Japanese Dual-Threat Star Shohei Otani Is Set to Take Baseball by Storm
One of the things that helped create the legend of Babe Ruth is that, in addition to being the game's greatest slugger for more than a century, he was also an accomplished pitcher.
The Babe hit 714 career dingers, as everyone knows, leading the league 12 times. His career slugging percentage was .690 and his career OPS was 1.164. But through his age 24 season, Ruth started 24 games and had an ERA of 2.19. When he joined the Yankees, he gave up pitching to focus on his hitting, but he is still regarded as the greatest dual threat in baseball history.
But that may all soon change.
Japanese pitcher Shohei Otani is a 22-year-old star pitcher/designated hitter in the Japanese professional league. He throws in the upper 90s and can touch triple digits on occasion and has a career ERA of 2.49 in 77 starts. He's averaged 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings throughout his career, thanks mainly to offerings like this in his perfect inning against MLB All Stars in the Japan Classic in November of 2014.
Last month, Otani threw a fastball 103 miles per hour, the fastest ever in a Japanese game. He also has a pretty nasty forkball that is in the low-to-mid 90s. He's considered to be the best pitching prospect to come along from Japan since Yu Darvish, and if that were all, we'd still be drooling all over the kid.
But in the three days in between his starts, Otani also stars as the team's designated hitter, where he is one of the premier sluggers in the Japanese league as well. Here he is over the weekend hitting a ball through the Tokyo Dome roof, just a little of his stunning display of power.
So this happened today. Japanese baseball star Shohei Otani hits a fly ball through a 2 foot gap in the roof. Lol the look on the manager. pic.twitter.com/wnRcMCu9q8
— Andy Cole (@AndyCole84) November 14, 2016
And let's not kid ourselves here. The Japanese fences are not what one would call "hitter friendly." So when Otani goes out to dead center field like this, you know the kid has some serious pop.
What you're seeing is a combination of Bryce Harper and Ichiro Suzuki, which is downright scary. In 104 games this season, Otani is batting .322/.416/.588 with a 1.004 OPS, 22 homers, and 18 doubles. He's even got 7 stolen bases in there for good measure. Obviously, all 30 MLB teams would love to get their hands on this kid, and that time may be coming sooner rather than later.
The possibility has been raised that Otani will be posted by his Japanese club, which would then allow MLB teams to post a maximum bid of $20 million for the rights to negotiate a contract with that player. Before 2014, there was no limit as to what a team could post, and in a blind bidding process, the team with the highest post would be granted the exclusive negotiating window to work out a deal with that player.
However, because all 30 teams can offer no more than $20 million in a posting fee and because none of that money is counted towards the team's payroll and is exempt from payroll taxes, all 30 teams will likely post the $20 million, which would then leave it up to Otani to negotiate with every team that put up the $20 million on a long-term contract. An agreement must be reached within 30 days of the posting, or else that player must return to Japan.
Most observers don't think Otani will get posted until next November, but the window exists for another few months. And if he is posted, he will automatically become the most sought-after player, pitcher or hitter, in free agency.
Of course, if and when Otani does play in the Majors, will he continue to work as both a starting pitcher and a hitter? That answer is somewhat murky.
Madison Bumgarner is widely considered to be the best hitting pitcher in baseball, but there has never been an inkling or a thought that he would also hit, mainly because he plays in the National League and playing an outfield position would expose him to injury. It's likely that no National League team, which doesn't have the designated hitter, would be interested in allowing him to play the field during the days off between starts.
At one point, Otani did play some outfield on his off days, but an ankle injury a couple years ago turned him into strictly a designated hitter. So for an American League team, one that has the designated hitter, that might be more of a possibility. And Otani may decide to refuse to sign with any team that won't let him hit in between starts.
There may be another year before teams have to decide how much of a run they want to make at the uber-talented 22-year-old, but one thing is for certain.
Otani would instantly become the most interesting player ever to come from Japan to the Majors. And he would instantly become the most interesting free agent on the market.