Shohei Ohtani Hasn’t Proven Anything Yet

Shohei Ohtani
Baseball fans have lost all sense of perspective after Shohei Ohtani’s fast start. Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire.
  • Shohei Ohtani is generating plenty of buzz after the first two weeks of the season. Is it warranted?
  • Can the Japanese phenom get enough at bats to enter the AL MVP discussion?
  • Is Ohtani even the most valuable player on his own team?  

It turns out Angels fans aren’t the only ones ready to anoint Shohei Otani as the world’s greatest living ballplayer. Bovada has also joined the fray and is now allowing bettors to wager on his chances of winning the league’s most sought after hardware.

Bovada Props Odds
Odds Ohtani wins AL MVP only +250
Odds Ohtani Wins AL Cy Young only +900
Odds Ohtani wins both AL MVP and AL Cy Young +1400
Odds Ohtani wins neither AL MVP or AL Cy Young -300

Look, I get it. The novelty of watching a designated hitter pitch is compelling, but let’s not get carried away with a tiny sample size. The 23-year-old Japanese phenom has hit three home runs and has had two quality starts; he hasn’t cured cancer.

Things Shohei Ohtani Has Done Things Shohei Ohtani Has Not Done
Hit three home runs Cure cancer
Won two games End world hunger
Struck out four times Bring peace to the Middle East
Post a 27.00 ERA in Spring Training Go over Niagara Falls in a barrel

I cautioned fans to temper their expectations back in Spring Training, and I’m sticking to my guns. Ohtani is not – I repeat NOT – the second coming of Babe Ruth. He may not even be the second coming of Rick Ankiel, another versatile player who flamed out after a similarly torrid start.

Let’s take a closer look at Bovada’s overly optimistic props to see if there’s any value.

Odds Ohtani Wins AL MVP Only: +250

These odds are so high they shouldn’t be allowed to operate a motor vehicle. To date, Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki are the only two rookies to ever win the AL MVP award, and both had historic seasons. Lynn led the league in runs, doubles, slugging percentage, and OPS, and won a Gold Glove for his sensational defensive play. Suzuki had a 25-game hitting streak and became the first player since Jackie Robinson to lead his league in batting average and stolen bases.

Player BA 2B HR RBI
Fred Lynn .331 47 21 105
Ichiro Suzuki .350 34 8 69

Granted, neither player pulled double duty as a pitcher, but it was their specialization that allowed them to post such impressive numbers. Lynn and Suzuki both had over 525 at bats in their respective rookie seasons and appeared in at least 145 games.

Ohtani, meanwhile, has only logged 19 at bats and two starts during the Angels’ first 12 games of the season. If he continues at his current pace – and stays injury-free – he’ll finish the season with 255 at bats and 27 starts. That might be enough to merit an All-Star selection or a Rookie of the Year award, but it won’t be enough to earn AL MVP honors.

The injury caveat is an important one, as Ohtani has dealt with his fair share of physical setbacks. The Oshu native missed much of 2017 after undergoing ankle surgery and was diagnosed with a first-degree sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in December. He’s held up well so far, but he maxed out at 24 starts in the Japan Pacific League and has yet to prove he’s durable enough to survive the grind of a Major League season.

The one fact that many baseball fans are conveniently glossing over is that Ohtani isn’t even the most valuable player on his own team.

The one fact that many baseball fans are conveniently glossing over is that Ohtani isn’t even the most valuable player on his own team. That distinction belongs to Mike Trout, a two-time MVP who’s currently leading the league in home runs. The Millville Meteor has finished first in WAR four times in the last five seasons and is positioned to have a more profound impact on the Angels this season because of his availability. Unlike Ohtani, Trout will be in the line-up every day, and will be ready to contribute at the plate and in the field, where he covers more ground than a tarp.

Odds Ohtani Wins AL Cy Young Only: +900

Ohtani’s 2-0 record and 2.08 ERA are both impressive, but he’s not the only pitcher who’s off to a fast start. Here are five other hurlers he’ll have to unseat to win the AL Cy Young award:

Player Record ERA IP SO
Charlie Morton 2-0 0.00 12 13
David Price 1-0 0.00 14 10
Gerrit Cole 1-0 0.64 14 22
Justin Verlander 2-0 1.45 18.2 23
Corey Kluber 1-1 1.57 23 27

Ohtani will likely finish the season with fewer starts and innings than all of the aforementioned pitchers and his corresponding totals will pale in comparison as a result.

No rookie has ever won the AL Cy Young Award, and that trend isn’t about to change in 2018.

Odds Ohtani Wins Both AL MVP and AL Cy Young: +1400

Only seven players have ever won the AL MVP and the AL Cy Young award in the same year, and they were all established pitchers who had been in the league for at least three seasons. Ohtani has a better chance of getting struck by lightning while riding a hammerhead than winning both awards in his rookie season.

Player Year Record ERA SO
Denny McLain 1968 31-6 1.96 280
Vida Blue 1971 24-8 1.82 301
Rollie Fingers 1981 6-3 1.04 61
Willie Hernandez 1984 9-3 1.92 112
Roger Clemens 1986 24-4 2.48 238
Justin Verlander 2011 24-5 2.40 250

Odds Ohtani Wins Neither AL MVP or AL Cy Young: -300

Now we’re talking. The -300 odds available at Bovada are a far better reflection of reality than the previous numbers we’ve discussed. Ohtani is good for the game and his journey has been fun to watch, but it’s worth remembering that baseball is littered with can’t miss prospects who flamed out after a spectacular start.

Baseball is littered with can’t miss prospects who flamed out after a spectacular start.

Remember Daniel Nava? I won’t blame you if you don’t. The former Red Sox outfielder was the talk of baseball after hitting a grand slam in his first Major League at bat in 2010. He hit .291 in his first 15 games before slumping in August and September and finishing his first season as an afterthought.

Or how about former Rockies hurler Jason Jennings, who pitched a shutout and went 3-for-5 at the plate with a home run in his first Major League start? The performance earned him comparisons to Babe Ruth, but they didn’t last long. Jennings finished the year with a 4.58 ERA and just one more hit, and was out of the Bigs by 2009.

Ohtani has the potential to be vastly better than both players, but fans shouldn’t expect too much too soon. Enjoy the ride while it lasts, because things could get very bumpy.