Pay close attention because no one’s had a season like this in 100 years.
If you’re the kind of baseball fan who roots for athletes who play primarily for the love of the game, start rooting for Shohei Ohtani.
(Question: Do you know how much Ohtani is making this season? Read on for the answer.)
The L.A. Angels’ Shohei Ohtani is having a season that probably no one currently alive has ever seen or remembers. That’s because the last MLB player to be a successful, memorable and legitimate two-way player—a pitcher and a great-hitting position player—was Babe Ruth.
Now in his fourth Major League season, Shohei is probably the most exciting story in MLB, and there’s still more than a month left in the season. In fact, you could make an argument that he’s the most exciting player in baseball, because no one is doing, and can do, what Shohei has done and is doing, daily right before our eyes.
Of course, that’s not to take away from what else is going on and the other big stories. And it’s not just because Ohtani is a two-way player. It’s because how incredibly he’s done this year when he’s at the plate or when he’s on the mound.
The leading candidate for MVP.
Unless something goes haywire, Ohtani will likely be the American League MVP. Here are some of his impressive stats as of August 24:
As a designated hitter
- He leads all of MLB in home runs, with 40
- He leads the AL in slugging percentage
- He’s four off the lead in RBIs, with 88
- He leads the Majors in extra base hits and is tied for the lead in total bases
- He’s been walked intentionally more than any other AL hitter
- In the overall WAR category (Wins Above Replacement), he’s first in the AL
That’s pretty good…for the team’s best pitcher. He has the most wins on the Angels’ pitching staff.
As a starting pitcher
- He has a record of 8-1, a winning percentage of nearly 90%
- He’s struck out 120 batters in 100 innings
- He has good ERA of 2.79
- He leads Angel pitchers in all categories except starts
And here’s where he stood compared to the rest of the League as of August 23rd—he’s first in home runs, tied for third in triples, first in total bases, and first in home runs per at-bat.
Truly one of a kind.
Since 1919, there really hasn’t been what you’d call a “two-way player,” which in baseball is defined as a pitcher who is often or regularly in the lineup for his offense. (Some teams have drafted players thinking they’d be two-way players, but that didn’t work out.)
That was the case until Shohei Ohtani showed up in 2018, his rookie season with the Los Angeles Angels, nearly a century after the Babe’s last season (1919) as a pitcher who could hit.
In 2021, Ohtani was the first player in the history of the All-Star Game, which started in 1933, to be selected for his pitching and his hitting. He was the starting pitcher and leadoff hitter.
A Rookie of the Year debut in 2018.
Ohtani was solid right out of the gate in his MLB rookie season:
- In his first Major League game, starting as the Angels’ designated hitter, Ohtani singled in his first at-bat
- A few days later on April 1st, he started his first game on the mound and picked up a win, going six innings. During his first week, he’d already set “firsts,” including hitting home runs in three consecutive games
- In only his second start on the mound on April 8th, Ohtani took a perfect game through 6⅓ innings before allowing a hit. Overall, Ohtani pitched seven scoreless innings while striking out 12 and picked up his second win
In that 2018 rookie season, he had issues with blisters and his elbow, but Ohtani ended his rookie season batting .285, with 22 home runs and 61 RBIs. In 10 starts, he was 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts. He was named the AL Rookie of the Year.
All baseball, all the time.
Ohtani is all about baseball. He’s committed to the game and cares more about how he’s playing than anything else. More than fame, money and status. That was obvious right from the start.
If Ohtani had waited a couple more years to jump to the Bigs, he could have signed a major, multi-season, multi-million-dollar contract with any MLB team. But he wanted to make the move to the U.S. without waiting till he was 25. He’d already played five seasons in Japan, had a great career and wanted to move on.
How much does Ohtani make right now…
Ohtani’s MLB salary is only $3 million per season right now, tied with 16 others as the Majors’ 290th highest-paid player. Because he was under 25 years old when he inked his contract in December 2017, international signing rules restricted his signing bonus.
That didn’t matter to Ohtani.
Consider this too: He could have signed with a team in a big media market to ensure major exposure. Instead, when Shohei Ohtani left Japan, he picked the Los Angeles Angels…over the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers, even though all those teams had made elaborate presentations to woo Ohtani over.
He chose the Angels because he felt they gave him the best opportunity to explore his talents. In other words, it’s about baseball first.
Don’t feel too bad for him. Ohtani is making more in endorsements than any other MLB player, around $6 million a year.
Ohtani becomes a free agent at the end of the 2023 season, and he’ll be 29 years old. Who knows if Ohtani will even be a two-way player at the start of the 2023 season. The next two seasons on the mound and behind the plate might determine where he goes and what he does. He might want to DH, be a full-time position player or perhaps sign a big bonus to only pitch.
He might even give up being a two-way player. It’s been done before.
In 1919, his last season with Boston, Babe Ruth had a 9-5 pitching record and hit 29 home runs (setting a new single-season homer record). The next year, he was with the Yankees. He hit 54 home runs and batted .376.
He pitched in just one game…and just four more times in 15 years.
There’s just one thing we can be sure of: Shohei Ohtani will be determining his destiny when it’s time to make his big decision.
Resources: theringer.com/mlb/shohei-ohtani-popularity; thefamouspeople.com/profiles/shohei-ohtani; mlb.com/news; english.kyodonews.net/ohtanidifficult-season; ibtimes.com/shohei-ohtani-underpaid-players; baseball-reference.com; Wikipedia.org; cbssports.org