On Sunday at 12:05 p.m., the Los Angeles Angels conclude their four-game series in Baltimore with the Orioles in a game that can be seen exclusively on Peacock. It gives those of us on the East Coach an opportunity to see the most unique talent in the sport play. For most of the summer, Shohei Ohtani plays out west, and I have to check my phone upon waking to find out what he did.
On Sunday, he’ll play in Baltimore shortly after noon. But no matter where he plays, it’s Sho-time.
I’ll get to the most frustrating aspects of watching Ohtani play in 2022: The Angels have lost 28 of 39 games heading into Thursday night, with the team scoring just over 3 runs per night.
It’s incredible that the Angels — with a MUCH higher payroll and MUCH more talent and in a MUCH easier division than Baltimore — have pretty much the same record as the Orioles halfway through the season.
Still, Shohei Ohtani will play in Camden Yards this weekend, less than a four-minute walk from the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, a shrine that houses baseball memorabilia and other sports-related exhibits. When one watches Ohtani, they almost always reference The Babe.
I want to compare Ohtani to other — more recent — legends.
Ohtani — through a similar juncture in their careers — is a better hitter than Ken Griffey, Jr.
Ohtani — through a similar juncture in their careers — is a better pitcher than Roger Clemens.
Ken Griffey, Jr. through 1,700 AB had an OPS of .838, and OPS+ of 135, and had 65 HR and 53 SB.
Shohei, with 1,704 AB through Wednesday, has an OPS of .880 and OPS+ of 134, and has 111 HR and 65 SB.
On April 29, 1986, Roger Clemens had a historical start, beating Seattle 3-1 and striking out 20 while not walking a batter. It brought his season record to 4-0, 1.62 ERA and his career numbers at that point looked like this:
Clemens: 20-9, 3.60 ERA, 265.0 IP, 239 K, 76 BB
Ohtani: 21-9, 3.20 ERA, 264.2 IP, 333 K, 94 BB
You can take almost any great pitcher, Pedro Martinez and Clayton Kershaw among them. Ohtani is better through the same number of games/innings pitched/etc. I realize that Ohtani’s first couple of years in MLB are at an advanced age; he played in Japan in his early 20s.
In 85 career games (82 starts) as a pitcher for Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japanese Pacific League, he went 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA (543 IP) and 624 strikeouts (10.3 K/9). In Shohei’s major league career, he is averaging 11.3 K/9, better than his performance in Japan.
In his last five pitching starts, Ohtani is 5-0 with a 0.27 ERA (33.2 IP – 1 ER) and 46 strikeouts and has allowed just 16 hits. In that same span (since June 9), he is batting .305/.398/.634 with four doubles, one triple, seven HR, 21 RBI, and a 1.032 OPS.
On Wednesday in Miami, Ohtani gave up just two hits over seven innings, allowing just an unearned run. His ERA for the season is 2.44. The Major League average in 2022 is 4.01.
Ohtani also drove in two runs on Wednesday, bringing his RBI total to 53. On an offensively challenged team, that’s quite a feat. Shohei is slugging .642 with runners on base, fifth-best in MLB.
Value, Valuable, and Victories
Before his first season with the Angels, in March of 2018, his manager Mike Scioscia joked that Shohei Ohtani was almost like two players. “Shohei the hitter and Shohei the pitcher,” Scioscia said, “Why don’t we give him two (jersey) numbers?”
Don’t laugh. My son tells me that in many fantasy baseball leagues, Ohtani is treated as two separate players — and both Ohtanis are top-10 picks.
Talk about value! Ohtani has two years and $8.5 million dollars left on his deal with the Angels, which expires at the end of 2022. In 2023, he will be eligible for a final year of salary arbitration. And after that, he will be eligible for free agency.
What’s he worth? While no one has asked me, here is how I would go to the bargaining table if I represented Ohtani.
ME: Time to get down to numbers. What’s the record average salar? I believe it’s Max Scherzer’s $43.3 million dollars per year (based on Max signing a two-year, $86.67 million dollar contract for the ’22 and ’23 seasons, with a player option for ’24).
ANGELS: Yes, of course it is.
