The Ohtani Hype Train Is Boarding and Tickets Aren’t Cheap
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
All aboard!!! Choo chooooo!!!
Ohtani the Tank Engine is full steam ahead, folks. This thing is going at Amtrak rates of speed right now. If we’re not careful, this steam locomotive is going to blow its top, climb up to 88 and go flying into Shonash, Clayton, Eastwood Ravine.
One book just re-posted their American League MVP odds and Shohei Ohtani is the favorite. He’s not just the favorite, he is priced at +150.
You can bet on several MLB teams to win at +150 on a nightly basis and get the same payout you would for assuming Ohtani keeps pitching at a Cy Young level, keeps hitting at more than a 1.000 OPS clip and stays healthy for the next six months. If you bet on him at this price, you’re my enemy.
I admit, Ohtani is better than I thought. In fact, much better than I thought, considering I specifically said not to take him for MVP before the season began when he was +10000. I guess his odds have improved a little … and by a little, I mean a swing in implied probability from 0.99% to 40%.
That’s right, in one week oddsmakers have concluded that Ohtani is better than his teammate Mike Trout. Better than Jose Altuve. The best player in baseball after two starts and 19 trips to the plate.
Ohtani has been great both at the plate and on the mound, but he is not going to continue to produce at this pace. In both starts, he’s faced the Oakland Athletics, a team expected to win 75 or so games with a below-average offense for the American League. His stuff has been terrific, and he is looking like the real deal as a pitcher, but don’t let his perfect game bid cloud your mind.
His bat is where I have my concerns. No more than a month ago, Major League scouts were saying that he was not a big-league hitter. If this were any other normal player, he would probably be in the minors. He has made some adjustments to his stance, leg kick and swing, but pitchers are going to be adjusting as well. As Fangraphs noted this morning, pitchers are already trying to exploit the hole in his swing on the inner half of the plate but have just made some mistakes to this point.
Ohtani has hit in four games so far and has homered in his past three. He’s homered on three of the four fly balls he’s hit. Not sustainable whatsoever.
Let’s just do some math to try to figure out what an MVP season from Ohtani might take.
First, let’s look at how good of a pitcher he would have to be. Pitchers can win MVPs occasionally without producing anything at the plate, but that is a rarity. In the American League, the feat has happened just twice in the past 25 years. Pedro Martinez didn’t even win it in 1999 when he posted a 2.07 ERA at the height of the steroid era. Though there weren’t really advanced stats at the time, that season by Martinez is the best pitching season in MLB history per Fangraphs.
With that said, we don’t expect him to win based just on pitching merit alone, but he would have to be a top-five pitcher in the AL. Perhaps better, considering the fifth-best AL pitcher — James Paxton — produced an fWAR of just 4.6. The past five AL MVPs have had fWARs of 7.3, 9.6, 8.7, 8.3 and 8.6, and Trout was screwed on a couple of those.
Given Ohtani’s current workload, we can expect him to be in the lineup about half of the time or potentially more if he continues to mash homers at a ridiculous pace. Even if he’s able to get 400 plate appearances, his value at the plate would be limited unless he produces David Ortiz-type numbers.
In this decade, there have been 87 qualified hitters at the DH position and 71 have had at least a 100 wRC+ — or league average. Some of the best seasons at the position posted by Ortiz, Victor Martinez and Nelson Cruz have resulted in only 4-5 fWAR, and that is with a full season of plate appearances. It would be surprising if Ohtani was able to reach the 2 fWAR level of production at the plate.
You also have to consider the fact that if he does hit at a league-average mark or slightly better, that isn’t really doing the Angels a huge favor because that is expected from the DH position. They could have him focus on pitching and stroll out another DH and get the same results if that ends up being the case.
So … even if he was a top-tier arm and DH, he might not reach seven wins above replacement, which is admittedly not the be-all end-all, but it’s a good measuring stick. Aaron Judge, Jose Altuve, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber all surpassed that number last year, with Mike Trout a tick behind in about three-fourths of a season.
I’m excited to watch #OhtaniMania continue and am interested to see if he can keep it up, but it would be a tall task for him to win MVP. I think he would probably need to win the Cy Young and put up well-above-average hitting stats, but who knows how the voters will feel since this has never really been done. I guess there is a first time for everything.
Just do yourself a favor, don’t bet on this happening at such a terrible payout.