Shohei Ohtani and the Implications

This is Rahul Setty’s first post at FanGraphs. His work can also be found at SB Nation blog Halos Heaven. He is present at Twitter dot com.

When Shohei Ohtani was finally posted in early December, baseball fans in the States were formally introduced to his exploits. Selected first in the NPB’s 2012 draft by the Nippon Ham Fighters when he was 18, Ohtani quickly became the first player to start on the mound and in the field. As a teenager and young adult in a league that, on average, featured players between five and 10 years his senior, Ohtani slashed .286/.358/.500 and struck out in excess of 10 batters per nine innings for a 2.52 ERA. He also possessed an outstanding arm, jaw-dropping raw power, and top-of-the-line speed. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, Ohtani set a velocity record for all Japanese high schoolers at the age of 17 (99 mph) and then did the same, one-upping himself, in NPB play four years later (102.5 mph).

He doesn’t feel human.

By now, you have likely heard the news that Shohei Ohtani is immensely talented. Inviting comps to Babe Ruth, he has taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning and homered off of a reigning Cy Young winner. He owns the 11th-highest exit velocity (and 10th-highest hard-hit percentage) among batters with 50 batted balls or more. Ohtani’s 151 wRC+ places him in the 95th percentile (min. 100 PA), which is as remarkable as it is baffling given the notable adjustment he made so quickly.

You have also likely heard that Ohtani came down with a second blister on his throwing hand approximately two weeks ago, received an MRI, and found out he has a grade-2 sprain of his throwing UCL. The two-way unicorn has opted for plasma-rich platelet and stem-cell treatment in an effort to repair the ligament and avoid Tommy John surgery.

With the unfortunate injury news comes a nugget from Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, who reports that Ohtani’s grade-2 sprain is a new injury, unrelated to the grade-1 affliction he carried at the time of being signed. Unlike a grade-3 tear, which necessitates the surgery, a grade-2 sprain — while serious — can be healed through PRP, though it is no guarantee the alternative medicine will show marked improvement in the ligament. If that is to be the case, then Ohtani will be out of action not only for this season, but likely the following one as well.

On June 6, the day Ohtani exited the game to his second blister of the season, the Angels had a 33.5% chance of making the postseason, according to our playoff odds. Today, that figure has dwindled to just 11.3%, the result of a bullpen that is home to a league-leading 15 blown saves, an array of eye-raising injury maladies, and severe underperformance from key contributors. The prime beneficiary of the club’s injury woes are the Mariners, who continue to surge despite benefiting disproportionately from their own sequencing to climb to 20 games over .500. At this point, however, those wins are locked in for the remainder of the year; the cushion has been built regardless of what happens from here on out.

Nevertheless, the following two updates on Ohtani’s progress are especially interesting, the latter being particularly relevant.

This news bodes well for Ohtani and the Angels. All things being equal, the club is better with Ohtani than without him — even if he’s limited to just a batting role. The early returns on his offensive performance seem to suggest that Ohtani is a better hitter than previously suspected. He is not just viable at the major-league level, but is a speedy slugger with the ability to profile anywhere in a batting order. A quicker return means an opportunity for greater development (and perhaps an opportunity to master batting with one arm).

That said, it’s probably in the Angels’ best interest to continue handling their two-way star with caution. With the Mariners’ lead in Wild Card race, the club is unlikely to be playing meaningful games in the latter half of the season. Meanwhile, the Angels’ investment in Ohtani is an extended one — they have him through the 2023 season, at least — so it’s probably in the club’s best interest to protect him, utilizing him as a designated hitter in something less than a full-time role. As for the long term, Ohtani will likely be fine, given the more advanced knowledge of best medical practices and recovery rates from UCL injury.

As for the future in Anaheim, it’s easy to be pessimistic about a team that is three games over .500 at the moment. The club is likely to miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year thanks to lackluster production from typically reliable right fielder Kole Calhoun (-1.1 WAR, 3 wRC+), an underperforming Zack Cozart (0.3 WAR, -5 DRS at third base), an Albert Pujols who Drives in Runs, and a bullpen ranked 13th in the American League by WAR and 12th in FIP. With major injuries to Ohtani, starter Garrett Richards, closer Keynan Middleton, Nick Tropeano, Matt Shoemaker and minor ones to defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons, Calhoun, Cozart, and Rene Rivera, portending a comeback in the standings seems wholly impractical.

That said, the long-term health of the organization appears to be in good hands. With big-spending capabilities, a top-heavy approach to roster-building, and a controllable starting rotation in Ohtani, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Jaime Barría, the outline is here for a contending team. Perhaps more encouraging is an improving minor-league system that has begun to mold athletes and better develop talent, boasting four top-100 prospects (including Jo Adell, a young 19-year old slashing .311/.346/.623 for a 159 wRC+ in High-A) that are rising quickly through the system. With the first wave of prospect depth about to arrive in Fringe Five regular David Fletcher, a first baseman who has embraced the fly-ball movement in Matt Thaiss, and pitchability starter Jose Suarez, the question is not if the Angels will make the playoffs with Mike Trout, but when.

