Shohei Ohtani: Slugger, Ace, or Both?

There is no doubt that Shohei Ohtani has been the biggest star of this early MLB season. The dual-threat pitcher and hitter from Japan signed to the Los Angeles Angels this offseason with the promise of Babe Ruth  potential. His electrifying fastballs can top 100 MPH and he has the pop to rock the ball 400 feet in any direction. He is undoubtedly the most intriguing player in baseball and he may even have a case for early-season MVP.

Even though his talent is obvious and his potential seems limitless, Ohtani may also be the biggest conundrum in sports. There’s no doubt he’s already the biggest conundrum in fantasy sports since you can only play him as a pitcher or a batter, in most fantasy leagues. Yet, in reality the Angels may have an actual dilemma to deal with as the long season progresses.

What Ohtani has done so far has been nothing less than amazing, but the biggest question is if he can continue this production throughout the entire 162 game season. No player, pitcher or batter, can sustain a level of excellence every game. There are going to be some minor bumps and slumps; that’s the nature of baseball. However, it is very reasonable to ask if the Japanese sensation can maintain both his pitching and hitting prowess at the same time.

The rigors of throwing heaters one day and batting in the designated hitter’s (DH) hole the next seems unprecedented. Even though most people compare Ohtani to Ruth, even Ruth made the total switch from a dominant pitcher to a dominant hitter. This decision was made due to the stress and demands of both pitching and batting. That decision may have ultimately elongated his career and helped him place his stance in the home run record books. Perhaps Ohtani may have initial success both hitting and pitching, but the wear and tear of doing both the entire season may limit his productivity.

Nonetheless, the Angels and Ohtani seem prepared to handle the rigor. One of Ohtani’s main considerations when he was a free agent this past summer was that he could pitch on an American League team. If Ohtani had signed with a team in the NL, he would have had to bat every game he pitched. While that would’ve been exciting to see, it would have had an even worse effect on his body. Therefore, being able to only pitch one day and then only hit the next (without needing to field because of the DH position), is a positive sign for his hopes to effectively do both.

Let’s imagine Ohtani does begin to wane in either the batting or hitting department. Or let’s say he gets an unfortunate injury that results from over-using a ligament that requires surgery. What should the Angels do then? Do they let him continue his combinatoric pitching and hitting? Or do they fully utilize him in either role? He has proven himself a capable hitter and his pitching has astounded. Many people believe he is a better pitcher than he is a hitter, which is saying a lot considering he is a great hitter. In the case that Ohtani or the Angels are forced to choose one or the other, he seems more likely to become a pitcher. He has more potential to be an ace than he has to be a silver slugger.

If he can stay healthy doing his current routine with the Angels, he not only can be successful do both, but he can do so in an MVP-caliber manner. So far this season, Ohtani has pitched two games, winning both and striking out 18 batters, in total, and only walking two. With the bat, Ohtani has played in eight games, tallying 11 hits, 11 RBIs, three home runs, and an average over .360. On both sides of the field, Ohtani has not only been electric, but has impacted the Angels’ early season success. Their 13-3 record can be seen as a result of Ohtani’s influence on the team. Couple this with his unprecedented stats and there is little else you could ask for in your MVP.

The MLB has never seen a player like Ohtani before. Even the Ruth comparisons have to be limited considering Ohtani is doing something that hasn’t ever been done in the live-ball era. It will be interesting to see whether or not a higher performance in one or the other influences the long-term conundrum that must always be on the mind of the Angels.

There is no doubt Ohtani can continue to flourish in his dual-threat mode of playing. If he’s still striking out batters in August and crushing homers in September, then the baseball world will officially be put on notice. Ohtani has the potential to be a sport-altering player. Hopefully his health will allow him to fulfill that potential.

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