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If you’re still bummed about the San Francisco Giants narrowly missing out on the big free agent this offseason, Bryce Harper, then here’s a reminder that will (not) make you feel better.
They missed out on arguably a much better free agent signing a year ago in Shohei Ohtani.
You’re forgiven if you forgot about Ohtani. Baseball is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport, and Ohtani hasn’t played since September.
But now he’s back. The Los Angeles Angels announced that Ohtani, who has been rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, will join the team today in Detroit.
Shohei Ohtani will join the team in Detroit tomorrow. He will be assessed tomorrow afternoon and we will have an update regarding his availability at that time.— Los Angeles Angels (@Angels) May 6, 2019
And he will be in the lineup. Batting third.
Ohtani’s return is unequivocally excellent news for baseball and all baseball fans. He is not only one of the most versatile players in baseball history, but an electric and exhilarating talent.
If you took 2018 off from baseball due to Giants shame (an understandable outcome), let me fill you in on what Ohtani did in his age-23 rookie year.
He slashed .285/.361/.564, good for a .925 OPS, a 150 OPS+, and a 152 wRC+. He smashed 22 home runs in just 367 plate appearances, stole 10 bases, and racked up a 10.1% walk rate.
And that was just the half of it. Literally!
Ohtani made 10 starts as a pitcher, and was equally impressive. In 51.2 innings, he allowed just 38 hits and 22 walks, and recorded 63 strike outs. His ERA was 3.31, his FIP 3.57, and his K’d 11.0 batters per nine innings.
Ohtani the hitter and Ohtani the pitcher both had spectacular seasons, especially when accounting for age and experience. That they came from the same person turned them from impressive to historic.
What Ohtani’s future holds is unclear. He was considered a better pitching prospect than hitting prospect, but having Tommy John surgery, following one of the top offensive seasons in the league complicates matters. His 152 wRC+ placed him sixth in the American League for batters with at least 200 plate appearances - trailing only his teammate Mike Trout, and stars Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Alex Bregman, and Manny Machado. He’ll have a chance to focus even more on hitting this year, as the recent surgery will keep him from pitching this season.
If he can maintain an offensive pace resembling that, Los Angeles may be tempted to never risk putting him on a mound again, despite the Cy Young potential in his 100 mph-reaching arm.
That would, of course, be a loss for baseball. In an era where Rob Manfred wants to take away so much of what makes baseball great, Ohtani represents all that is beautiful about the sport. He can strike you out with overwhelming power, or mesmerizing movement. He can hit the ball out of the park, or slap it the other way for a single. He can make an impact on the basepath, and, if given the opportunity, can probably do some nice things with his glove.
Here’s hoping health will allow Ohtani to maximize his potential on both sides of the field. And regardless, he’s back. And that is worth celebrating.