Tag Archives: two-way players

Ohtani rules

Well of course he does, but this is about how and why MLB has adjusted its game to make room for the Shohei Ohtani two-way player phenomenon on Friday by changing its rules to make the non-English speaking face of the game even more prominent.

Ohtani’s two-way career may have gotten started in Japan, but it started here only because his 100-mph fastball gave the high schooler the leverage to turn down the Nippon Ham Fighters and sign with an MLB club. To be fair, Ohtani and the Fighters deserve credit for his development in an environment basically hostile to the idea of a two-way player.

Let’s face it, Ohtani only became the AL’s 2018 rookie of the year and 2021 MVP because teams knew in December 2017 that if they wanted his fastball and splitter, they had to suck it up and let Ohtani try to hit MLB pitching, even if they didn’t want to and didn’t believe it was possible.

Any baseball person who tells you they saw Ohtani as a slugging high school pitcher in Japan and thought at the time he could be a two-way pro is full of shit.

Pro baseball around the world believed in specialization, and no one was going to tell it differently. Nippon Ham was certainly no exception.

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Ditching the DH for Shohei Ohtani

By Jim Allen

  wrote on Twitter about using Shohei Ohtani to bat when he pitches in American League games in response to my comment that Ohtani was quite successful in those games with Nippon Ham in 2016.

I’ve written in the past that as a pitcher, Ohtani’s OPS is virtually identical to his OPS when he was in the lineup but did not pitch, and that his pitching was quite a bit better in those games.

The table below breaks down his 82 regular season starts into games in which he batted — either in interleague or when Nippon Ham opted to ditch the DH in five games from May 29 to Sept. 21 and again in his final start in NPB on Oct. 4, when he batted cleanup and pitched.

But from a team perspective, how did the Fighters do with Ohtani as a pitcher only, as a hitter only, in a dual role and without him playing at all.

The quick answer is:

The big surprise is that in his five seasons since turning pro in 2013, the Nippon Ham Fighters overall were better without Shohei Ohtani. That is largely because he was not very good as an 18-year-old rookie.

Both his pitching and batting took a big stride forward when he was 19 in 2014, and his batting took another huge step forward in 2016. In 2017, he was hurt a lot (ankle, thigh, elbow) and was often not that good.

But wait a second. Ohtani appeared as a fairly useless pinch hitter in 57 games, and in those the Fighters went 19-36-2, and it’s hard to blame him for that. If we put those pinch hit games in with the others we get the following table.