A ‘two-hit’ genius with a lot of talent
The real-life protagonist of Japanese baseball manga H2
A record-hunting man in his own country
The man who hunted for records.
This season, he struck out 43 batters in the first half alone.
His fastball has become somewhat dull.
Team performance is also sluggish… “Losing is annoying”
Soon to be a free agent… ‘Transfer – $6bn’ deal on the cards
“토토사이트Do you know Mitsuru Adachi’s baseball manga ‘H2’?” Hiro Kunimi, a hard-throwing pitcher, and Hideo Tachibana, a home run hitter, who won a regional championship together in junior high school. The manga, which tells the story of the two Hs, who become rivals as they move on to different schools for high school, as they make their way to the Koshien, the dream stage for Japanese high school baseball players, was a huge hit not only in Japan but also in Korea.
Little did Mitsuru, a manga artist specialising in sports youth fiction who has been drawing H2 since 1992, know that 30 years later, a baseball prodigy would emerge with Hiro and Hideo’s two-hit talent, and that he would be a Japanese who had also competed in the Koshien. The baseball prodigy, who failed to win the Koshien, went on to become one of the best players in the American Major League Baseball (MLB), which brings together the best baseball players from all over the world. This is the story of Shohei Ohtani (29, Los Angeles Angels), a pitcher and a hitter whose name is so aptly described as “Man-Torn” (the man who tore up manga).
WBC 2023 will be Ohtani’s coronation
The 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC), which took place in March this year in the United States, Japan, and Taiwan, was truly a stage for Ohtani, by Ohtani, and for Ohtani. It was his coronation as the “King of Baseball.
Of course, before the 2023 WBC, Ohtani was the best baseball player in the world. In 2021, after returning from injury, Ohtani became the first Asian to be unanimously named American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) after batting .257 with 46 home runs and 100 RBIs as a hitter and going 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA as a pitcher. In 2022, he had a down year as a hitter, batting .273 with 34 homers and 95 RBIs, but was an ace as a pitcher, going 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA. Despite finishing second in MVP voting behind Aaron Judge (31-New York Yankees), who broke Roger Maris’ American League record for most home runs (61) by smacking 62, 2022 was a reminder of the potential of “Tutani” (pitcher Otani).
Japan’s Shohei Ohtani, centre, greets fans as he accepts the WBC championship trophy after Japan defeated the United States in the final of the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC) at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida, U.S., on March 21. AP News
With his dominance on the major league stage, Ohtani naturally became the leader of “Samurai Japan” (the nickname for Japan’s national baseball team) heading into the 2023 WBC. As a batsman, he was part of a clean-up trio as the No. 3 hitter, and as a pitcher, he was the No. 1 ace. In all seven games, “Tatani” (Otani the Hitter) batted .435 with one home run, eight RBIs, and nine runs scored. His OPS, which combines slugging and on-base percentage, was a whopping 1.345 (0.606+0.739). On the mound, he went 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA. With the seven-game sweep, Japan won its third WBC title in as many years, following 2006 and 2009. Not surprisingly, Ohtani was named the tournament MVP.
Closing out the final against the ‘baseball’s dominant nation’ to seal the title for Japan, Ohtani faced his first ever two-hitter against Team USA icon and team-mate Mike Trout in the bottom of the ninth inning with a 3-2 lead. With a full count of 3B-2S, Ohtani struck out Trout on a swinging strike with his signature ‘sweeper’, a play that will be remembered throughout baseball history.
‘King of the Night’ Ohtani takes MLB by storm in 2023
Riding the momentum of the 2023 WBC, Ohtani has been chewing the scenery in the 2023 MLB. Take a look at the MLB individual record standings after the first 10 days of the season and you’ll see Ohtani’s name everywhere. Many of them are at the top of the leaderboard. Ohtani’s “manga baseball” is still a work in progress.
Let’s start with Tatani. Ohtani is first in all of Major League Baseball with 32 home runs, the “flower of baseball”. He is the only player to hit more than 30 home runs in the first half of the season. Thanks to his home run arsenal, he’s also third in RBIs with 71. His ratio stats are also a thing of beauty. His batting average of .302 is 10th overall, but his OPS, which combines slugging and on-base percentage, is 1.050. He’s the only player in the major leagues with a slugging percentage over 6%. Ohtani is the only other hitter with an OPS over 1.000. He also leads the league in quick-footed triples (6), doubles (53), and total bases (226). That’s a lot of batting.
