by Elan Berger
Batters don’t pitch. Pitchers don’t bat. These statements are generally accepted in the world of baseball. There are sometimes pitchers like Madison Bumgarner who manage to hit a couple of home runs in a season, and Bartolo Colon recently showed us the pinnacle of a pitcher's hitting ability. Also, batters will occasionally pitch a few outs when their team has exhausted their bullpen. In recent memory, Ichiro Suzuki tossed an inning for the Marlins. But not in many years have we seen a player who can both hit and pitch successfully.
Now we have Shohei Otani. The Japanese phenom posted a .322 batting average and 1.86 ERA in 2016, his last full season in the Japanese league. His 2017 season was hindered by injuries, though he produced comparable numbers in the games he did play in.
As a player who can put up all-star caliber statistics as both a pitcher and a hitter, the prospect of Otani playing in the MLB is extremely exciting for both teams and fans. The 23-year-old has been touted as the “Japanese Babe Ruth,” and it’s not difficult to see why. His batting stats are similar to those of Mike Trout and his pitching stats are akin to Clayton Kershaw’s. Despite the excitement around Otani, his move to the MLB does raise some questions.
How often will he pitch? When he pitches, will he play in the outfield the next day? When he plays in the outfield, will he pitch the next day? If he’s doing so much, his risk for injury is increased, right?
All of these variables must be considered by managers and team leadership when deciding whether or not to pursue Otani. But despite the unknowns, it is difficult to imagine a team passing up on the opportunity to sign him. Besides his enormous potential, Otani is attractive because he can’t be paid the astronomical numbers that international prospects before him like Yoan Moncada have been paid. Because he is under the age of 25, Otani’s signing bonus and salary are restricted under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement.
By coming to baseball this year instead of waiting until he is 25, Otani is voluntarily forfeiting millions of dollars that he would have the potential to earn. Otani says, "I am not yet a complete player, and I want to go to an environment where I can continue to get better. I felt the same way when I graduated from high school. And it is my strongest reason for wanting to go now." Otani considered going to the MLB out of high school, but the Nippon Ham Fighters guaranteed him that he could both pitch and play outfield. As he transitions to the MLB now, Otani says that he has a strong desire to continue pitching and playing outfield.
Though many questions surround Otani’s move to the MLB, there is a lot to be said for his desire to improve upon his skills and have the best possible opportunities in baseball rather than getting paid. When all is said and done, baseball fans will be excited to watch Otani, whichever team signs him will be excited to have him, and the MLB will have gained a talented young player.