Last winter, Shohei Ohtani was garnering a ton of interest across the league due to his ability to both pitch and hit well during his time in Japan’s professional league. His talents ultimately led him to being acquired by the Los Angeles Angels, who immediately made it known they would deploy him as a two-way player. While Ohtani performed extremely well for the Angels this year, injuries have reared their ugly head and Los Angeles is at a bit of a crossroads for him next season.
As reported earlier this week, Tommy John surgery was recommended for Ohtani on his right elbow. The 24-year-old has dealt with issues in his right elbow pretty much since he was signed by the Angels. On Dec. 13, five days after he signed, it was revealed that he had a first-degree UCL sprain. On June 8, he was placed on the disabled list for a Grade 2 UCL sprain on the same elbow. Both times, platelet-rich plasma injections were used, but Ohtani would not return to the mound until Sept. 2. Three days later, the doctors recommended Tommy John surgery, which would keep him off the mound until 2020, but he would still potentially hit.
Of course, Los Angeles acquired Ohtani because of his potential as a two-way player, but asking a player to be both a starting pitcher and a designated hitter is taxing and could impact him long-term, potentially burning Ohtani out or shortening his career. At this point, Los Angeles should strongly consider reliving Ohtani of his pitching duties.
While Ohtani has done well as a pitcher, across 10 starts, he has gone 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA and a very good 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings, he has made a bigger impact as a hitter, owning a .287/.367/.579 slash line with 18 home runs and 47 RBI in 82 games. Aside from pitcher, he is yet to play any spot on the field in the MLB, but did play in the outfield while in Japan. Mike Trout and Justin Upton have a firm grip on both center and left field, but right field is currently being manned by Kole Calhoun, a 30-year-old who is batting just .224 this season. Calhoun is under team control for the next two years, would be better off as the fourth outfielder while Ohtani gets the majority of time in right field.
Keeping Ohtani on the mound is an option too, but with him not being able to pitch for over a year, it is a harder option to take. If they do opt for this, they could potentially utilize him next season as a designated hitter before working him into the rotation full-time.
The likely result is that the Angels continue to use Ohtani as the two-way player the envisioned him to be, and he made it known when he came to America that this is what he wanted to do, but it is hard to be consistently effective if you can’t stay healthy. Ohtani has shown he has what it takes to play in the MLB, and with him pitching talents shelved for the next year, the Angels are better off putting an end to this little experiment.