Shohei Ohtani was the name on everyone’s lips leading up to the 2018 MLB season. A double threat with a .286 batting average and 42-15 pitching record in the Japanese league, Ohtani was a fiercely sought after free agent. He eventually signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last December and quickly made an impact after the baseball season began in late March, going 2-0 in his first two starts for Angels.
Some are already going as far as to ask whether he is the next Babe Ruth but a little scepticism is healthy. He could be the next Babe Ruth, a baseball legend, but he could just as easily be the next Jeff Francoeur, a man who had an unbelievable start to his career before his bat cooled and he spent 11 years sliding into mediocrity.
Before we use video games to see what the future holds for Ohtani, let’s indulge ourselves in a little statistics. At the time of writing, Ohtani has had 59 at-bats and 5 pitching starts, giving him a batting average of .339 and a pitching record of 3-1. Thanks to data on Retrosheet, we can compare Ohtani’s first 59 at bats to those of Ruth and Francoeur
As you can see, the three players are on a level playing field in terms of batting average after 59 at-bats (about 15 games or so). Ruth would go on to finish the 1915 season with 92 at-bats and a .315 batting average, while Francoeur would garner a .300 batting average from 257 at-bats in the 2007 season.
I also compared Ohtani and Ruth in terms of pitching, given that both have started their careers on the mound. Babe Ruth went 1-3 in his first five starts for the Red Sox in 1915 (though he would go onto finish the year 18-8 from the mound), the inverse of Ohtani’s previously stated 3-1 record.
Quick fun fact- Francoeur actually went to the mound as well. While playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, he pitched two innings against the Baltimore Orioles on June 16, 2015 and posted a single strikeout while giving up a 2-run home run and 3 walks.
Honestly, it’s probably too early in the season to be comparing Ohtani to my chosen metrics so maybe I’ll do a revisit at the All-Star break.
However, we can use Out of the Park Baseball 19, a baseball management simulation game touted for its accuracy, to see their take on Ohtani’s rookie season. This will be far from gospel, as the game is likely to under-use Ohtani at the plate. As with all my OOTP 19 simulations, I hand all control over to the AI and simply run the season.
I began by running till the All-Star game, the season midpoint.
So safe to say things aren’t going great for the Angels, though the game doesn’t think that the AL West is going to be a particularly strong division. Before we get to Ohtani’s specific stats according to the game, I can tell you that he doesn’t make the 2018 All-Star Game.
Batting first. As I expected, the game doesn’t give Ohtani much time off the mound. That’s fair enough, a guy who can pitch and hit doesn’t come around too often so the game is unlikely to have intricate algorithms to process that. However, I find it a little hard to find that after 97 games, he has less than 20 at-bats more than he does after 16 in the real world. The game played him at designated hitter and occasionally right field and his numbers are respectable but nothing special.
As for pitching, the game has not been generous either- Ohtani has a 4-9 record from 20 starts. It is not uncommon for young pitchers to have a sub-par first season in the majors. However, again the game appears to underestimate Ohtani, at least in the first half of the season. Unless he is truly destined for Francoeur-dom and the game knows something we don’t.
Let’s move to the end of the season
Yeah, bad season for the Angels. In fact, a terrible season, their worst since 1999.
As for Ohtani, I feel that the game really cheated him out of a decent rookie season. He batted .258 and achieved a 9-11 pitching record (though that does indicate that he had a much better second half of the season, giving up only two losses in 14 starts). However, the game still awards Ohtani the American League Rookie of the Year title so, there’s that.
(For anyone interested, the game also has the Cubs beating the Yankees in 7 to claim the World Series)
As one final act of curiosity, I simmed the game through to 2022 to see where it places Ohtani after 5 seasons in the majors. After 5 seasons, Jeff Francoeur was batting .277 and had been traded from Atlanta to the New York Mets. Meanwhile, Babe Ruth was batting .307 and was a year or two away from truly starting his path to legendary status.
Outside of a single-season snapshot, the game is kinder to Ohtani. However, according to the game, he is destined to be more of a Francoeur than a Ruth. After 5 seasons (and a trade to the Chicago Cubs) Ohtani holds a .265 batting average and a 43-35 pitching record.
Video game simulations aside, Ohtani is an exciting MLB prospect and definitely one to watch. As I previously mentioned, I am likely to revisit Ohtani’s rookie season later in the year.