Must-see viewing and an international sensation, Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani catapulted his way to the upper echelon of the baseball world while undoubtedly becoming the face of the sport this past season.
In 2021, the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year successfully completed something that hasn’t be done since Babe Ruth: he competed at a high level as a fulltime hitter and pitcher. Finishing the season with 138 hits, 46 home runs, 100 RBIs and 26 stolen bases was good enough to make him the best DH in the American League. His 3.18 ERA, 156 strikeouts and combined 9.1 WAR put him over the top and made him the 19th unanimous MVP, only second Japanese-born MVP and the first player to win the award as a DH.
With two-way greatness essentially non-existent at the professional level, Ohtani captured the attention of baseball fans and non-fans alike with his consistent displays of athleticism, herculean strength, lightning speed, and charming demeanor.
Despite a few prominent naysayers in the media claiming Ohtani’s language barrier/foreign status hurt the game, the opposite proved to be true as “Showtime” (or “Sho-time”, whichever you prefer) took the world by storm and brought increased interest to baseball. Ohtani became a goldmine for MLB and sparked a new kind of excitement the sport has not seen in the 21st Century. Time will tell, but Ohtani’s 2021 season may have been the true catalyst of the two-way movement.
As Angels fans, we are used to seeing Mike Trout cement himself as the best player of a generation with individual greatness on historic levels each year. That being said, there is ultimately precedent. What Trout and other MVPs have done is take precedent and expand on that greatness. Someone will always hit a historic amount homeruns, steal an ungodly amount of bases, collect a wild amount RBIs or strike out so many batters they have to be considered in a Cy Young race.
But to do everything at historic levels in one season from one player? Major League Baseball isn’t Backyard Baseball and that kind of video game-like production hasn’t really been seen...until now.
This is completely new territory with a far greater magnitude than any of us could have anticipated when Ohtani initially signed with the Angels in December 2017. He always had star potential, but he elevated himself to a level few Major Leaguers have ever reached.
AL MVP Shohei Ohtani had 8 triples this season, good enough for a tie of the league lead. pic.twitter.com/inVgj1uD1n— MLB (@MLB) November 21, 2021
Until Ohtani’s 2021 season, MLB had not seen a player pitch 100 innings and have 200 plate appearances in the same season since Ruth over a century ago. A century.
The difficulty and rarity of this feat have deterred potential two-way players for 100 years.
But not Ohtani. He wanted to be special. He wanted to prove he could do it at the highest level. Now there are stories from national publications not about how Ohtani can be better than Ruth, but how he already is.
In 2021, Shohei Ohtani didn’t just change the game of baseball, he also became a cultural icon that eclipsed the game itself.
2021 AWARDS AND ACCOLADES
- AL MVP - Unanimous
- AL All-Star Starting Pitcher
- AL All-Star Starting Position Player
- All-MLB First Team - DH
- All-MLB Second Team - P
- Silver Slugger Award
- Edgar Martinez Designated Hitter Award
- AL Triples Leader
- Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award
- 2x AL Player of the Week
- 2x AL Player of the Month
- TIME 100’s list of most influential people of 2021
- AP Athlete of the Year
- Sporting News Athlete of the Year and Player of the Year Award
- Baseball Digest Player of the Year
- Baseball America Major League Player of the Year
- Players Choice Player of the Year Award
- Players Choice American League Outstanding Player Award
- Guinness World Record: First MLB player to achieve 100+ innings and 100+ strikeouts as a pitcher, and 100+ RBIs, hits and runs as a batter in a single season
- Guinness World Record: First player to start an MLB All-Star game as both a pitcher and DH
- No. 1 Greatest Season in Sports History by Sporting News
- Named cover athlete for MLB The Show 22
After battling injuries for the better part of the three year prior to 2021, Ohtani was finally let loose by manager Joe Maddon, maximizing his playing time as a pitcher and hitter in the 2021 season. Gone were the constant off days and stolen at-bats. The Angels voided the DH several times and let Ohtani hit on days he pitched. We finally got to see what a full season of Shohei Ohtani looked like. From elite pitching and hitting to even seeing a little bit of time in the outfield (seven appearances), Ohtani really did it all in 2021.
The clear national story of the first half of the season, Ohtani was voted into the All-Star game as a DH. He entered the weekend with 33 home runs and a 4-1 record in 13 starts with a 3.49 ERA.
In a unique opportunity, he was also selected to start the game as a pitcher. The rules had also been amended per AL manager Kevin Cash’s request to consider Ohtani an individual pitcher and individual hitter so that he could remain a hitter when removed from the game as a pitcher. Ohtani went 0-2 with two groundouts but also threw a 1-2-3 inning on 14 pitches, getting out the likes of Fernando Tatis Jr., Max Muncy and Nolan Arenado.
