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Chasing Babe – Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani is one of the best players in baseball right now. Ohtani comes from a rare breed of athletes who put on a glove, as he’s a legitimate dual-threat player. In baseball, that means he can go to bat and hit the ball hard and often, but also pitch and do so at an elite level.

Players like that are rare, and one of the best examples of this kind of player is arguably also the greatest player to ever live, Babe Ruth. Ruth was both a pitcher and a hitter, but didn’t showcase his prowess until around the 1918 season. Whoever gave the go-ahead for Babe to start hitting more was on to something. In 1918 he led the league in four hitting statistics, including home runs. 

George Herman Ruth was a bomb ready to explode. After he started hitting in 1918, he spent two more years with the Boston Red Sox until he was traded in one of the most famous (or infamous — if you’re a Red Sox fan) trades to ever happen in the sport. Boston traded away Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000; equal to about $1.6 million today. He had led Boston to three championships in six years and was now being shipped off. When he landed in New York, pitching took a backseat and the rest is history. 

Why does any of that matter if we are talking about Shohei Ohtani? Because Ohtani is not only putting up stats similar to Ruth’s pitching stats, but also similar hitting numbers. Shohei signed with the Los Angeles Angels after coming from the NPB League in Japan. One thing that he wanted to make sure about when he joined the MLB was that he would not only be contributing at bat but also on the mound. This practice has been stopped mostly because of inability for pitchers to hit during their start, let alone every single game. Ohtani, however, was touted as a player who was a strong contributor on both sides of the field. 

So has the Japanese star lived up to the hype? After winning the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2018, the star had to go under the knife with Tommy John surgery, which is a dreaded procedure that many pitchers don’t bounce back from. In 2019, to combat reaggravation, he only played as the designated hitter. He had a great year, hitting 18 home runs while sporting a solid .286 batting average. 

This year, however, is by far Ohtani’s best. As of writing this, he has a batting average of .274, an MLB-leading 34 home runs, .679 slugging percentage, also first in the MLB, as well as so many other mind-blowing statistics. Now let’s compare the numbers between Ohatni and what he’s on pace to accomplish against Babe Ruth’s statistics throughout his best years.

Let’s first take a look at a new sabermetric statistic that is used to determine the worth of a hitter using a complex equation. It takes into account both one’s on-base percentage and slugging percentage while taking into account outside factors such as the ballpark. It’s known as OPS+ (Adjusted On-Base Plus Slugging). A 100 OPS+ is considered as average. In Ruth’s best hitting year (1920), he had an outstanding OPS+ of 255; his first year on the Yankees. In 2021, as of right now, Ohtani’s OPS+ is 171, which, though lower, isn’t that far behind and is still quite impressive. In many other statistics, however, like home runs and total bases, Ohtani is beating Ruth in a single year. Shohei is on pace to do even better as predictions for the end of the year grow as he continues to perform. 

As far as the pitching side, Ruth’s best season was 1916 in which he had 23 wins and 12 losses with an Earned Run Average (ERA) of 1.75, which is calculated by dividing the number of earned runs allowed by the number of innings pitched and multiplying by nine. In this 2021 season, by comparison, Ohtani has four wins and only one loss halfway through the season with an ERA of 3.21. These are only basic statistics and the rest of the available statistics show a stronger comparison. 

This year, Shohei Ohtani leads the league in many statistics in both pitching and hitting. He was selected to the All-Star game as pitcher and a hitter, being the first to accomplish this feat. He also competed in the Home Run Derby. He is coming up on the heels of some of the best players to ever lace up a pair of cleats, such as the best ever himself, Babe Ruth.

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