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Is this finally the year of Shohei Ohtani?

Until the day comes when Shohei Ohtani chooses pitching or hitting, he is the most interesting man in baseball. Has to be, right? What other player offers so much in such a variety of ways like the Los Angeles Angels star does? If he can put it together, this could be an MVP-type guy, at least in terms of the overall value he brings to the table.

Key word is “if.”

Ohtani has struggled with injuries, unfortunately, specifically on the mound. This is a man capable of mashing balls 450 feet, swiping bases whenever he wants, and blowing 100 MPH fastballs by hitters, but we’ve rarely seen him do those things simultaneously. It happened for a little in 2018 (151 OPS+ in 357 plate appearances and 127 ERA+ in 51.2 innings pitched), though an injury derailed his season on the mound.

Is this the year the stars align for Shohei?

On the bump

From Villa Rica News

Shohei Ohtani struck out five across 1.2 innings in his first Spring Training outing. He walked a couple and gave up a few hits, but showed the high-90s fastball and devastating splitter that made him so filthy in Japan and in 2018 for the Angels. He threw 41 pitches.

Joe Maddon can’t expect Ohtani to log 150-200 innings as a starter, not with how much he’s already relied upon with his bat. But could he get around 100-125 innings from him? That would require about 20-25 starts, which Maddon can disperse throughout the season so his two-way star can get his rest. If he pitches like he did in 2018, that season would produce roughly 3 bWAR. The last time the Angels had a pitcher produce three or more wins above replacement was…2014.

In the box

From Darren Yamashita, USA TODAY Sports

Ohtani’s encouraging outing was preceded by a mammoth home run two days earlier, which travelled nearly 500 feet. Shit was launched way over the batter’s eye in center. Bomb.

There’s no doubt about his bat. Shohei Ohtani rakes. Even if he’s unable to contribute on the mound, he still gives the Angels All Star-caliber production as a hitter. The power is real. The speed is real. He gets on base. He’s legit.

Ohtani will probably get a similar amount of hitting reps as he has in recent years, maybe a little more. If he starts 20 games as a pitcher and gets another 20 games off to rest, that leaves 122 games for him to mash in. That’s another 3-4 bWAR, assuming he hits like he always has.

Fingers crossed

Shohei Ohtani looks fully healthy for the first time in a while, both as a hitter and pitcher. If he can stay off the IL this season, the Angels could have a 6- or 7-win player in their lineup and rotation, i.e. a borderline MVP candidate. It’s high time Mike Trout gets a chance to shine on the biggest stage. Shohei Ohtani might be his ticket to getting there.