How Much Do the Angels Benefit When Ohtani Hits When He Pitches?

There might be no player in baseball who is more fun to watch or more talented than Shohei Ohtani. On Tuesday, he beat out what looked like a routine groundball to shortstop for an infield single, with a sprint speed of 29.5 feet per second. Later that game, he drilled a ball 431 feet for a solo home run — one that left his bat at 108.9 mph, already his 11th batted ball of 105 mph or more this season. That’s all business as usual for the two-way star, even as he recovers from a blister that has kept him from making a start as a pitcher since April 4.

That April 4 outing, though, was truly one-of-a-kind. Ohtani put on a show, starting the game and hitting in the No. 2 hole, becoming just the third pitcher to hit for himself in a game with the DH spot available. Though the feat was unique, Ohtani’s appearance in the lineup as a pitcher was not a surprise. He and the Angels thoroughly discussed the strategy in spring training, and he pitched and hit leadoff in a game on March 21. While it was only spring training, Joe Maddon whipped up the coolest lineup card I have ever seen:

The Angels have underscored a new emphasis on maximum Ohtani usage. When he first broke into the majors in 2018, he was kept out of the lineup on days before and after his pitching appearances. But already this season, Ohtani has both hit on the day before he pitched, serving as the DH on April 3, and on the day of.

“If you had to shut him down [at the plate] for three games — the day before [his start], the day of, and the day after — woof, that’s a bad thought,” Maddon told Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times during spring training. “So I think it’s important that we experiment right now.”

Getting your best players in the game more often will benefit your team in the long-run. This does not come without its risks, and that goes for all players, not just ones who pitch and hit. But for Ohtani, health has always (rightly) been a top priority, as the Angels have tried to juggle both parts of his game. This season, though, they want him to “just play baseball,” Maddon told reporters, and part of that is hitting while pitching, something he did frequently when he played in Japan.

Getting Ohtani’s bat in the lineup more often will undeniably help the Angels; he has a career .360 wOBA and 128 wRC+ as a hitter. But how much do they benefit from having him in the lineup when he pitches? A firm answer is hard to provide. We don’t know how much his hitting will deviate from its true-talent level on days he pitches, and we also can only guess how many plate appearances this will be impacting. But what we can do is analyze a ballpark estimate — a theoretical run-value figure for the Angels’ team-wide gain.

First, we must consider who Ohtani is replacing in the lineup. The Angels are forfeiting their designated hitter, so a quick glance over at our Angels Depth Chart page provides the answer. The position group is decent overall, but a lot of that is because of Ohtani, and we need to factor him out. This is what the Angels’ DH situation looks like without him:

Angels’ DH Situation Without Ohtani
Albert Pujols 151 .234 .286 .395 .287
José Rojas 20 .227 .279 .389 .282
Justin Upton 13 .227 .314 .436 .318
Mike Trout 7 .285 .427 .598 .417
Total 191 .235 .292 .405 .293

Effectively, Ohtani is replacing Pujols in the lineup, since Pujols makes up roughly 80% of the overall DH-without-Ohtani numbers. But for accuracy, I’ll use that ugly .235/.292/.405 line as the “hitter” that Ohtani will be replacing.

Next, we need to consider how often this situation will arise. The Angels’ preseason plan was to start Ohtani once every six games, which would work out to 27 starts over a full season. It’s unclear whether he will be able to get close to that threshold, but considering he has already missed time on the hill due to his blister, I’ll assume that he makes 20 starts this season, hits in the No. 2 slot in all of them, and has zero downtick in his hitting performance relative to his Depth Charts projections. If those assumptions don’t hold — if Ohtani makes a different number of starts, does not hit in all of them, or does face a downturn in hitting — these numbers will change. But 20 is a nice round number that we can use to gather a simple picture of what this might look like.

In this scenario, Ohtani hits in the No. 2 hole, so this does not represent a one-for-one replacement of the non-Ohtani DH; no team would put a .235/.292/.405 hitter that high up in the lineup. (As an aside, it was sad to see Pujols start a game hitting seventh for the first time since his rookie year.) For this, we can consider three alternate scenarios: one where the DH would normally hit fifth, sixth, and seventh. This season, batters in the second spot have had 7% more plate appearances than those at No. 5, 10% more than those at No. 6, and 13% more than those at No. 7.

Lastly, Ohtani will not hit for the entire game. Once he is removed as a pitcher, the Angels will have to play NL baseball and use a combination of pinch-hitters and other substitutions to account for that spot in the order. Fittingly, on April 4, the first non-Ohtani player to hit in that spot was Pujols, who pinch-hit in the sixth.

This may be a bit generous, but I’ll assume that Ohtani takes two-thirds of the plate appearances at the No. 2 hole in these games, emphasizing one important point: The Angels won’t ever have to pinch hit for him like National League squads do. If it’s the bottom of the fifth and they don’t plan on letting him pitch the top of the sixth, they’ll still let him hit. Combined with the fact that he went at least five innings in seven of his 10 starts in 2018, that makes me comfortable using a two-thirds Ohtani, one-third non-Ohtani split for these plate appearances. This blend is shown in the “Ohtani Pitch+Hit” row of the following table; his stats are based off of our Depth Charts projections:

Run Values for The 20-Game Scenarios
Ohtani Pitch+Hit 91 .254 .322 .469 .331 1.458
DH in 5th Spot 85 .235 .292 .405 .293 -1.202
DH in 6th Spot 83 .235 .292 .405 .293 -1.174
DH in 7th Spot 80 .235 .292 .405 .293 -1.131

The Angels benefit by having Ohtani on both sides, but over the course of the season, this might not amount to much more than 2.5 runs, or roughly one-quarter of a win, in terms of raw offensive value. There is additional value to be had if, instead of hitting at a .349 wOBA level this season, Ohtani posts something closer to or above his career mark. For fun, let’s say he sustains his current .464 wOBA. The Angels might expect closer to an eight-run benefit. Better yet, if we project Ohtani at his .464 wOBA and Pujols at his current .234 wOBA, then the Angels would generate an entire additional win.

There are a ton of assumptions baked into theoretical analysis like this, and there are also plenty of shortfalls. We’re excluding baserunning value, an area where Ohtani is also better than Pujols. We’re excluding fatigue, something that is hard to measure or value but could play a big role. And we’re excluding context: If Ohtani pitches and hits well in an important late-season game against the Astros, for example, the move would be totally worth it, even if the season-long, context-neutral value dictates that this doesn’t move the needle much.

And we’re excluding the sheer fun of this. Baseball is a game, after all, and I know that I would thoroughly enjoy 19 more nights just like April 4. While the Angels might not get a significant advantage from Ohtani pitching and hitting in the same game, the fanfare it generates is practically immeasurable.

Devan Fink is a Contributor at FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.

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2 years ago

That video of him beating out a routine grounder. . . .wow, unbelievable. He really is a unicorn. There really has never been a player like him.

2 years ago
Reply to  Anon

He wasn’t as fast on the bases (yet still had 123 career SB), but what about, oh you know, Babe Ruth? He was even a 2-way player from 1917-19.

Shirtless George Brett
2 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

Ohtani would make Ruth look like a beer league player.