How Great Can Shohei Ohtani Be?

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There are several candidates for Top Storyline of the First Half of the 2021 MLB Season, a fake award I just made up. But they are all wrong unless the answer is “Shohei Ohtani.”

The Japanese-born member of the Anaheim Angels is rewriting the record books almost every week. As we enter the final week before the All-Star Break, Ohtani leads all of baseball with 31 home runs (or hōmurans, as they say in Japan). he’s on pace to hit 60 home runs, which only two non-cheating players have ever done. One of them was Babe Ruth, to whom Ohtani is frequently compared.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth was a freak of nature. He was the first batter to hit 30 homers, the first to hit 40 homers, and the first to hit 50 homers, all of which he accomplished in 1920. That was the year that Babe hit more homers than every other team in the American League. Ruth won 12 home run titles, and slugged 714 homers in his illustrious, beer-filled, skirt-chasing career. He was legendary.

But it’s possible that Ohtani is even more of a freak than the Babe. No, he’s not a beer-guzzling, skirt-chasing, eight hotdog-eating lummox. But Ohtani is doing something even the Babe never did. As you may already know, the Babe was a pitcher first, beginning his career at the age of 19 for the Boston Red Stockings in 1914. The Babe was the son of a saloon keeper and a wayward woman, who didn’t have much time for a kid, so Ruth found his way into an orphanage. He was lucky enough to be tutored by a priest who taught young George to throw a baseball. For a while, it appeared that Ruth would become a star on the mound slinging the ol’ 108-stitch ball. He won 18 games when he was 19 years old, and the following season he tossed nine shutouts and led the AL in earned run average. He was, without hyperbole, the best left-handed pitcher in the league in the mid-1910s. Babe won twenty games twice. He was no slouch on the hill.

But we don’t remember Babe Ruth for his pitching, we lionize him for his mighty home run record. At some point, Babe’s strong chest and long legs combined with his unusual tendency of holding the bat at the end of the handle, and he started sending the baseball over outfield fences. He led the league in homers for the first time in 1918 when he only played in the outfield about three or four days a week, when he was wasn’t pitching.

Still, Ohtani, who serves as DH for the Angels when he isn’t starting games on the mound, is ready to accomplish something even the Babe never did. He could lead his league in homers while also being a regular member of the starting rotation. Ruth led the AL in homers in 1918 and 1919, but he only made 19 and 15 starts in those years. He was only a part-time pitcher. Ohtani has 12 starts thus far, and he is one of the most effective pitchers in baseball. Through Tuesday, Ohtani is averaging more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings as a tall right-handed starter with a 100-mile per hour fastball. He’s won just three games, but his ERA is 28 percent below league average. Ohtani isn’t just a threat as a slugger, he’s a scary pitcher too. And unlike the Babe, Ohtani is doing both at the same time.

If Ohtani stays a two-way player, there’s no telling what he might do. Could he win a home run title and ERA title in the same year? Already in 2021, he’s been selected to the AL All-Star team as both a hitter and pitcher.

MLB Odds For Ohtani

Currently, WynnBet has Ohtani as the favorite to win the AL Most Valuable Player Award at -180. He’s also favored to win the MLB home run crown, at +135.

DraftKings has Ohtani as -190 to win the MVP, and amazingly he has odds for winning the Cy Young Award too, though admittedly they are high: +6600.

Some sportsbooks, like FanDuel, are offering daily odds on whether Ohtani hits a home run or not. For Monday’s game against the Red Sox the odds were at +280 for “Sho Time” to go yard. On nights when he pitches, sportsbooks offer a parlay, for example you could bet on Ohtani getting the win, striking out ten batters and hitting a home run. When’s the last time you could do that? Let’s just say never. That’s how unusual Ohtani is.

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.

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