The sudden success of Shohei Ohtani seems to have been cut short by an announcement that seemed to come just as suddenly. On June 8, it was announced Ohtani would be placed on the 10-day disabled list for a grade 2 sprain to his right ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). On June 10, it was speculated he would need Tommy John surgery to repair said ligament, which would end both his 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Ohtani captivated not only Angels fans, but the baseball world, with his abilities as both a hitter and a pitcher. Dubbed “The Japanese Babe Ruth,” Ohtani dominated the Pacific League in Japan, and was named the league’s MVP in 2016. Although it took Los Angeles sometime to figure out how to best utilize their versatile weapon, Ohtani had a huge impact on the team almost any time he took the field.
The beautiful thing about the wins above replacement (WAR) stat, is that it gives a metric to quantify just how impactful a starter is. As a pitcher, Ohtani accounted for an average of one win more than a replacement pitcher would produce. Delving deeper into his stats, it’s easy to see why.
In nine starts, Ohtani earned a 4-1 record, making him one of just two starting pitchers on the team to suffer only a single loss. His 3.10 ERA was the third lowest amongst all starters as well. Ohtani made it nearly impossible for batters to figure out what pitches were coming. He could toss a 100 mile per hour fast ball, before throwing a splitter for a change of pace. He allowed just 36 hits in his time on the mound, second lowest of the pitching rotation.
Sticking with the WAR metric, Ohtani proved himself a worthy hitter as well. He again accounted for an average of one more win than a replacement batter, and did so with only 114 at bats, 10th most on the team. In fact, only Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, and, of course, Mike Trout had a higher WAR than Ohtani on the Angels. For those unfamiliar with Trout, his 5.4 WAR is easily the highest in the MLB.
Ohtani made the most of his limited appearances at the plate, earning the third highest batting average on the team at .289, and third highest on base percentage at .372. Ohtani truly broke out in a three game stretch from April 3-6. He hit a home run in each of these three games, had seven RBIs, and finished the stretch with a .421 batting average. Los Angeles went on to win all three of these games.
The loss of Ohtani does leave large holes to fill in both the pitching and hitting rotation, but it has opened the door for another young player to make a name for himself. With Albert Pujols resuming his spot as the team’s designated hitter, first baseman Jose Fernandez is getting his moment to shine. So far, the results have been promising both offensively and defensively.
Fernandez received his first start at the beginning of the Angels’ most recent series with the Minnesota Twins. Fernandez finished the three game series, which Los Angeles won 2-1, going 4-6 with one RBI and a .444 batting average. On defense, Fernandez maintained a perfect fielding percentage, logging 14 putouts, and one assist on 15 chances. He also turned a double play in Los Angeles’s 2-1 win over Minnesota on June 9.
While Fernandez’s hot start is a pleasant surprise, it doesn’t take away the fact that Ohtani is potentially facing a serious procedure that doesn’t guarantee he will return the same player. To quell these fears, look to the example of Stephen Strasburg.
Strasburg took the nation by storm as a rookie in 2010, only to be lost the same injury Ohtani currently faces. In 2011, he returned to pitch just 24 innings, but has bounced back throughout his career, and enjoyed his most successful season in 2017. Last year, Strasburg recorded a 15-4 record, had an ERA of 2.52, and allowed just 49 hits and 13 home runs. He also earned his third All-Star game bid, the first two coming in 2012 and 2016.
So, if Ohtani does need Tommy John surgery, which the Angels are optimistic he won’t, it doesn’t spell doom for his promising career. It is disappointing that Los Angeles could be without Ohtani for two years, but if the procedure is what he needs to ensure his future in the MLB, then it is the right call to make.
A player with Ohtani’s skill set rarely comes around, and the Angels are fortunate to have him in the fold. When he does finally return, whether it be later this season, or further down the road, Ohtani gives Los Angeles the foundation to build a championship contender upon.