I was wrong. As an admittedly bitter Seattle Mariners fan, I applauded Shohei Ohtani‘s dismal Spring Training performance. I LOVED that the “next Babe Ruth” that skipped on my team and picked a team that looks like a cheaply thrown together created team from a video game was absolutely bombing it. I was popping champagne, and I don’t even drink. Tears of laughter streamed down my cheeks at the thought of the Angels making a six-man rotation to make room for six feet four inches of maladjusted, overhyped failure. Then, the regular season lights turned on, and I’m back to bitter. Ohtani is for real.
Let’s just get the asterisk out of the way; his two starts, both of which resulted in wins, came against the Oakland Athletics, who are as appealing and functional as a plastic-wrapped couch, which Billy Beane might actually be a fan of. Dude is cheap. Through those two starts, which is certainly too small of a sample set to take too seriously in a 162-game season, he has a 2.08 ERA and a 0.46 WHIP, and has 18 strikeouts. One thing that did show up in Spring was his high strikeout numbers. He was all-or-nothing on the mound before the start of the season, now he has guys missing and is finding other ways to get outs.
From the plate, he has 3 bombs, one of which came off Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, and is posting a .389 average with a .421 OPB. He’s doing it with that same foreign grace and stride at the plate we truly became acquainted with when Ichiro Suzuki made his way to Major League Baseball. Both Ohtani and Ichiro showed great power and versatility at the plate (though Ichiro only chose to show off that power in batting practice), a clear indicator of patience built into their swings. Keeping your hands back like Ohtani and Ichiro do not only gives you that much more time to look at the ball, but the bat drag adds power, which Ohtani has shown off already.
It is nearly impossible to truly compare Ohtani on a statistical level to his closest comparison to this point, Babe Ruth. In his age-23 season, Ruth smacked 11 home runs with a .300 average while recording a 2.22 ERA on the mound. The next season, 1919, Ruth’s performance inspired historians to declare the “Dead Ball Era” over and done, he hit 29 home runs, drove in 113 RBI, and posted a 2.97 ERA from the mound. Ruth single-handedly changed the tide of professional baseball, and Ohtani is showing the potential to do the same.
With prospects Hunter Greene in the Reds organization and Brendan McKay in the Rays farm looking to perform as two-way players, Ohtani’s success and how he is dealt with will have major bearings on the future of baseball. This could be the first small batch of a line of players who will force baseball to change the way it views their players and how they are used.
Much to my chagrin, a player who passed up the team I love is making the difference. As a baseball fan, it’s a beautiful and historic thing to watch, and everyone should be excited.