The night before, Ohtani became the first pitcher to participate in the Home Run Derby and put on quite a show in the first round against Juan Soto. The pair put up 22 home runs each in the round and, after each adding six in a one minute round, went to a three-swing tiebreaker. Though Soto moved on, Ohtani still put on a show, hitting six 500-foot home runs, the most in one Derby in the Statcast era.
The post-All-Star Break saw Ohtani slowed by inevitable fatigue, but he still continued on a commendable pace that eventually gave way to his first MVP season.
He finished third in MLB in home runs (46), first in triples (8), eighth in stolen bases (26), fourth in SLG (.592), fifth in OPS (.964), 11th in runs scored (103), 15th in OBP (3.72), fifth in walks (96), and 19th in strikeouts thrown (156).
While suffering statistically from a lack of innings compared to his MLB counterparts, Ohtani still dominated with a 3.18 ERA, 156 strikeouts and a 1.09 WHIP in 130.1 innings of work.
There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about Shohei Ohtani’s remarkable 2021 season. He became a unanimous AL MVP, the biggest star on the team (yes, even more so than Mike Trout) and the face of baseball and t over the span of just a summer.
That home run means Ohtani has now homered in every AL ballpark in his major-league career. Crossed off Comerica Park the other day and now Camden Yards as the last one.— Halos Heaven (@halosheaven) August 26, 2021
Of course, as is everything with Ohtani, he won’t be totally satisfied with his season. Surely he’d say he’d like to lower his strikeout rate (he finished with the fourth most in MLB with 189) and up his pitching workload in 2022. However, as fans, analysts and overall enjoyers of the game of baseball, no amount of nitpicking should overrule the awe and wonderful rarity we witnessed in 2021.
2021 BATTING STATS
155 Games* / 537 AB* / 103 R* / 138 H* / 318 TB* / 26 2B* / 8 3B* / 46 HR* / 100 RBI* / 96 BB* / 20 IBB* / 26 SB* / .257 AVG / .372 OBP* / .592 SLG* / .964 OPS*
*=MLB career high
2021 PITCHING STATS
23 Appearances and Games Started* / 9 W* and 2 L / 3.18 ERA* / 0 CG / 130.1 IP* / 98 H / 48 R / 46 ER / 15 HR / 44 BB / 156 SO* / .207 AVG* / 1.09 WHIP* / 8 GIDP*
*=MLB career best
BEST OFFENSIVE PERFORMANCE
We could talk about Ohtani’s two-home run games against the Tigers on June 18th or the Orioles on July 2, his two-steal game (one of home) against the Yankees, his game-winning home run against Boston on May 16, or many other instances where he did something incredible at the plate.
In truth, it would probably be an injustice to single out one particular instance. In this case, it would be more fun to bask in the awesomeness that was Ohtani’s power and domination at the plate throughout the season with a compilation of all of his home runs:
BEST PITCHING PERFORMANCE
On Aug. 18 at Detroit, Ohtani picked up the win in a fantastic 8-inning start. He allowed just one run on six hits while striking out eight and allowing no walks. Oh, and he also hit a home run in the same game.
Ohtani had four 10-strikeout games: May 11 at Houston, June 4 against Seattle, Sept. 19 against Oakland, and Sept. 26 against Seattle.
He also collected at least one RBI in seven games he started, including a home run in three of those games.
All 156 of Shohei Ohtani's Ks this year.— MLB (@MLB) November 20, 2021
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022
Even with the return of Trout and Anthony Rendon, the baseball world’s eyes will remain focused on Ohtani. Replicating his 2021 production is a tough ask and it is possible we will never see a season like 2021 ever again, but Ohtani will certainly try.
With 2021 being his first truly healthy season (despite a few hiccups here and there on the mound with a blister issue), health is something to continue to monitor. When available, Ohtani has shown just how great he can be and so usage and arm fatigue will be something the franchise will continue to evaluate.
It’s crazy to think that the possibility exists that Ohtani could improve upon his 2021 numbers. As mentioned previously, he could lower his strikeout rate, increase his batting average and hopefully throw a few more innings. But if he gets anywhere close to his numbers from last season, he will once again be the most valuable player in baseball.
Some pundits and fans think Ohtani’s collective WAR from batting and pitching is unfair because the metric would dictate that he should be the MVP every year. However, that’s sort of the idea. If Ohtani can do what he did last year every year, he should be the MVP every year.
With a healthy season and another showing of two-way consistency, baseball gods-willing, Ohtani should pick up where he left off and be right back in the MVP discussion in 2022.
2021 OVERALL GRADE: A+
Arguably the greatest individual season of all-time deserves nothing less.