Shohei Otani: Baseball’s Next Babe Ruth???

So, I’ve been on a brief hiatus and it feels good to be back at this. This is a piece I’ve been wanting to do for a while now and I think, with us being in the midst of the playoffs, this will offer an alternative to the usual playoff coverage.

‘Who?’ You May Ask…

Shohei Otani. Unless you’re the most diligent of baseball fans, his is a name you probably wouldn’t know. My goal here is to tell you why you should know it. Otani is a 21 year old player for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan’s Pacific League. Otani played a major part in helping the Ham Fighters capture their league’s pennant this season. He had a pretty outstanding season providing a slash line of .322/.416/1.004 with 22 HRs, and 67 RBI (104 games). Here’s the twist: he also went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA, 0.957 WHIP, 174 Ks in 140 IPs. You read that correctly: Otani is excelling at pitching and hitting, the likes of which we have not seen since Babe Ruth. Baseball fans like myself can only imagine what we’d be in store for if Otani ever decides to bring his talents to MLB.

What Would This Mean For MLB???

For me personally, if Otani decides to come stateside, I will have his opening day marked on my calendar. In recent years we’ve seen the novelty of a guy like Pat Venditte,

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Shohei Otani

ambidexterous pitcher now in the Seattle Mariners system. Otani would be a completely different circus. I wonder how someone with his skill set would be used in the major league game. First off, because of the DH rule he would obviously only be useful on a National League team. I imagine he could be used in a couple of different ways

  1. He could be one of your team’s starters. And because he can hit, you don’t have to hide him in the 9th spot of the lineup. You could hit him maybe 6th or 7th and then adopt the AL-style of lineup construction where your no. 9 hitter is more of a second leadoff guy – a guy you use to get the lineup turned over again.
  2. You use him as some sort of reliever and on days he doesn’t pitch you can play him in the outfield. Either scenario allows you to be creative with substitutions and pitching changes (imagine a guy like Joe Maddon with this weapon at his disposal). With a player like Otani, a manager won’t have to pull the plug earlier than intended because of the pitcher’s spot in the order being due up. If your pitcher is struggling and you’ve got the 9th spot due up in the next inning, you can bring in Otani knowing that he’ll get an at bat. Conversely, if Otani is laboring but he’s due up in the next inning, you could double switch and bring in a new pitcher and put Otani in the outfield and preserve his at bat.

This all, of course, assumes that his skills translate against major league hitters and pitchers. It’s all very fascinating for a baseball nerd like me. I really hope we get to see him over here sooner rather than later. Otherwise, I’ll have to figure out what’s the Japanese equivalent to MLB TV.

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