How were your last seven days at work? Did you meet demanding, perhaps even impossible, expectations? While performing in unfamiliar surroundings? In front of literally millions of expectant eyes?
If not, then you probably failed to match Shohei Ohtani’s first full week as an employee in the United States.
- Tuesday (as DH): 3 for 4, first MLB home run (off Josh Tomlin).
- Wednesday (as DH): 2 for 5, home run (off Corey Kluber).
- Friday (as DH): 1 for 4, BB, home run (off Daniel Gossett).
- Sunday (as pitcher): six perfect innings, a total of 12 strikeouts and just one walk over seven innings, 25 whiffs (including 15 whiffs via the splitter).
Let’s consider some video evidence.
Tuesday’s home run…
Wednesday’s home run…
Friday’s 449-foot home run…
And 42 seconds’ worth of strikeouts from Sunday…
What can you prove in a week of baseball?
Wrote Jay Jaffe at the end of last week on that precise topic:
“Not since June 13-14, 1921 has a player followed up a win as a starting pitcher with a home run as a position player in his next game, and not since 1919 has a player served as both a starting pitcher and position player with any kind of regularity.”
The last player to log at least 100 innings and 200 plate appearances in a season was Ruth in 1918 and 1919. With health, Ohtani should exceed those thresholds easily in 2018, 100 years after Ruth first did it. We are witnessing history.
There were few questions about Othani’s ability on the mound, but he’s exceeding even those expectations with a fastball that is averaging 98.0 mph with league-average spin rate of 2,200 rpm and a splitter that has the highest whiff rate among a qualified pitches (70.3%).
While it’s just two starts covering 13 innings, those starts and innings have been of an ace-like variety. Ohtani leads all qualified starters in swinging-strike rate (23.5%). The next closest pitcher, Gerrit Cole (19.6%) trails him by four percentage points. Ohtani has the same swinging-strike rate as Aroldis Chapman.
The arm was expected to be ace-caliber, though Ohtani has exceeded even expectations there. It was the bat that so many doubted. It is the bat that is beginning to gain some believers. He’s quelling doubt about his capacity to handle a relatively large role in the Angels’ offense — and dismissing concerns that Ohtani the Batter is simply a novelty act.
The Davenport Translations always believed in the bat — the Angels claimed to believe this spring — with a translated 133 wRC+ based on his 2016 season. That translation is one reason I suspected back in December that Ohtani might live up to the hype. The Davenport Translations have done well projecting foreign professional position players.
We also have witnessed something else: Ohtani has reached his first Win Above Replacement. He’s produced 0.6 WAR on the mound and 0.4 WAR at the plate to date. Only Didi Gregorius (1.1 WAR) has recorded more wins than Ohtani, who is tied at second 1.0 with Bryce Harper and Matt Chapman.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the most underpaid employee in the world is also its best baseball player. He’ll have to be better than his own teammate, Mike Trout, but if Ohtani is truly an elite pitcher and above-average hitter, he’s got a chance to out-WAR Trout. He’ll have a chance to out-WAR everyone. He’s still going to have to adjust as team’s gather more scouting data and prove his hit tool is legit, but the game power is there. Maybe his bat will prove not to be ready after these early fireworks. But I don’t want to bet against a talent that is doing something that hasn’t been done in 100 years.
He’s on pace for a 16.2 WAR season!
Yeah, it’s early but he already has a 10-WAR season on his professional resume. As Ben Lindbergh noted for The Ringer in October, Ohtani was worth 10.4 WAR in his last full season in the NPB, his age-21 campaign. While the NPB is somewhere between the majors and Triple-A in terms of quality, there are also more games played in the majors.
Projecting off of Ohtani’s 2016 translated statistics, Jeff Zimmerman and I calculated a 5.2 WAR forecast for Ohtani based on 180 innings and 400 plate appearances as a DH. It wasn’t perfect science, but only 25 major leaguers were worth five or more wins last season and Ohtani might be capable of much more with health. With any hard-throwing young pitcher, health is a major concern — and Ohtani arrived in Los Angeles with questions about his right elbow. But if his shoulder and elbow remain intact, the upside is that few, if any, players out-WAR Ohtani in 2018.
We’re still in the introductory chapter, but Ohtani has done nothing to lower expectations; rather, he’s elevated them.