Is Tommy John surgery the best option for Shohei Ohtani?

DETROIT, MI - MAY 30: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels in the dugout during the first inning while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on May 30, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - MAY 30: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels in the dugout during the first inning while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on May 30, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

LA Angels star two-way player, Shohei Ohtani, is looking to make a return to the field as a hitter. Three weeks after receiving PRP injections/stem cell treatment on his right elbow from team medical staff Ohtani is eyeballing a limited return to action. The most pressing concern isn’t “Will his bat be as hot as he was before?”, or “Will his impact really help the team?”; the question that no one wants to ask is “Is he better off getting Tommy John Surgery”

LA Angels budding superstar Shohei Ohtani spent the first 2 months lighting up the entire MLB with his phenom success as a rookie pitcher and hitter. He flirted with a perfect game, he hit three home runs in three games in a row in his home debut as a hitter (April 3rd-6th); he’s really done more than a team can ask from a rookie. he was the guy who held the fabric of the team together offensively and pitching-wise, this fact is most obvious when you look at the difference in team competitiveness (4 GB in the AL West June 6th), compared to now (12 GB in AL West). This Angels team can’t pitch, they can’t hit. No one is having fun anymore, not the players, not the fans, you can see it in everyones faces.

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Surely seeing the bright and always sunny Ohtani in the lineup would put a little shine on some faces, right?

Of course in the short-term this will be the injection of adrenaline this organization desperately needs. Having Ohtani hitting will see the teams ability to put runs on the board rise astronomically; when he was active on the teams roster (April/May) the Angels scored 115 runs and 133 runs in each respective month. So far the Angels have complied 98 runs through the month of June with the missing Ohtani.

An interesting sight is the Angels ability to limit runs, which hasn’t really changed throughout the season with or without Ohtani. Even with Ohtani pitching the Angels still allowed 116 runs in April, 114 runs in May, and without him 98 in June so far. This doesn’t take away from the impact Ohtani brought to the club, given that the team was 7-2 in his starts, yet it also highlights the negative impact this bullpen has had on the team. The bullpen currently holds 16 losses on the season with a total 3.91 ERA from the pitching staff.

However, the team was also 19-15 in his general appearances, which is a few steps better than what the team has been doing without him. With Ohtani on the field the Angels held a 31-27 record to start June and sat at 5.5 GB. As of today the Angels sit at one game under .500 with a 41-40 record on the efforts of a 5 game losing streak.

Not so fast. The Angels pitching is in shambles, and at this rate it looks like it’ll be another offseason ot two until we can find true stability. The Angels stubbornly refuse to sign much-needed starting pitching, year after year, and throw money at massive-risk, medial/reward players. If Ohtani returns full-time as a hitter what that really does, despite boosting a mediocre team to the fore-front of the baseball scene, is push back his timetable to return as a pitcher.

I’m fully aware that PRP/stem-cell treatment is a viable option for medical treatment. However, the issue with the Angels stem from the fact that Shohei Ohtani’s elbow is getting worse and worse as play goes on. When he signed with the Angels his UCL tear it registered as a Grade 1 “sprain”, and only three months into the season have we seen it elevate to Grade 2, which is only a step away from absolutely requiring Tommy John. There’s been zero signs of stability in his elbow given his intensive workload as a power hitter and fire-balling, split-finger pitching madman.

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Even less inspiring is the Angels track record with the last two pitchers to play with PRP treatments.

Andrew Heaney: PRP treatment April 2016, Tommy John in June 2016

J.C Ramirez: PRP treatment August 2017, Tommy John in April 2018

Of course there’s Garrett Richards, who avoided Tommy John in 2016 with stem cell treatment only to find himself make his full return in 2018; two seasons after dealing with non-elbow injuries and extra rehab. What we’ve seen from Richards has been strong, if not a tad bit inconsistent. However, it does inspire hope that Ohtani will follow the same recovery path Richards did; sans any random, non-elbow injuries that flare up.

Where does Ohtani’s value to this organization truly sit? As a big time hitter in a middling lineup? Shohei Ohtani is one of those rare players that can absolutely put a team on his back, a rare feat in the modern game of baseball, though as a sole DH it’s hard to have the same impact as you did being an ace-level pitcher. Having him as a fully healthy pitcher and hitter for the 2019 season is a very preferable scenario than having to watch the Angels fumble his medical process by finding each and every way to avoid Tommy John out a desperation to save a team struggling with the very concept of competition.

For the sake of the Angels future, a sentiment which goes far beyond the frustrating season of 2018, the clear option is ensuring that his health is the utmost priority for competition in the Angels future.

That isn’t even the worse case scenario. The worse case scenario is the Angels desperation to avoid Tommy John brings on an extended, multi-season absence, that drives away Mike Trout. I’m not going to ponder or explore that thought, it’s almost chilling to think of the scenario in which we see Ohtani hit wall after wall and see his body slowly break down instead of the roadblock or Tommy John. Roadblocks are easy to maneuver around, but you can only hit so many walls before your body takes a beating.

At the young developmental age of 23 the best option is always the clearest and simplest one. Ohtani has a long career ahead of him, the Angels don’t need to slow down that career because of seperation anxiety and desperation. If the best insurance policy towards keeping Mike Trout in an Angels uniform is fielding a fully healthy Ohtani, than it’s in the organization and fans best interest to do what needs to be done to ensure the brightest future for Shohei Ohtani and the Angels.