American League MVP Shohei Ohtani: Myth in the Making

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An All-Star at the plate and on the mound, American League MVP Shohei Ohtani was the biggest story in sports in 2021 (sorry, Brady), claiming AP Male Athlete of the Year and doing things on the diamond no one’s seen since Babe Ruth. Here’s why the Japanese phenom’s two-way domination is just getting started.

Those 46 Hours Weren’t Flukes

There are 30 MLB teams, with a total of 780 players active on Opening Day. Ohtani is one of just six to manage a 119-mph exit velocity for a home run, powering moonshots as far as 470 feet. Although eliminated in the first round in the 2021 Home Run Derby, he blasted six dingers over 500 feet, the most ever in a Derby.

Neither Were the 156 KS

As a pitcher, Ohtani averaged 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings thanks to a fastball that tops 101 mph and what might be baseball’s nastiest pitch, a splitter that opponents hit .087 against, going 11 for 127 while striking out 77 times in 2021. That’s a large enough sample size from which to draw conclusions of continued dominance.

Baseball player batting
TONY GUTIERREZ/AP (left); ASHLEY LANDIS/AP (right) / Shutterstock

Slump-Busting Speed

On the base paths Ohtani averages 28.8 ft/ sec., but accelerates to 30 ft/sec. to beat out infield hits, turn doubles into triples (he tied for the Major League lead in 2021) and even steal home. Meaning he’s one of baseball’s most powerful and quickest players.

Shohei Ohtani Is Built to Last

Ohtani has recently added muscle to improve durability. This led to Instagram videos of him deadlifting 495 pounds and Hall of Famer Chipper Jones declaring Ohtani has “one of the best baseball bodies I’ve ever seen.” “He’s Adonis,” Chipper added, before moaning and losing consciousness.

MLB Opening Day 2022: Shohei Ohtani winds up to throw a pitch.

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Trout’s Return

Why did anyone pitch to Babe Ruth when he hit 60 HRs in 1927? Because Lou Gehrig was behind him. In 2021, Ohtani lacked an Iron Horse. That’s about to change. After only 36 games in 2021, three-time MVP Mike Trout returns, meaning opponents might suddenly see Shohei as the lesser of two evils.

It’s Been Done Before

Negro League legend Wilber “Bullet Joe” Rogan’s stats are incomplete, but what we know is nuts. In 1922, Rogan reached double figures in wins (14), HRs (15) and steals (16) in 74 games while hitting .369 and posting a 2.83 ERA. Six seasons later he was still killing it at 10-2 on the mound and batting .348.

Ohtani Hitting 2021

Plate Appearances: 639
Batting Average: .257
On-Base Percentage: .372
Slugging: .592

Ohtani Pitching 2021

Batters Faced: 533
Batting Average Allowed: .207
On-Base Allowed: .286
Slugging Allowed: .351

Baseball player throwing pitch
ALBERT PENA/CSM / Shutterstock
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Both Ways Broke Babe

Babe Ruth was a great pitcher and better hitter, just not simultaneously. In 1916, he led the AL with a 1.75 ERA but hit just three HRs. In 1919, the last season he regularly pitched, he drilled 29 homers, but his strikeouts dropped from 4.7 per nine innings to just 2 and he went from holding batters to a .201 average to .294. Where even the Bambino is overwhelmed, proceed with caution.

Injury Bug

In 2021, Ohtani made 23 starts as a pitcher. He managed only 17 his previous four seasons combined, including just five in his last season in Japan in 2017. In addition to Tommy John, he had surgeries on his right ankle and left knee. It may be a struggle just staying in the rotation.

Pitchers Will Avoid Him

At the 2021 All-Star break, Ohtani had 33 home runs. After: 13. Why? If a guy leads the Angels in homers and slugging percentage … maybe avoid pitching to him? That’s exactly what opposing pitchers did, with Ohtani tying an MLB record by walking 11 times in one three-game stretch.

Lack of Support for Shohei Ohtani

Ohtani led his team in HRs, RBIs, runs, total bases and walks as a batter, plus wins, innings pitched and strikeouts pitching. From this we conclude: 1. Ohtani had a helluva season. 2. Less so every other Angel. This team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2014. This should be helped by Trout’s return, except…

Trout Outs

Mike Trout has been the greatest player of his generation. His one weakness? Health. He played 36 games in 2021, knocked out by a calf strain. He hasn’t played over 140 games since 2016. He’s only 30, but injuries are increasingly a pattern for a guy who didn’t appear on the DL until his seventh season.

Losing Limitations

Ohtani stayed healthy in 2021 but the Angels shut down his pitching anyway. Why? Same reason Trout didn’t rush back to the lineup: no shot at the postseason, so no reason to take a risk. It’s not just about finally seeing Ohtani on baseball’s biggest stage; if the Angels don’t contend, he may not go on-stage at all.