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Batting Cage

Shohei Ohtani - Forever a DH?

Shohei Ohtani is baseballs biggest star and its not hard to see why. He is a unique player who has lived up to the hype since making his MLB debut back in 2018 with the Los Angeles Angels.

 

Although it’s been seen before with Babe Ruth being able to both pitch and hit it has been a long time since we had seen a player who was just as efficient in both disciplines come over and make such an impact.

 

After 5 years with the Angels Ohtani approached free agency with a plethora of teams interested in receiving the services of baseballs most marketable player. Although we had flight tracker gate with the Toronto Blue Jays Ohtani was always destined to stay on the west coast when he signed his record breaking $700 million dollar deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers ($680 million of this being deferred till after the contract is over), to finish out his career for the next 10 years in California.

Video taken from MLB's YouTube Channel

The influence of the 2x AL MVP is such that the “Ohtani Rule” was created in 2022 to let him stay in the game as a DH (Designated Hitter) when his stint in that such game as a pitcher was over. This is how valuable both the Los Angeles Angels and MLB deemed the 3x MLB and 5x NPB all-star to be. When he agreed his contract with the Dodgers on December 11th last year, they knew for the first year of the contract he would be exclusively used as a DH due to an elbow ligament injury that will preclude Ohtani from being able to pitch in 2024.

 

For the first time in his career Ohtani could focus solely on hitting. He was first drafted in Japan in 2012 by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in the Nippon Professional Baseball league (NPB) and when he made his debut as an 18 year old in 2013 he played as an outfielder as well as pitching. Ohtani has always been a player having to focus on dual roles in the game. 2024 is now the first year he can just focus on hitting. Looking in general at the amount of information that a starting pitcher must retain in their head in relation to the starting lineup they are facing must take up so much mental space. It’s surprising Ohtani can even concentrate when he steps up for his latest plate appearance let alone be as good as he is. There are often situations where he has got his 3 outs in an innings then within a few minutes is facing and thinking about what pitch he is receiving. This is why Ohtani is so special.

 

So lets look at his last season as an Angel in 2023 his second MVP season pitching wise, he started 23 games with a win loss record of 10 – 5 pitching to an ERA of 3.14. Hitting wise he played 135 games hitting 44 home runs and creating 95 RBIs at an average of .304. Its not hard to see why he was the AL MVP.

 

I am writing this on the 17th May 2024 Ohtani has played 43 games solely as a DH so far and he has so far hit 12 home runs with 30 RBI’s and his average is so far an incredible .364 his on base percentage (OBP) has also so far improved as well going from .412 to .431. Ohtani is an on base machine. So how does this come into play for the Dodgers? 2024 is already decided there is no decision is to be made but Ohtani has 9 more years to go after this year and if he continues to just be a DH this will affect the value of the contract and Ohtani’s effectiveness when he is in his mid to late thirties. (The contract will take Ohtani up to the age of 39).

 

Clearly Ohtani wants to play both as a pitcher and as a hitter. The original reason he played in the NPB was reportedly that MLB teams including ironically the Dodgers did not want him to play both roles. It could be argued that Ohtani has more influence than any other player in MLB and ultimately he will probably end up getting what he wants. We can’t argue however that the longer he does play in both positions it will end up taking both a more physical and mental strain than it would if he only has to concentrate on hitting 4 or 5 times a game. There is a reason that veteran position players that play into their late 30’s often end up being exclusive designated hitters to prolong their careers.

 

The Dodgers have a stacked starting rotation with the additions in 2024 of Tyler Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto adding to an already good 2023 rotation. Do the Dodgers desperately need Ohtani to pitch for them? A 29-17 start would suggest they are doing pretty ok without the pitching side of Ohtani.

 

Since his move to the Dodgers it can be argued that the tunnel vision focus of Ohtani only having to hit has made Ohtani an even better hitter than he was with the Angels. I’m not going to talk about the outside issues happening with Ohtani. Now is not the time and place, but I will comment that it’s not affecting him on the field of play. It will be fascinating to look at the evolution of Ohtani over the next few years. As good as a hitter as he is now could he be even better if this is his sole focus. Is it even crazy to think Ohtani could earn his 3rd MVP and first in the NL league as a sole designated hitter. Stranger things have happened and if anyone does this it will be Shohei Ohtani.

Stats taken from baseball-reference.com

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