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The Shohei Ohtani problem in National League parks

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He’s great, but he also can’t play anywhere but DH.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v San Diego Padres
The man of the hour.
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

With no Mike Trout, playing in an NL park creates a tragic Angels lineup (like Tuesday’s, which has Francisco Arcia hitting 5th). Shohei Ohtani, currently hitting .271/.349/.522/.871, simply cannot play because in outdated National League parks, which feature the pitcher batting instead of a fully-prepared American League designated hitter. That conversation is one for another day, however.

As the saying goes, though, you play the hand you’re dealt, and that involves playing one of your best players in Ohtani as often as possible. In an NL park, it’s highly likely that he’ll only get one at-bat a game. How should we maximize this at-bat?

Pinch Hit for the Pitcher’s Spot

The most obvious of the solutions. After the Angels starter gets taken out, the first time his spot comes up in the lineup, Ohtani slots in.

Although simple and easy, there are multiple flaws. Ohtani would be hitting behind the bottom of the order, making it unlikely that he would come in in a crucial spot with runners on. More importantly, this move is predictable; all the opposing manager has to do is get a left-hander up in the pen, forcing Mike Scioscia to make a tough decision. Does he go with Ohtani knowing he will face a left-hander, against whom he has struggled, or does he go with a lesser bat?

In summary, it’s an easy, predictable move that is likely to be neutralized, preventing its effectiveness. Additionally, Ohtani is not guaranteed a high-leverage AB.

Pinch Hit for a Lesser Hitter in a Key Moment

Another solution involves saving Ohtani for a critical situation, hoping that that situation occurs with a pinch-hittable hitter coming to the plate (see: not Upton, Pujols, Calhoun, Fletcher, or Simmons) and sliding Ohtani in one of the other four slots in the lineup.

There are many ways this plan can go astray. The simplest is when there’s no high leverage situation in the game, meaning the Angels wasted one of their best weapons even though the game is not close. Furthermore, there’s a high probability that there _are_ important at-bats that need to be converted, but they are taken by folks whose spots in the order cannot be replaced. There’s a very low chance that Ohtani actually gets an opportunity to hit in one of these situations.

Even when the situation presents itself, Mike Scioscia doesn’t go to Ohtani. In the 9th inning of Monday’s game, a tie game, mind you, with Justin Upton at second, Scioscia chose to employ the services of Jose Miguel Fernandez instead of Ohtani. Naturally, Fernandez struck out.

The Solution

Warning: the following is very radical and may burn your eyes.

Just like the Tampa Bay Rays have employed “openers” to great effect, I present to you: the Shohei Ohtani opener solution. No, it doesn’t involve pitching. It involves Shohei Ohtani leading off the game.

How it would work: Scioscia would create his lineup, then shift everyone down a slot. The 9th place hitter would bat first. For example, if Eric Young Jr. hit 9th, as he has been wont to do lately, he would slide up to the leadoff spot. However, it wouldn’t be him hitting. Shohei Ohtani would lead off and “play” center field. This gives Ohtani the maximum leverage—the opportunity to dictate a tie game from the start with no outs and a guaranteed AB where he can make a difference. The lineup would look something like this:

Ohtani, Calhoun, Fletcher, etc...

In the bottom of the first, Young would be a defensive replacement, and Shohei could be on his way to the showers. All in a day’s work. Other days would feature Ohtani getting the start at second base, third base, and even catcher!

Why it works: A guaranteed AB, the ability to “strike while the iron is hot” and get some runs early, and a surefire way to get the Angels most enigmatic hitter in the lineup without playing guessing games.

Because after all, the first inning runs matter as much as the ninth inning ones.

Poll

Should the Angels do this?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Yes, it sounds intriguing.
    (343 votes)
  • 11%
    No, I prefer him on the bench.
    (70 votes)
  • 33%
    Your imagination just flew to Mars and back.
    (205 votes)
618 votes total Vote Now