The Value of Maximum Ohtani

Baseball just wrapped up All-Star week, or better put, baseball just wrapped up Shohei Ohtani week. What more can be said? He hit six 500-foot home runs in the Home Run Derby on Monday night, then served as both the American League’s starting pitcher and leadoff hitter in the All-Star Game on Tuesday. On the mound, he threw an even 100 mph and earned the win after his one spotless inning of work.

All that put Ohtani front and center, as it should have. He is baseball’s home run leader, with 33. He’s slugged nearly .700, and among qualified hitters, his 180 wRC+ is beat only by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s 189. He has also made 13 starts on the mound, pitching to a 3.49 ERA; his 30.7% strikeout rate ranks seventh in the AL among those with at least 50 innings. We are so lucky to have borne witness to a first half that has been uniquely and historically great.

Part of the reason Ohtani has been such a marvel this season is his sheer volume of play. When he first entered the majors in 2018, the Angels sat him on the days both before and after his pitching appearances. This season, though, things are different, as he appeared in 87 of the team’s 89 first-half games. What’s more, he has also taken at-bats in 10 of his 13 starts on the mound. The Angels said during spring training that they wanted to maximize Ohtani’s usage this season, and they certainly have. That’s just one of the many ways in which he has impressed; he’s a two-way player who’s playing just about every single day.

In early April, I wrote about the potential value the Angels could capture by allowing Ohtani to hit on the days he is the starting pitcher. Because the concept was so new (by that point, he had done it just once), there were still a lot of assumptions to be made. One big question was how well he would hit; at the time, our Depth Charts projections pegged him for a .349 wOBA. (He’s currently at .435.) Another big question was how many starts he’d make this season; I assumed 20, but he’s on pace for about 24. Lastly, there was the question of just how often he’d hit and pitch; for fun, I said he’d always do it, but so far, he’s done it about three-quarters of the time.

There’s also the value added by just having Ohtani play every day overall. Volume is baked into WAR calculations — if you play well over many plate appearances, you’ll accumulate more WAR — but specifically having him play every day without seeing any drop-off in offensive value is downright absurd. We can see this benefit just by looking at our pre-season Positional Power Rankings for designated hitters. Non-Ohtani players were expected to receive 207 of the Angels’ 700 plate appearances at the DH spot, a rate of about 30%. So far this season, Ohtani has taken 305 plate appearances there … and the rest of the roster has taken just 24. Though he was projected to receive about 70% of the total plate appearances as the DH, he has received 93% in actuality.

As Meg Rowley wrote at the time:

It’s odd not to want to see a talented hitter hitting more, but that’s where we find ourselves with Ohtani. To see more of him at the plate would mean that the two-way experiment has come to an end, and after being reminded this spring of what a healthy Ohtani can do on the mound — the velocity! the splitter! — and the potential for him to start and lead off, it would be a shame if we didn’t get at least one season of him going full-Ruth.

Ohtani is defying reality — accomplishing everything we thought couldn’t be possible. He’s a talented hitter who is hitting a ton in the midst of the two-way experiment that has been wholly successful. How much value have the Angels gotten from having Ohtani juggle everything while also playing every day? The best way to figure this out is to compare projections to reality and go from there.

First, the easy stuff. Ohtani getting 93% of the plate appearances as the Angels’ DH as opposed to his 70% projection means that 23% of plate appearances taken in that spot that were originally someone else’s are now his. Because he does have so many plate appearances at the position, however, calculating the value of the Angels’ non-Ohtani options is more difficult. In this case, it’s good that the sample size is so small — it means we’ve had more Ohtani — but that means that we have to make more assumptions. To figure this out, I took a 50-50 blend of the Angels’ actual non-Ohtani DH performance and the AL-average DH performance, in order to account for the team’s other hitters and attempt to rectify the small sample. This actually improves the Angels’ DH performance, but it’s somewhat negligible.

Here are the results:

Ohtani vs. Non-Ohtani DH: Two Scenarios
Player PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRAA
Ohtani as DH 305 .278 .361 .719 .440 30.4
Non-Ohtani DH 24 .272 .292 .409 .328 0.2
Ohtani as DH 232 .278 .361 .719 .440 23.1
Non-Ohtani DH 97 .261 .306 .429 .329 0.9

Above the black line, we find what has actually happened; below it, we find what might have happened, using a blend of the Angels’ current DH stats and the AL averages. As you see, the team’s stats actually improve slightly, suggesting that this may be a bit of an overestimate. But you also have to figure that the Angels would have found a more permanent (or perhaps better) second option if they knew that Ohtani wasn’t going to DH as much as he’s had, so you could also argue that this is an underestimate.

Either way, what’s important is the last column, showing the weighted runs above average for both Ohtani and the non-Ohtani players. The difference — just shy of eight runs — is a very rough estimate of how much the Angels have benefitted by the increase in volume alone; that’s almost an added win right there.

