Sunday Shohei: How the Angels should use their new gift.
As intriguing as Ohtani’s bat is, it’s his right arm that had big league teams salivating over him. Due to a non-pitching injury, he was limited to just 25 innings on the mound in 2017, but in the previous two seasons, Ohtani threw a combined 300.2 innings, allowed just 189 hits and walking 91 while striking out 374 batters in a league where the strikeout rate is just 18% (as opposed to nearly 22% in MLB in 2017).
The most obvious weapon he owns is the one that lights up the speed gun. Ohtani’s fastball sits at 97.5 MPH, and he’s been known to vary it from the low 90s to a NPB-record 102 MPH. Needless to say, that’s exceptional all by itself, but Ohtani also puts an above-average spin on his fastball, giving it extra ride that, combined with his speed, makes his high fastball very tough to touch.
Changing speeds is not optional for big league starters (otherwise, you’re just Esteban Yan, throwing 100-MPH batting practice), and Ohtani has an unexpectedly diverse repertoire. He compliments his heat with a slider in the high 80s that cuts from right to left, and a mid-80s splitter that bottoms out over the strike zone. He also throws two different curveballs, a la Cliff Lee, one a big slow 12-to-6 curve, and the other a harder spin that looks like a slower version of his slider. To top it off, he began using a straight change taught to him by Trevor Hoffman in 2016 that he used sparingly in-game action, but wants to use more often to set up his fastball.
Reminder: He only 23.
He’s only 23, and that’s scares people. Young pitchers whose elbows fall apart are not only common in professional baseball, they’re almost required to have one if they pitch for the Angels. That Ohtani had the unpublicized procedure on his elbow doesn’t quell any concerns, and thus, there’s a rush to find ways to protect the young star and his golden arm. There’s also the very real possibility that, by investing a roster slot to him, the Angels would be doubly boned if Ohtani happened to go down with an injury for any length of time, losing both a pitcher and a bat.
In this context, the six-man rotation idea that’s been making the rounds on the Internet makes perfect sense.The idea of such a rotation sounds radical, in the United States, but most NPB teams operate with a six-man rotation, including the team Ohtani played for, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. With the Angels nursing a wounded staff of recovering surgery patients back to health, having extra off-days for their pitchers might be a tremendous idea; after all, limiting Garrett Richards to get 150 innings out of him might be less than the full season you’d rather have, but it’d still be 100 more innings than Richards has thrown in the last two years put together. If the idea is to keep Ohtani’s pitching workload down while being able to use his bat, then this is likely the way it has to go.
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There’s actually a significant historical precedent for this in the major leagues. (There are actually two significant historical precedents, but we’re not gong to do the Babe Ruth thing because comparisons to Ruth are silly.) At the beginning of the1935 season, 33-year-old Ted Lyons, the long-time ace of the Chicago White Sox was entering his 14th season. As was the case for most front-line pitchers of the era, he had carried a tremendous workload throughout his 20s, and between the mileage on his arm and an injury to his pitching shoulder, he’d seen his effectiveness wane.
ChiSox manager Jimmy Dykes decided to start giving his veteran extra days off to stretch him out. Back in those days, Sundays were for doubleheaders, and it would be Lyons’ job to take one of those two games so the rest of the rotation could roll along without having to worry about skipping starts.It took a few years, but between the extra rest and the development of a knuckleball, Lyons manage to reinvigorate his career. Between 1938 and 1942, Lyons, pitching almost exclusively on Sundays for that half decade, putting up a 61-41 record and an excellent 3.14 ERA. His excellent final act put Sunday Teddy Lyons into the Hall of Fame.
Of course, nobody expected Sunday Teddy to hit a ton.