What is the Angels’ plan for Shohei Ohtani in 2020?
After Shohei Ohtani underwent successful Tommy John surgery in October 2018, the Los Angeles Angels were not sure what they would see from two-way star in 2019. What they got was a welcome surprise, even in a down year for the team.
Ohtani was unable to throw at all in 2019, but he was able to return to the line-up as a hitter last season. He made his season debut on May 7 and gave the Angels 106 games as the team’s primary DH. Even in that limited capacity, he accounted for a 1.8 fWAR across 425 plate appearances. While his ISO (.219 in 2019 vs .279 in 2018) and wRC+ (123 vs 151) took a bit of a hit last season, Ohtani’s results were encouraging considering his layoff while recovering.
From a pure hitting standpoint, one would expect that an uninterrupted winter of full-strength workouts and repetitions will help get him back to the hitter he was two seasons ago, or better. The real question is when he can return to the mound and how the team will deploy him just one year removed from Tommy John surgery.
The shutdown for the pandemic may have aided in his recovery a bit, but even under those conditions he was still only throwing at 80-85 percent as of late April. That would likely mean that Ohtani is still a few months away from being able to take the mound. Even when he is able to take a turn in the rotation, Ohtani is likely to face an innings limit or may even be part of a six-man rotation to help ensure the team can manage his workload.
The amount the Angels opt to limit Ohtani remains to be seen. There seems to be quite a bit of variance in his deployment via estimator services like ZiPS and Steamer, with the former thinking he will take 12 turns in the rotation and the latter assuming the Angels will be less conservative and allow him to make 18 appearances on the mound.
Regardless of which you subscribe to, the results are projecting for a favorable outcome for the Angels. ZiPS projects that Ohtani will go 5-4 with a 3.89 ERA, a 3.85 FIP, and a 10.77 K/9 over 69.3 innings of work (5.2 innings per start). Meanwhile, Steamer is estimating a 3.70 ERA, a 3.77 FIP, and a 11.15 K/9 over 101 innings.
Those seem to be fairly aggressive numbers for a player who hasn’t thrown a live pitch in since Sept. 2, 2018. However, the Angels will take anything he can give them as a step in the right direction, whether that be this season or next.