Shohei Ohtani Found A New Way To Shine As A Two-Way All Star
As of this week, there are now two instances in MLB history of a player making the All-Star Game as both a pitcher and a batter — and both belong to Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels.
Ohtani became the first-ever double-duty All-Star last season, during a year that was unlike anything we had seen in modern baseball history. Combining excellence at the plate (46 home runs, .965 OPS) and on the mound (9-2, 3.18 ERA), Ohtani won unanimous MVP honors in the American League and was easily the best player in baseball according to wins above replacement.1 After all of that, it was fair to wonder what he could possibly do for an encore — but Ohtani has been roughly as good overall in 2022 so far. And the way he’s done it proves that Ohtani still has plenty of unexpected tricks left up his sleeve.
Looking at his stats from the mound only, Ohtani had a very good 2021. He amassed 3.7 WAR in 21 starts, with an ERA-minus of 73 and a fielding independent pitching-minus of 80. (ERA- and FIP- are metrics scaled to leaguewide performance levels, where average is 100 and lower is better.) But the larger driver of Ohtani’s MVP campaign was his performance at the plate, where he produced 5.0 WAR with a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 152, which ranked fifth among all batters. Overall, that meant batter WAR accounted for 58 percent of Ohtani’s total WAR last year, while pitching filled out the remaining 42 percent.
This model of Ohtani delivering most of his value as a batter, while also topping it off with good pitching production, seemed logical given his schedule as a regular designated hitter who pitches once a week. And it had a precedent: Babe Ruth had 6.4 WAR per 162 team games in 1918 as a batter and 3.0 as a pitcher, good for 9.4 total WAR — with 68 percent coming as a batter — during the last elite two-way season in either the AL or NL before Ohtani arrived. To the extent anything about Ohtani was expected, how he put together his MVP performance was not a complete surprise.
But this season, Ohtani has flipped that formula around to arrive at similar overall results. Much like his pitching in 2021, his batting has been plenty good in 2022 — he boasts a 132 wRC+ and is on pace for 2.9 WAR per 162 games2 — but it’s not quite as dominant as it was a year ago. (On the one hand, 35 home runs and an .832 OPS would be ridiculous production for your pitcher/DH, but that pace is also down quite a bit from the 46 and .965 he posted last season.) Ohtani’s pitching has been even better in 2022, however, picking up the slack left by his offensive output. He’s currently tracking for 5.1 WAR on the mound, with a 63 ERA- and an especially impressive 58 FIP-, which is much lower than a year ago and is tied for third-best among pitchers with at least 60 innings this season.
Add it up, and Ohtani is on pace for 8.0 WAR, good enough for fifth-best in MLB and only slightly down from last year’s mark of 8.7. But the relative contributions of his bat and arm have essentially reversed themselves from last season’s split. Now, 64 percent of Ohtani’s value has come from pitching and only 36 percent from batting.
Would you rather have Ohtani produce more as a batter or a pitcher? Does it matter? Ohtani the pitcher has certainly been more volatile year to year during his MLB career to date — mainly because of the elbow injury that cut his rookie pitching season short and kept him off of the mound for the entirety of his second season, as well as the forearm ailment that limited his pitching in his third major league campaign. To date, Ohtani still has more career WAR as a batter (11.4) than as a pitcher (7.3), good for a 61 percent share of total value coming with the bat. And for whatever it’s worth to an Angels club whose season has completely deteriorated since late May, L.A. could use more help from its position player corps (21st in WAR) than its pitching staff (16th).
But even if pitching carrying the day is not his norm, Ohtani is showing how his two-way status helps him maintain elite overall performance, even when his strong suit isn’t quite as outstanding as it was last year. Thanks to an uptick in output on the mound, Ohtani has continued to shine as one of baseball’s brightest stars — and to keep us all wondering what unique combination of skills and production he’ll unveil next.
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