Shohei Ohtani’s incredible season as a hitter, pitcher, and baserunner, has surpassed not only his peers but all-time greats as well.
Ever since Shohei Ohtani’s Major League debut, his potential has been undeniable. However, Ohtani has struggled to stay healthy as both a hitter and pitcher. The 2021 MLB campaign would be the first year since his rookie season where he was fully healthy to do both. Coming into the season, though, his teammate, Mike Trout, was the clear favorite to win the MVP trophy.
If not for a rare Trout injury, it appeared he was on pace for his 4th MVP title. With Trout’s injury landing him on the 60-day injured list, someone needed to carry the Angels’ offensive burden. Shohei Ohtani has been that player. However, this could not have been expected following his very disappointing 2020 year. The injury bug struck again and restricted Ohtani to being a hitter only, and a poor one at that.
At the Plate
Shohei Ohtani’s arrival to the United States came with a hefty amount of hype. A two-way player with the ability to throw 100 miles per hour and to hit balls over 400+ feet was unheard of in MLB. Ohtani entirely lived up to the hype too. Shohei Ohtani posted a .285 batting average, an on-base plus slugging percentage of .925, with a credible 22 home runs and 61 runs batted in. This, when accompanied with his 51.2 innings pitched, was enough to receive the Rookie of the Year trophy.
In the next season, Ohtani had almost the same batting average and number of RBIs. However, his OPS dropped to .848 as he hit 4 fewer long balls, despite having 58 additional plate appearances. Nevertheless, Ohtani was still an above-average hitter. That could not be said for his pandemic season, though.
Ohtani suffered a dramatic decline. With a trash batting average of .190 and a lousy OPS of .647, few could have anticipated what he had in store for 2021. On almost twice as many plate appearances, Ohtani jumped from 7 home runs to 34 and nearly tripled his RBIs and runs scored. Additionally, Ohtani’s batting average is back up to .277, and has a career-high 1.047 OPS.
This season has been the coming-out party for Shohei Ohtani. His power numbers are the best in all of baseball and do not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Although his offense has been remarkable, Ohtani is also setting career highs as a pitcher.
On the Bump
The biggest slight on Ohtani’s MLB career thus far has been injuries. Before this season, he had really only pitched in his rookie year. Even then, Shohei Ohtani only pitched half the season after experiencing an elbow injury. In his 51.2 innings, Ohtani posted a solid earned run average of 3.31 with 22 walks and 63 strikeouts.
As a pitcher, Ohtani is a scary matchup because of a career average fastball velocity of 95.9 mph and a filthy curveball. This year, Shohei Ohtani has thrown 21.1 more innings than his rookie season with 14 more walks and 32 additional punchouts. His all-around dominance made him the first-ever MLB player to be voted to an All-Star Game as both a pitcher and hitter. An extraordinary feat that is very likely never going to be seen again, unless he does it again.
Shohei Ohtani vs. 21st Century All-Time Greats
Shohei Ohtani’s popularity has transcended not just baseball, nor American professional sports, but the entire globe. Seeing a Japanese star outplay the entire big leagues is something baseball has not experienced since Ichiro. The only difference is Ohtani is even better. Ohtani surpassed Hideki Matsui for the most home runs in a season by a Japanese-born player with more than 300 fewer plate appearances.
Ohtani also leads all of baseball in slugging percentage at .686 which is almost .300 points better than last year. If this stays the same, it will be the highest slugging percentage in the American League since Manny Ramirez in 2000. Furthermore, Shohei also leads baseball with 58 extra-base hits, eight more than the next. If he sustains this and surpasses 100 for the year, he will become only the 13th player ever to do so and the first since 2001.
Shohei Ohtani vs. Babe Ruth
His season as a hitter and pitcher is only comparable to one other person in MLB history. Babe Ruth, the Great Bambino, Sultan of Swat, is widely regarded as baseball’s greatest of all time. Most thought baseball would never see someone like him again, but Shohei Ohtani might just be his reincarnation… only better. I am not condoning Babe Ruth slander nor claiming Ohtani is outright better, but Ohtani has the potential to do more than Babe ever did.
The first major discrepancy is just plain athleticism. Shohei, despite his status as a slugger, is surprisingly fast. Ohtani, through 342 career games, has recorded 41 steals on 53 attempts (77.36%). Whereas, big ole Babe somehow stole 123 bases on 240 tries (51.25%) in his whopping 2,503 career games.
Shohei Ohtani reaching 32 home runs pushed him past Hideki Matsui, but his 31st set him apart from Babe Ruth. Ohtani and Ruth stand alone as the only players in MLB history with at least 10 pitching appearances and over 30 homeruns. However, Shohei has almost half a season left and will likely blow this record out of the water.
There are several other specific statistics in which Shohei Ohtani has and likely will surpass Babe Ruth. Whether or not Shohei is the next Babe Ruth, but better will take some time. If Shohei can maintain his health and production for another decade, the argument between the two will become intense. What is a certainty, though, is that Shohei Ohtani is doing stuff baseball has not seen in over a century. Ohtani’s season has not only been among the best in the league today but rather as historically great as anyone to ever play.
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