A very focused young man. Kirby Lee | USA Today Sports
The Shohei Ohtani Award for the best overall baseball player in MLB? Let’s get creative!
By Stu Matthews | @stumatthews11
ANAHEIM – There isn’t a trophy designed for this kind of player.
That’s because even the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (of which I was once a card-carrying member, so I know about the lack of creativity within the BBWAA ranks) were blindsided by the brilliance of Shohei Ohtani’s major-league rookie season with the Angels.
Ohtani killed off the Angels’ season-high five-game losing streak by pitching Anaheim past the Tampa Bay Rays, a 5-2 win the Anaheim squad desperately needed before starting a 10-day roadie on Tuesday through Toronto, the Bronx and Detroit that will take the team to the end of May.
That’s what ace pitchers do. Bust losing streaks.
Ohtani carved up Tampa’s tough lineup with a snarling mix of heaters, splitters, nasty curves and sliders. Not Justin Verlander, but close.
The Ohtani split-finger pitch has rapidly become one of MLB’s most feared offerings. MLB.com Statcast wiz David Adler tweeted Sunday, with a trace of snark: "Slow your roll on Shohei Ohtani’s splitter, folks," Adler said. "The batting average against it went up today … To .023."
Adler further breaks down Ohtani’s amazing, vanishing, unhittable pitch. "Before Sunday, hitters were for 0-for-36 with 24 strikeouts," Adler wrote. "They’re now 1-for-44 with 30 strikeouts."
That’s a brutal missile, and indeed it was unhittable Sunday until Rays catcher Wilson Ramos laced an Ohtani splitter off the glove of third baseman Zack Cozart in the seventh. Ohtani shook it off in his unflappable manner by getting the next guys out on mostly soft contact.
If you remember, the lack of command of his splitter led Ohtani to his only bad start.
A blister prevented him from throwing the pitch effectively on April 17, when he took his only loss as a pitcher, lasting only two innings in an ugly 10-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox.
Blister? What blister? Following the lead of manager Scioscia-san, Ohtani knows how to turn pages. The Angels’ righty gave up a solo homer to fellow rookie Johnny Field in the third. And then he retired a dozen Rays hitters in a row.
Ohtani was hellbent on working deep into this game, and maybe finishing it.
But he got into trouble in the eighth when Field
closed his eyes and swung slapped a double down the right field line.
Field’s shot eluded a Medal of Honor-worthy dive by Gold Glover Kole Calhoun, who paid for his grenade-jumping valor with a crunching face-plant into the wall in foul territory.
These are the ways Ohtani’s in which teammates show their support for the Japanese starlet. By playing extra hard for him.
Ohtani applauded Calhoun’s max effort: "That gave me energy and confidence to try and get the next out," he said through translator Ippei Mizuhara.
After Ohtani finished the seventh inning, he received a resounding low-five from catcher Martin Maldonado after 99 pitches. And most spectators, myself included, figured the Japanese kid was coming out.
He’d throw another 11 pitches.
Former Angel slugger CJ Cron was the last of Ohtani’s strikeout victims, and Cron’s three-pitch dismissal of Cron was particularly ruthless.
Strike one was a slider at 80.7 mph. Cron swung through it. Strike two was a harder slider that Cron fished for and missed. He had no chance on strike three, another slider, waving at it and waving his hand in disbelief as he headed back to the Tampa dugout.
Joey Wendle singled and Ohtani's sermon was over this Sunday.
When manager Mike Scioscia finally made the slow stroll to the mound to relieve Ohtani after pitch No. 110, a season high, Ohtani tipped his cap to his mob of fans, slicked his sleek black hair, and bro-fisted Angels bench coach Josh Paul.
Anderson struck out Brad Miller to end the eighth and Ohtani showed a increasingly more common burst of emotion, slapping his hand on the padded dugout rail with a shout. Then he walked to the plate side of the dugout to thank Anderson for the relief with a handshake and a bow.
So that brings up to the inevitable and amazing stats, and this is where the BBWAA’s dilemma lies.
Now here’s where we take stock of what Shohei Ohtani has done after his one walk, nine strikeout effort.
As a pitcher, Ohtani (4-1) lowered his ERA to 3.35, his WHIP to 1.07, and in seven starts has struck out 52 damfools in 40.1 innings.
Ohtani’s average fastball speed is 97.1 miles per hour. Only two MLB pitchers are faster.
As a batter, Ohtani is hitting .321, second only on the Angels to shortstop Andrelton Simmons’ .329, and he has launched 6 home runs – many of them the tape-measure variety – in just 84 at-bats.
These hitting stats are mind-blowing too. Ohtani’s exit velocity on hits is 94.2 miles per hour. These balls are smoked – that’s the ninth-faster exit velocity in the majors when Ohtani barrels it up.
"Eventually, the pitcher-hitter battle will hit equilibrium, but if Ohtani has a hole, it hasn’t announced itself," wrote Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer.
All this is going to make BBWAA voters scratch their mostly-bald heads.
Veteran Ohtani watcher Jim Allen of the Kyodo News had this firecracker of a tweet.
"191 days ago, Shohei Ohtani told a Tokyo press conference his goal was to be able to walk down the street and have people recognize him as the best baseball player in the world," Allen tweeted. "If he bumps into Logan Morrison on a Minneapolis street, it will be mission accomplished."
In addition to their duties to elect and ignore players for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, BBWAA members also vote to hand out the big silverware in the MLB post-season awards. The writers’ decisions are meant to reward greatness, and usually create hotly contested debates and talk radio fodder.
Ohtani, at this sustained rate, will be a contender in most of the BBWAA’s traditional awards:
The AL Rookie of the Year.
The AL Most Valuable Player Award.
The AL Cy Young Award.
The AL Manager of the Year Award.
OK, forget that last one. But who is going to say Ohtani can’t manage a game? Ohtani himself, of course, with utmost respect toward Mike Scioscia-san.
How valuable is Ohtani to the Angels? "A lot," Monty Python might say, but it’s right. The Angels are now 19-12 in games in which Ohtani either pitches or hits.
They are 7-9 when Ohtani does not play at all, usually on rest days before and after the games he is the starting pitcher – again becoming known as "Shohei Sundays" among Angels fans.
The Halos are now 4-0 on Shohei Sundays, including this victory and the first Shohei Sunday, in which Ohtani flirted with a perfect game against the Oakland A’s.
The difference is palpable in the stands at the Big A too. Attending Saturday’s game "as a fan" for once with my former baseball teammate Dave Montgomery, there was a flatness in the air simply because everyone knew Ohtani wasn’t going to play.
Sunday was different. The buzz is as real as that 97-mph heat the Japanese youngster fires toward home plate.
"It’s not really up to Shohei Ohtani to prove this experiment can work," Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs wrote with no hint of BS. "It’s up to the rest of the major-league players to stop him."
Ohtani’s value to the Angels is immeasurable.
Said Cozart: "He's a stopper. If you’re scuffling for a few games, and this guy is on the mound, you feel 100 percent you’re going to win. He’s going to shut them down."
With other two-way players working their way up through the minors – like Tampa’s Brendan McKay and Cincinnati’s Hunter Greene – Ohtani could be pioneering a new award.
What would the Most Versatile Player Trophy look like?
Probably a lot like the two-way Shohei Ohtani bobblehead doll that the Angels are giving away to fans on July 12 before a Thursday night matchup with a very bitter Seattle Mariners team.