Shohei Ohtani Is Turning into MLB's Modern-Day Babe RuthMay 20, 2021
Wednesday night, two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber threw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees, the first one from any pinstripe pitcher since David Cone's perfect game in 1999 and the second no-hitter thrown this week.
That's a tough act to follow. It's difficult to upstage the Yankees most nights, let alone one when the discourse varied so drastically from ranking this among other great Yankee performances to discussing what is so wrong with baseball that no one can hit anymore.
But then Shohei Ohtani took the mound on the West Coast, and the discussion around Kluber's performance momentarily took a back seat as the baseball world watched to see what the Los Angeles Angels phenom would do next.
The legend of Ohtani continues to grow on a near-nightly basis. He's doing things we haven't seen anyone do on a baseball field since Babe Ruth.
In his first start on the mound this season, he hit a home run in his first at-bat from the No. 2 spot. Last week, he struck out 10 hitters and then played right field. He leads the majors in home runs with 14 and is on pace to hit 54, which would be just behind Ken Griffey Jr., who hit 56 twice, and Hack Wilson for 17th all-time in a single season.
Ohtani has a .950 OPS (15th in MLB), a .672 slugging percentage (third) and he's stolen six bases (a top-mark).
Monday night, he homered off a pitch that was 4.19 feet above the ground, the second-highest pitch anyone has hit out of the park this season and the highest by any player in Anaheim since the pitch-tracking era began in 2008.
Sarah Langs of MLB.com has a few other facts about Ohtani that are absolutely absurd in the best way possible: Ohtani has hit 61 homers since coming over to the United States from the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan in 2018, and he's whiffed 111 hitters on the mound. He is just the fifth player in history to hit 60 home runs and strike out 100 hitters, joining Babe Ruth (714 home runs, 488 strikeouts), George Van Haltren (69 home runs, 281 strikeouts), Rick Ankiel (76 home runs, 269 strikeouts) and Johnny Lindell (72 home runs, 146 strikeouts).
Ohtani and Ankiel are the only two players to do this since 1954.
On the mound, he's 1-0 with a 2.37 ERA in six starts, which would put him among the top 20 starting pitchers in the majors if he qualified for the leaderboard.
The 26-year-old has made fans of some of his colleagues and some of the top athletes in the country.
Ohtani could end up starting a trend of teams utilizing more two-way players. Young players often play on both sides of the ball, especially in college, but they're often pigeonholed into pitching or hitting around the time they're drafted. But maybe they don't have to be.
Former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones encouraged kids to go for it. The Cincinnati Reds have used right-handed starter Michael Lorenzen as an outfielder, and Arizona Diamondbacks starter Madison Bumgarner once lobbied to participate in the Home Run Derby.
It takes immense athletic talent to play both sides of the ball, but maybe the talent would be more obvious in others if players weren't forced to choose. Angels first baseman Jared Walsh was a two-way player before the club converted him to a first baseman.
But it does take more than talent alone. What sets Ohtani apart from the rest of the competition is his ability to adjust. Players who can't do so don't stay in the big leagues, but Ohtani hasn't only made adjustments since he entered MLB, he's also made himself better by adding to his skill set, even throughout the injuries, which included Tommy John surgery in October 2018.
He is adding pitches and adjusting his swing to North American pitches. His performance Wednesday night in a 3-2 loss to Cleveland is a good example of the former.
His velocity dipped into the low 90s, well below the season average of 96 mph on his fastball. It was cause for concern given his injury history, and the Angels may have downplayed that concern, with manager Joe Maddon saying Ohtani "just didn't have it." He didn't play in the first game of a doubleheader Thursday, further fueling speculation.
"My body was just feeling really heavy and sluggish," he said through an interpreter.
But Ohtani managed to work around his diminished velocity by using a newly developed cutter. He limited Cleveland to two earned runs on five hits, walked two and struck out five over 4.2 innings.
The Angels still found a way to lose. The club has two of the best players in baseball, if not the best, and yet it's toward the bottom of the AL West standings, with only the Rangers below it. Entering Thursday, the Halos were seven games back of the division-leading Oakland A's.
Baseball is better when its stars are showcased, and there is no better showcase than the postseason. Yet once again, the Angels are in danger of missing the playoffs. Sure, it's still early. A lot can change between now and October, but the Angels seem to be finding creative ways to lose each night.
Since Mike Trout's rookie season in 2012, the Angels have made exactly one playoff appearance. The club was unceremoniously swept in 2014 by the eventual American League champion Kansas City Royals. Some of the struggles can be attributed to the turnover in the front office and the turmoil off the field. Some of it was just plain bad luck.
The club is on its third general manager since 2011 (Jerry Dipoto, Billy Eppler and current general manager Perry Minasian) and its third manager (Mike Scioscia, Brad Ausmus, Maddon). L.A.'s farm system was among the worst in baseball for a few years and is only now starting to show some signs of life, producing players like Walsh, reliever Jose Suarez and starting pitcher Griffin Canning.
Pitching was an afterthought, and the club had most of its money tied up with big contracts belonging to Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton to ever really invest in arms.
The pressure on the Angels to make the playoffs is greater than ever, and it's an uphill battle with Trout out with a calf strain and the A's and Houston Astros ahead in the division.
So watch Ohtani while you can this summer. The Sho is just getting good.