60 ERA each year.