Last Updated on June 28, 2023 by admin
Shohei Ohtani drew scouts’ attention with a fastball that topped 99 mph as a teen in Japan, where his Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters play without a designated hitter. He is now the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way star, pitching and hitting at an elite level this season.
His emergence questions received wisdom that excellence flows only through slavish devotion to one discipline. And it challenges the tyranny of analytics that has overtaken baseball and other sports.
Shohei Ohtani has a face that looks like the mask of a Marvel superhero and a body that could rip through a wall. He’s baseball’s savant, and he’s doing what no player in MLB history has done: pitch and hit at an elite level. In one year, he’s upended the received wisdom that excellence flows only through slavish devotion to a single discipline. He’s also challenged the tyranny of “analytics,” those obscure formulas that drive trades, salaries, attention, negotiations and wagering—and, some would argue, a lot of joy from sports.
Whenever he takes his place on a shaded bench at Los Angeles Angels spring training, Ohtani’s presence raises the energy in the clubhouse to levels you’ll rarely see in any other sport. As he prepares to bat, players look up from their phones and shift in their seats. Even the most casual fans will halt their conversations and clap for him.
It’s a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in a Japanese high school sports tournament called Summer Koshien, where Ohtani was a star pitcher and designated hitter as a teenager. Ohtani’s fastball reached 99 mph, and his power hitting propelled him to two separate All-Star games.
The hype rose and fell as he took on each new challenge, but in his rookie season with the Angels, it crested when he threw a complete game shutout and hit a tape-measure home run. It drew comparisons to the Bambino and other two-way stars from baseball’s long and glorious past, and it raised expectations for what he might do in 2022.
When the Angels traded for Ohtani in 2016, he had already spent three seasons as both a pitcher and a hitter in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. He was the rare athlete who wanted to do both, and he did it on a big stage.
That level of commitment has made it possible for him to pitch and hit while posting some of the best statistics in the history of baseball. It has also kept him fresh. He uses the tools that analytics companies such as Driveline and Pocket Radar provide, but he relies more on the basics—a regimented schedule of workouts, sleep and nutrition—to keep his body in top form.
In a season when he led MLB in home runs, batting average and slugging percentage as a hitter and pitched a 9-2 record with a 3.18 ERA in 130.1 innings, Shohei Ohtani proved to be everything we imagined and more. He’s the rare player capable of aces on the mound and kings at the plate, and he does both incredibly well.
It’s no wonder that some observers worry his dual path isn’t sustainable, and he’ll eventually have to choose one or the other. But others, including Angels general manager Perry Minasian, say he’s doing the right thing by pushing himself as hard as possible, and allowing his unique talents to flourish.
The way he’s approaching it, Minasian says, will help him avoid burnout. “Showtime has a lot to be proud of this year,” he said, and his approach to the game should make him even better next season.
“It’s a very different approach,” Minasian adds, explaining that Ohtani has opted to stay within the team dormitory rather than spend time in his hotel room or at home. That’s helped him sustain his energy and concentration on the field. “It’s a little bit like he’s a monk,” Allen jokes.
As for the rest of his offseason training, it will include some weight work to preserve his strength, as well as a return to his usual pitching routine. He’ll throw off a mound at least once per week and work out in the batting cage.
He’ll also try to improve his hitting skills, aiming for more power and consistency at the plate. “I think he’s going to get there,” Minasian says, but it might not be this spring.
As he prepares to head to Japan for the World Baseball Classic, which returns this year after a two-year pandemic hiatus, Ohtani is taking it all in. He’s still not quite sure he’ll play in the tournament, but he hasn’t let anyone convince him he can’t handle it. And as he did all winter, he’s embracing the challenge. “This is what I wanted to do,” he says.
– As the Los Angeles Angels pitchers and catchers prepare for the first spring training games of 2021, Shohei Ohtani is trailed by a cloud of intrigue, even bigger than the one that followed him to MLB from Nippon Professional Baseball. He’s the only player in the history of Major League Baseball to be a starting pitcher and a prolific home run hitter in the same season, and he’s doing both very well. “He’s the real deal,” says Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
Ohtani, 28, has become a folk hero in Japan, where he’s known as nito-ryu, or the two-way player. He’s a symbol of the country’s economic strength and its enduring love of baseball. And while there are doubts about whether he can keep pitching and hitting at a high level, the country is rooting for him.
As he’s been working out this winter in Arizona, the Japanese media has followed closely, reporting on his weight training routine and his off-field interests. He’s the star of a popular video game and has endorsement deals with Kowa, ASICS and more. And he’s been an enthusiastic participant in the Angels’ community outreach program, visiting elementary schools and hosting clinics for kids.
In the past, NPB teams would often hold back their stars to protect them from over-training and injury, but the Fighters let Ohtani loose this year. He was able to find a two-way rhythm thanks in part to NPB’s shorter schedule and weekly off days. But his success was also aided by his smooth, even swing and his ability to change speeds on the fly.
Those qualities should help him maintain his production as the season goes on. But it won’t be easy. No two-way star before him has accomplished what he has, and there’s no guarantee that he can do it again next season. If he does, it will be the most significant feat in modern sports. NPR’s Anthony Kuhn has been tracking Ohtani’s path from his Little League team in northern Japan to the majors and the American League Rookie of the Year award.
Ohtani’s body language reflects the joy he takes in playing baseball. He smiles widely as he watches his teammates run the bases, and his face lights up when he hits one out of the park.
But the smoothness of his moves shouldn’t mask how hard he works to execute them. It’s not a coincidence that he’s also one of the game’s hardest throwers. He’s also a two-way player. The combination of pitching and hitting at an elite level is unprecedented in MLB history, with the exception of Babe Ruth a century ago.
Ohtani first made his Nippon Professional Baseball debut in 2013, and he started both as a pitcher and an outfielder that season with the Fighters. He was the second such NPB rookie to play both roles, but he was the first to pitch and bat at the same time.
He spent the following seasons playing for the Fighters and then the Angels, earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2018. He’ll pitch for Japan in the WBC starting March 1 and then return to the Halos for spring training.
The organization carefully managed his workload early in his career, using NPB’s shorter schedule and weekly off days to provide plenty of rest. But they’ve loosened the reins over the past few years, trusting him to tell them when he needs a break. Ohtani’s a big reason the Angels are expected to finish in first place this season.
In addition to his starring role in the WBC, Ohtani has signed a multiyear contract with the Angels and has a very high on-base percentage as a hitter. He’s also a formidable strikeout pitcher with a strong fastball and a solid slider.
The Angels’ front office would like nothing more than for Ohtani to remain in Los Angeles for a long time, but that’s still far from a done deal. He’ll become a free agent after the 2023 season and could sign with any team. Even if he retires from baseball at some point, he’ll have earned the nickname “Showtime.” He’s a once-in-a-generation talent with the potential to change the way we think about baseball.