Tutani’s first half performance is somewhat less impressive than Tatani’s. However, since he’s being compared to Ohtani, he’s performing as well as any other ace. He started 17 games in the first half of the season, going 7-4 with a 3.32 ERA (24th). His 132 strikeouts rank fourth overall. One area that stands out is his batting average. At 0.189, he leads all major league pitchers. That’s thanks not only to his four-seam fastball, which tops out at just over 100 mph (160.9 km/h) and averages 97 mph (156.1 km/h), but also to his arsenal of pitches, including his signature sweeper, slider, forkball, curve, sinker, and cutter.
Ohtani is human. There is a downside. In 2021 and 2022, he walked 44 batters in a full season, but this season, he walked 43 batters in the first half of the season alone, which is why his ERA has skyrocketed to the high 3s despite being the least-hittable pitcher in the game. This makes it difficult for him to share the MVP and Cy Young awards.
With the best batting average in MLB and ace-like pitching, Ohtani also leads the league in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 6.5 in the first half, according to Baseball Reference. That makes him a lock for the American League MVP. The WAR gap between Ohtani and the next best player, Ronald Acuña Jr. (Atlanta Braves, 5.1), is 1.4 WAR. For reference, the WAR gap between second-place Aquino and 10th-place Gerrit Cole (New York Yankees, 3.7) in the first half is 1.4 WAR. The majesty of Ohtani’s performance is evident.
Ohtani’s Only Concern: Autumn Baseball Frustration
Ohtani’s only concern is his team’s performance. The Angels were a staple of fall baseball through the 2000s, including winning their first World Series title in 2002, but since the 2010s they have only made the postseason in 2014. Not surprisingly, they have not been invited back since 2018, when Ohtani joined the team.
The Angels looked like they were going to be different this season, winning more than five games in the first half of the year, but they struggled again and ended the first half with a record of 45-46 and a winning percentage below .500.
The second half doesn’t bode well for the Angels either. Teammate Trout, arguably the best hitter in MLB, was diagnosed with a fractured metacarpal in his left hand after being hit by a foul pitch on the 4th. The injury will require four to eight weeks of rehabilitation. Third baseman Anthony Rendon, 33, the team’s highest-paid player at $3.857 million, has become the “go-to guy” with a .236 average with two home runs and 22 RBIs. It’s impossible for Ohtani to lead the Angels to an autumn feast if he struggles.
Ohtani seems to be tired of the situation. “It sucks to lose,” he said at the All-Star Game on the 11th. His loyalty to the Angels seems to have faded.
After this season, Ohtani will be eligible for free agency for the first time in MLB. The Angels have said they will do everything in their power to keep him, but there is no guarantee he will stay with the Angels as he wants to be on a team that can win a World Series.
The Angels would have to sell him to another team before the trade deadline (1 August) in exchange for prospects. Selling Ohtani, who is a pillar in both halves of the lineup, would require the Angels to move all of their top prospects, which is not easy. There’s also no guarantee that Ohtani will stick around after his free agency, as a trade partner would be unlikely to give up a top prospect just to use him in the second half of the season.
“If you look at the general mood in the United States, the Angels need to sell Ohtani, they want to sell him, but they can’t because of this situation,” said Major League Baseball commentator Lee Chang-seop.
First $500 million, then $600 million
Ohtani’s salary this season is $30 million. That’s about $38.1 billion in Korean won, but it’s a ridiculously small amount of money for a player of his calibre. Ohtani’s price tag as a free agent this winter will be one of MLB’s top concerns all season long.
The highest paid MLB pitchers this season are the New York Mets’ veteran duo of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, who at $43.33 million are not only the highest paid pitchers, but the highest paid pitchers overall. Among hitters, Judge, who signed a nine-year, $360 million deal with the Yankees last winter, is third behind Verlander and Scherzer with $40 million this year. The maths suggests that Ohtani, who is at the top of his game as both a pitcher and a hitter, should be paid at least $80 million a year.
The largest contract in MLB is the 12-year, $426.5 million deal that Ohtani’s teammate Trout signed with the Angels in March 2019. In the U.S., the starting value of Ohtani’s free agency total is expected to be $500 million. While $500 million would be a first, it’s not unheard of for it to exceed $600 million.
For example, a 10-year, $600 million contract would mean an average annual salary of $60 million for Ohtani. That’s $30 million for a pitcher and $30 million for a hitter, which isn’t that expensive. There are plenty of pitchers and hitters who are worse than Ohtani or Ohtani who make more than $30 million. The Yankees, Mets, LA Dodgers, and other big clubs are in the running for Ohtani.
“It’s possible that Ohtani could sign a shorter contract, but at a higher average annual salary.