ME: So, let’s see. Scherzer signed the deal at 37 years old, after 398 games started and 2,536 innings and 41,275 regular season pitches. Let’s add in another 2,177 stress pitches from the postseason (128.2 postseason innings). Over his entire career, Scherzer’s ERA+ is 134, meaning he’s 34 percent better than the average pitcher. That’s a lot of mileage on that car! Ohtani’s ERA+ is the same, but with a lot fewer miles.
ANGELS: So, you’re saying 29-year-old Shohei should be paid more than Scherzer and for a longer period of time?
ME: I’m saying, that’s for (pun intended) starters! Shohei deserves $45 million a year for five years just for his pitching. Let’s not get greedy, and command an additional $25 million a year for his 35 homer, 100 RBI, and .900 OPS production. And I really wouldn’t get greedy and demand extra for being the number one gate attraction all over the league. I think his real value is about $70-$75 million a year, but maybe we can convince him to sign for $60 million a year. I don’t think $300 million dollars for five years is out of line.
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But…can’t the Angels finish 75-87 without him, just as they can with him?
Good question, and some think Ohtani has some culpability in the Angels’ lack of success.
The entire team has to bend to him, not the other way around. Ohtani starts once a week, so there’s no way the other starters can get into a regular five-man rotation.
And offensively, Ohtani takes almost ALL the designated hitter assignments, meaning the other position players can’t get their occasional “half-day” off.
WAHHH! Isn’t that too bad? You mean, you might be hurting the chances of fellow Angels starting pitchers like Chase Silseth, Michael Lorenzen, Patrick Sandoval, and Jose Suarez?
Even with Noah Syndergaard pitching in this rotation, it’s a back-up band with a star lead singer. Shohei is the only one you worry about.
On the other point — that Ohtani is hogging all the DH spots — I happen to agree he shouldn’t. Joe Maddon had it in his head that Ohtani shouldn’t play right field, because he’s liable to throw his arm out trying to make an outfield assist.
Maddon’s gone. And I think that trying to protect Ohtani is wrong. Let him play. Even in Japan, he hasn’t played much outfield since 2014. But boy, that would be fun. And — in a show of team support — it would allow a DH day for Mike Trout or Taylor Ward or whoever. Maybe in a new deal — with a new manager — he would be willing to start once a week in the outfield, once a week on the mound, and DH the other days.
My out-of-the-box idea: Start Ohtani in the outfield when Michael Lorenzen is the starting pitcher. And start Lorenzen two or three days after Ohtani pitched. If you did this, you could (in theory) move Lorenzen to Ohtani’s outfield spot for a few batters with Shohei pitching to three hitters before the two flipped back. In my mind, I would have Ohtani pitch to the top of the opponents order when it came around for the second time (usually in the third inning). This way, Lorenzen could pitch deeper into the game — and not face the top of the opponents order for a third time until much later in the game.
Have you ever seen a team in professional sports with two generational talents be so mediocre and never sniff the postseason?
In the mid-1960s, the Chicago Bears had halfback Gale Sayers, the most electrifying offensive player in the NFL. And they had Dick Butkus, the greatest and most intimidating middle linebacker, the man who basically defined the position. That’s your comp for Trout and Ohtani.
Ohtani is 28 years old and in the prime of an extraordinary career. He’s only getting better. Baseball literally has to make rules to maximize his talents, allowing him to stay in games as a designated hitter even after being removed as a pitcher. So whether you have to get up early, stay up late, or check the box scores if you can’t — make it your business to follow what Shohei Ohtani is doing.
Three-time American League MVP Mike Trout, 2021 AL MVP Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels visit the Baltimore Orioles from Oriole Park at Camden Yards on MLB Sunday Leadoff live this Sunday, July 10 at Noon ET on Peacock.
Play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti will be joined in this week’s MLB Sunday Leadoff booth by analysts Mark Gubicza (Angels analyst) and Ben McDonald (Orioles analyst). Benetti will be joined in the MLB Sunday Leadoff booth each week by local analysts from the participating teams.
How to Watch:
|Sun., July 10||MLB Sunday Leadoff Pregame||11:30 a.m.||Peacock|
|Sun., July 10||Angels vs. Orioles||Noon||Peacock|