This is an especially exciting day for baseball because it marks the first time Angels righty-throwing uber-prospect Shohei Ohtani will start a meaningful major league game as a pitcher. We already got a glimpse of the 23-year-old Ohtani as a hitter on Opening Day, when the Angels slotted him in at DH and the lefty-swinger went 1 for 5 with a single in a loss to Oakland. He’ll turn around Sunday and face the Athletics’ lineup, which features feared sluggers in Khris Davis and Matt Olson.
Ohtani drew Babe Ruth comparisons in his homeland because of his two-way ability, leading nearly every MLB team to vie for his services in free agency over the winter. Although, in his first action with the Angels during the spring, Ohtani was more Brooks Kieschnick than Ruth. On the offensive end, Ohtani went just 4 of 32 with no extra-base hits, 10 walks and three strikeouts. As a pitcher, he gave up eight earned runs on nine hits and two walks, with five strikeouts, during a pair of major league spring training starts.
Needless to say, it was an ugly exhibiton showing for Ohtani, though that’s not necessarily indicative of what’s to come. Ohtani’s adjusting to both a new country and the best baseball league in the world, after all, and he didn’t garner so much pre-major league hype for no reason.
As part of an excellent piece he wrote last May, MLBTR contributor Chuck Wasserstrom spoke with several scouts regarding Ohtani, and the consensus was that he’d parlay his impressive repertoire – including a 95 to 100 mph fastball, a splitter and multiple breaking pitches – into a career as a mid- to front-of-the-rotation starter in the majors. The scouts were less confident in Ohtani’s offense, though they nonetheless believed a year ago that he could serve as a quality big league hitter. He was certainly a threat with the bat in Japan, where he slashed .286/.358/.500 in 1,170 plate appearances.
As Ohtani embarks on his first season with the Angels, the Steamer projection system is calling for a .262/.339/.463 batting line across 249 PAs. That would make for a 116 wRC+, the same figure Joe Mauer posted in 2017 and just above the mark Christian Yelich put up. The Angels would likely be ecstatic with that type of production from the part-time DH, and it’s fair to say they’d also be on board with Steamer’s projection for Ohtani the pitcher. He’s forecast for 145 innings (24 starts) of 3.54 ERA/3.60 FIP ball with 11.17 K/9 and 3.62 BB/9. That output would be worth 3.1 fWAR, matching the 2017 totals of Gerrit Cole, Drew Pomeranz and Mike Leake. All said, if Ohtani were to meet Steamer’s two-way projection, he’d rack up 3.8 fWAR, which would likely put him in the running for American League Rookie of the Year and perhaps help the Halos break their three-year playoff drought.
We’ll begin finding out Sunday what Ohtani will bring as a big league pitcher, but what do you expect from him? Will Ohtani live up to the hype on either end as a rookie? Or will his subpar spring drag into the regular season? Weigh in below (poll links for app users)…