It’s almost unheard of in major league baseball for a pitcher to be a major contributor on offense. In the American League, most pitchers to not even come to the plate. Most teams elect to have a designated hitter instead. The DH is a specialized position, a player who doesn’t play the field but instead is only a batter.
Who is Shohei Ohtani?
Ohtani made his baseball debut back in 2013 but not in Major League Baseball. He started out playing in his native Japan for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. He was drafted not only as a pitcher but as an outfielder as well. During his first season he started in the outfield on days he wasn’t on the mound and hit in the middle of the order, usually third or fifth. Although he didn’t have the most triumphant rookie season, with a 4.23 ERA and a .238 batting average, he was nonetheless voted into the All Star game.
In his 2014 season, Ohtani really started to make some noise. In September of that year he hit a home run to make him the first pitcher to the first ever Japanese player to hit over ten home runs and get more than ten wins on the mound in a single season.
He also made a splash at the All Star game in 2014. Pitching in the bottom of the first inning he threw a fastball that clocked in at 101 miles per hour. This set the record for fastest recorded pitch thrown by a Japanese pitcher. The previous record was 100 miles per hour.
While there are a handful of pitcher who can throw the ball at 100 miles per hour with consistency, the average speed of a fastball is about ninety-three miles per hour. So setting the record in his second season, Ohtani was something of a hero.
Fans showed their love for the new star by shelling out an inordinate amount of money for the jersey he wore in the All Star game. In a charity auction his jersey sold for an amazing $17,000.
In 2016 Ohtani showed that he was truly a force to be reckoned with. He increased his total to twenty-two home runs that year and lowered his ERA to 1.86.
Move to the MLB
By now, Ohtani had made a name for himself and MLB were showing interest. In 2017 he signed a deal with Los Angeles Angels.
On opening day in 2018 he made his American debut. He started as the designated hitter and singled in his first at-bat. On April first of 2018 Ohtani started his first game as a pitcher in the MLB. He struck out six batters and recorded his first win. Two days later, Angels fans saw their new star hit his first home run.
As it is only early May, it is yet to be seen what will become of Ohtani as he continues in his first season in the MLB. But suffice it to say that fans around the country are excited about the best hitting pitcher we’ve seen in a long time.
The Designated Hitter
Baseball did not always have a designated hitter. Not too long ago, every pitcher was required to hit. Although it had been discussed for years, it was not until 1973 that a rule was introduced that a team could have a player bat in their line-up instead of the pitcher. This rule was only introduced in the American League. National League pitchers still have to hit.
When American League teams go to play away games in National League parks, they play by National League rules and so pitchers have to hit in these games.
Babe Ruth was one baseballs biggest stars a hundred years ago and continues to be a household name. He was renowned for his incredible hitting ability. He still has one of the highest career home run totals at 714.
But not as many people know about Babe Ruth as a pitcher. In 1916 he had something of a remarkable season. Striking out 170 batters, he won 23 games and finished the season with an ERA of 1.75. Even by today’s standards these are impressive stats.
So Ohtani is by no means the first pitcher to earn his stripes as a hitter. Since Babe Ruth there have been a handful of pitchers who have been good hitters as well. But they are far and few between. So there’s no question why Angels fans and baseball fans everywhere are excited about Shohei Ohtani.