MLB Column: I’d Wait On The Ohtani Hype-Train

Ethan Swierczewski
Contributing Writer

We were told when Lebron James entered the NBA. We were told when Tiger Woods won his first Masters’ Tournament. And now, after just three major league games, we are being told the same thing about Los Angeles Angels’ rookie Shohei Ohtani:

“Believe the hype.”

The Japanese pitcher-hitter is already being proclaimed the next Bambino, after playing just one week. His statline is phenomenal. On offense, Ohtani is batting .389 with three home runs and seven runs batted in as of Monday.

pitching debut featured three earned runs, six strikeouts, and some absolutely filthy breaking balls. He’s already become the darling of ESPN baseball coverage, and has the entire baseball community seemingly rooting for him. Everyone believes the hype!

Except me.

Not so fast baseball fans. I know we’re all excited that the season has begun, the feeling that summer inches ever closer with every swing of the bat. We all love a success story, the tale of an athlete defying the odds. But we can’t let our daydreams get in the way of objectivity.

We have to look at the facts as fairly as possible. So, before we start discussing Babe Ruth and Ohtani in the same way we discuss Lebron and Michael Jordan, let me relate the facts of Ohtani’s young career in Major League Baseball and give my predictions for his future.

Lost in the hype of his spectacular start to the regular season are Ohtani’s struggles in Spring Training. Yes, I know, Spring Training performances are a less-than-reliable baseline to predict a player’s future. Nonetheless, a player’s flaws don’t disappear when Spring Training comes to a close.

Less than a month ago, Ohtani began his professional career one-for-11 at the plate, a pithy beginning. In 32 spring at-bats, he recorded only four hits, none of them for extra-bases. Combined with 10 strikeouts and just three walks, Ohtani’s outlook was grim. His 18 plate appearances so far this season are promising, but that small sample size deserves none of the exaggerated hype it’s been receiving.

Ohtani’s spring struggles at the plate mirrored his performance on the mound in the preseason. In his first two games, he recorded an ERA of 27.00 with eight earned runs and just five strikeouts.

This is where the Ohtani fanclub hurls their strongest critique of my thoughts. “It was just nerves! Obviously he’s better than that! Give him a chance!” some say.

They’re right. The Angels felt the same way, and gave him that chance to adjust by starting him against the Mexican League’s Tijuana Toros in a split-squad game. The result? Six hits, six runs. His outings against the Oakland A’s and the Milwaukee Brewers were impressive, yes, but his spring training pitching performance leaves me skeptical for the time being (especially against an unproven Brewers offense).


Still, my Ohtani opponents will disagree with me on the basis of Spring Training’s limited impact on the regular season. But again, his success is generating an exorbitant amount of hype that I don’t think is deserved (yet) given the small sample size and his rookie status.

“So what if he’s a rookie? Does that mean he can’t be good?”

Oh, the naiveté!

Of course a rookie can be good. Countless greats have won Rookie of the Year; Cal Ripken Jr., Willie Mays, even Jackie Robinson. But other players have as well: Chris Coghlan, Marty Cordova, and Mark Fidrych. They certainly aren’t the greats, and will go down as barely mediocre players.

This doesn’t mean Ohtani is destined for mediocrity; but the feelings concerning his early success need to be tempered. He hasn’t even completed his rookie season, let alone won Rookie of the Year. We all remember Puig-mania; and we all remember Puig-mediocrity.

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My prediction for Ohtani? The workload of a Major League Baseball player in 2018 hinders the ability to play both ways as a pitcher and hitter. Because of his gifted ability for throwing breaking balls, Ohtani will shift his focus away from hitting, and become one of the best arms in the league.

He will still have notoriety as an offensively-talented pitcher, the best in decades, but not enough to hold onto his DH status. The Angels will find someone capable of hitting 30+ homers a year for that job.

I want to be clear; I am rooting for Shohei Ohtani. Honestly, I hope my prediction is wrong. I believe the guy has incredible talent, as his performance has shown early on in this young season.

But before I roll out the red carpet of elite status, I want to watch him play a full season. I want to see how Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia uses him as a designated hitter in conjunction with his status as a starting pitcher. If he can sustain the success and limit his struggles, I’ll hop on the hype-train.

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