But there’s also the value of having Ohtani hit while pitching. There’s even another wrinkle here: Joe Maddon has moved Ohtani to right and left field on a handful of occasions to keep his bat in the lineup. All of this other stuff can be succinctly defined: Offensive value when Ohtani is in the field. (This is effectively all other Ohtani plate appearances, though it doesn’t include pinch hitting, which he has also done in previous years.) That amounts to 33 plate appearances:

Ohtani in the Field
Player PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRAA
Ohtani in the Field 33 .276 .364 .517 .378 1.6

This may lend some credence to the theory that Ohtani would not hit as well on days when he pitched, potentially because of fatigue, but it’s also possible that the dip in performance is attributable to the sample size. It’s only 33 plate appearances, after all. Even still, we’re probably picking nits. A .378 wOBA is nothing to sniff at; of the 15 Angels with at least 50 plate appearances this season, only two others — Mike Trout (.454) and Max Stassi (.379, so barely) — have a better wOBA than Ohtani when he’s also playing the field. That’s certainly still a bat you want in your lineup.

But although the wRAA suggests that he has been worth an additional 1.6 runs above a league-average player in those 33 plate appearances, is that enough to conclude the actual value added there? Probably not. Those 33 plate appearances wouldn’t be taken by a league-average hitter; if Ohtani weren’t in the lineup on days he pitched, they would go to a DH. As I covered in my prior piece, it’s also possible that not all of them would go to some other DH because of lineup construction. Ohtani has hit second in nine of the 10 games in which he’s started on the mound (he hit leadoff in the other), and it’s hard to think the Angels would slot their other DHs there. But because it’s only 33 plate appearances, lineup order effects may not have as much of an impact as they would over a larger sample.

All that is why it’s probably fine to use a direct substitution, but we may be giving the non-Ohtani DH more volume than they’d receive in actuality. I’ll again use the blended stats:

Ohtani in the Field vs. Non-Ohtani DH
Player PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRAA
Ohtani in the Field 33 .276 .364 .517 .378 1.6
Non-Ohtani DH 33 .261 .306 .429 .329 0.3

It’s a modest change, but that reduces Ohtani’s offensive impact to about 1.3 additional runs from hitting while also playing the field. Add that to his eight runs of value from also serving as the DH more often than initially expected, and his usage alone has added somewhere in the ballpark of 9.3 runs. The runs-to-win conversion this season is 9.89; in the first half, the Angels received almost an entire win of value just by the nature of how they’ve used Ohtani.

All-Star week was a microcosm of this entire season. In 2021, the Angels have unleashed Maximum Ohtani, and we’ve all benefited as a result. It’s been a big win for them, and a big win for all of us.





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

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BillClinton
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BillClinton

Admittedly great player but holy sh*t the constant stream of Ohtani, Ohtani, Ohtani, Ohtani, Ohtani, Ohtani everywhere is getting a bit dull. It’s hilarious that so much will be said of Ohtani and Trout. So many words on the internet written and the Angels will find a way to squander their playing days and net no world series wins. Hey, they’ll win the Team with the Most Internet Copy trophy though!

User79
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User79

Media is covering Ohtani because his play has been historic. And for the last month and a half leading up the all-star game (which is when media coverage exploded), he has been launching long, hard-hit homeruns on what seems like a daily basis.

Media also covers Ohtani because people want to see and read about it. No individual is forced to click on articles if they’re not interested. I find it interesting that you think coverage of Ohtani is dull, and yet you feel the need to read this article and then comment just to knock Ohtani and Trout down a peg.

will1331
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will1331

Who pissed in your cereal?

Give me all the Ohtani content!

butterp0pcorn
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butterp0pcorn

Hey Bill,

You’re wrong.

Sincerely,

Everybody

rustydude
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rustydude

I actually think the Ohtani content on Fangraphs this year is less than the Trout content 9 years ago.

BillClinton
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BillClinton

Fangraphs is not everywhere.

Smiling Politely
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Smiling Politely

Another reason for Bill Clinton to go away; we want all the Shohei we can get, bud. Go call Stephen A and gripe with him.

Travis L
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Travis L

One weird trick… don’t open articles you don’t enjoy?

JamesD84
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JamesD84

Seems to me that the New York teams get the most internet copy, especially considering their lack of World Series titles in the last decade.

Angelsjunky
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Angelsjunky

I was just thinking a few weeks ago, that compared to the rest of the mediasphere, Fangraphs barely talks about Shohei.

BillClinton
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BillClinton

Fangraphs is not everywhere.

Nats Fan
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Nats Fan

I guess Bill is missing that Caribbean Island with his close friend Jeff! I’ll take the downvotes for this one gladly.

ahhgrapes
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ahhgrapes

🥱

dbarnes345
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dbarnes345

What’s really going on here Bill? You must have some kind of bias here. Some people think Jason Varitek belongs in the Hall of Fame. Go be mad at those people.

dukewinslow
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dukewinslow

Some people think David Ortiz belongs in the hall of fame. They should be put on a list that isn’t a list of voters for the HoF

treebearded
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treebearded

This has nothing to do with winning the World Series. It has to do with a player doing something nobody has done since Babe Ruth, and largely doing something Ruth never even did, which is be one of the best in the league at both hitting and pitching AT THE SAME TIME. World Series or no, this is amazing and historic. Plus, any real baseball fan will acknowledge the collective nature of success in baseball. You can’t just give the ball to your best player in baseball like you can in basketball and watch them go to work. Nobody can translate their individual success to team success in baseball alone. Ergo, individual accomplishments often don’t translate to team wins. Ergo, it’s incredible and impressive to witness what Ohtani is doing.