There’s no doubt that missing Shohei Ohtani for an extended period of time will hurt for a team which entered the year with lofty expectations, but let the injury not dissuade you: the organization’s long-term bull thesis is very much in play.

We hoped you liked reading Shohei Ohtani and the Implications by Rahul Setty!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




A finance student in the lovable armpit of Orange County, Rahul Setty spends his time following the Angels, writing for Halos Heaven, and derives joy from Mike Trout's on-base percentage which is, thankfully, always high. You can reach him on Twitter @RahulSetty_.

newest oldest most voted
Twitchy
Member
Twitchy

” the question is not if the Angels will make the playoffs with Mike Trout, but when.”

I think the question very much is “if” they’ll make it. They have to beat out Houston for the division which over the next few years should be difficult, and their reward for coming in second is getting to face Boston, New York, or another likely superteam. And we’re also assuming everything breaks right here for LAA. I’m not as optimistic as you are.

But that aside, hopefully Ohtani is back soon.

shortstop
Member
shortstop

Right, but getting to play Boston, New York, or another likely superteam in the WC game is still making the playoffs.

Twitchy
Member
Twitchy

I don’t consider making the WC the playoffs, so that’s where our opinions might differ. The ALDS/NLDS is where the playoffs start from where I’m concerned.

I was happy the Jays won the WC game in 2016, but I didn’t consider the playoffs starting until they faced Texas in the ALDS.

FranklinP
Member
FranklinP

What do you consider it? If it ain’t the regular season and it ain’t the playoffs, what is it? Purgatory?

Twitchy
Member
Twitchy

Kind of, yeah. It’s the game to get you into the playoffs. You’re still on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs are concerned for the WC game.

shortstop
Member
shortstop

Well that may be your opinion, but it still counts as Postseason from MLB’s perspective.

FranklinP
Member
FranklinP

Would you feel similarly if the WC was a 3-game series instead of a 1 game uh, play-off?

Pirates Hurdles
Member
Pirates Hurdles

It is by every definition a playoff game. You qualify for it by regular season record, it is an elimination game, it takes place after the regular season.

rosen380
Member

Doesn’t the 2013 Rays/Rangers Wild Card tie-breaker game fit that description?

Jetsy Extrano
Member
Jetsy Extrano

Purgatory sounds right, good term.

How about half-playoffs? In expectation that’s what it is. A given team has about half the WS odds by qualifying as WC than as division winner. It’s a lot better than playing golf but definitely different than the other routes into the playoffs.

FranklinP
Member
FranklinP

Do you have a source for that statistic? It sounds made up. MLB divisions aren’t qualitatively equal. You can win a weak division and be worse than both WC teams.

Unless you’re using the idea that, in a vacuum, the two WC teams have a 50% chance of advancing to the ALDS, on account of it being a 1-game playoff, and extrapolating that.

Whatever funky math you’re doing, none of it speaks to why the WC game isn’t the playoffs.

WARrior
Member
Member
WARrior

It’s roughly 50%. Most postseason match-ups involve teams that have a probability of winning any particular game ranging from 45-55%. Yes, pitchers make a difference, home vs. away, and so on, but the point is that having to play an extra game just to get to where the non-WC teams begin does reduce your odds by roughly 50%.

That said, yes the WC game is part of the official playoffs, but if someone personally doesn’t consider it part of the playoffs, I don’t have a problem with that.

FranklinP
Member
FranklinP

Oh I don’t have a problem with it either. I just find it a superfluous distinction to adopt and was just goofin’ around trying to track the logic.

v2micca
Member
Member
v2micca

I was getting ready to post this very sentiment. A post season berth appears increasingly unlikely for the Angels this season. And absent a dramatic downturn for the Astros, Anaheim’s chances at a 2019 or 2020 AL West pennant appear remote as well. With the Red Sox and Yankees current trajectories, you have assume the Angel’s best chance at post-season play in the next few years lays with the remaining wildcard spot. Given these factors, I find it increasing unlikely that the Angels will every field a play-off team surrounding Mike Trout. If the Angels cannot rise to the level of post-season contention by next year, they need to start planning for a post Trout reality.

The Ghost of Stephen Drews Bat
Member
The Ghost of Stephen Drews Bat

The AL West race for the second Wild Card stop is the most riveting story in sports!

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi

The Angels are EIGHT AND A HALF games back of the SECOND WILD CARD

*Cries while laughing and also crying*

dcweber99
Member
dcweber99

I disagree with your assertion below that the WC isn’t making the playoffs, but I do agree that there is no guarantee that the Angels ever make the playoffs with Trout, if only for the simple reason that the Angels have not convincingly shown that they can assemble a sufficient number of competent players at the same time.