Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Sign Japanese Star Shohei Ohtani

On December 8th, Japanese star Shohei Ohtani finally decided where he would begin his career in Major League Baseball (MLB), when he signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But given the highly publicized courtship of Ohtani, a big part of what the Angels will have to do in 2018 involves managing expectations for the Japanese baseball standout.

For one, what position is he going to play?

Ohtani was often referred to as “the Babe Ruth of Japan” because of his success as both a pitcher and a batter. He once had 382 plate appearances in a season, and started as many as 20 games as a pitcher in a season.

In his last complete baseball season (in 2016), hit .322 and blasted 22 home runs from the plate, while posting a 10-4 record in 20 starts and a 1.86 earned run average while on the mound. The 23-year-old import can pitch at a velocity over 100 mph, and crush 400-foot home runs with startling ease. In 1,140 plate appearances, Ohtani hit .286 with 48 home runs and 166 RBI. As a pitcher, he had a 42-15 career record and a 2.52 ERA compiled over 543 innings

With the rare ability and ambition to play on both sides of the plate, it’s going to be fascinating to see how fantasy scoring websites will adjust to the statistics he could potentially compile. That is, if the Angels are equally as ambitious in how they’ll use him.

The Two Way Deal

However, such a two-way arrangement would be highly atypical. Since the Designated Hitter was introduced in 1973, no American League pitcher has ever had more than 15 appearances at the plate. In fact, there have only been 17 pitchers in the American League who have ever had a season in which they made double-digit plate appearances; that even factors in interleague play, which began in 1997, giving AL pitchers vastly more opportunities to hit.

While pitchers in the National League do get far more opportunities at the plate, it’s still considerably less than 100 appearances over the course of a season; for reference, the National League’s leader last year in plate appearances among pitchers was New York Mets’ pitcher Jacob deGrom, who had 77. And then, there’s the matter that Ohtani will be playing for an American League team anyway.

Baby Steps & Running

Those around him, including his former manager in Japan, believe that he might be a better hitter than pitcher right now. He had a career slugging percentage of .500 in Japan, with 66 of his 171 hits over the last two years going for extra bases. But that, of course was in Japan. The MLB is much, much more difficult, so the Angels will likely force Ohtani to show that he can simply “crawl” (adjust to the American game) before he can “walk” (become a full-time star at one position), before he can “run” (become a full-time star at more than one position).

Regardless, the Angels’ acquisition of Ohtani will surely be looked at as a major step towards getting the back into the postseason. Los Angeles is coming off their second consecutive losing season, and haven’t made the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons. The Angels are coming up on almost a decade since they last won a playoff game (2009 was the last time it happened).

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