Convention would say to have Tommy John surgery as soon as possible. After Shohei Ohtani further injured his elbow in a three inning start in Houston last weekend, Ohtani’s fears were confirmed on Wednesday. But with a player like Shohei Ohtani, nothing is really conventional.
The two-way Japanese phenom has been drawing comparisons to Babe Ruth for years. And he showed why in his first season in the majors. Ohtani’s main contributions have come at the plate, where he boasts a 157 OPS+. Fueled by his immense power, Ohtani has been able to hit 19 home runs and slug an impressive .586.
But don’t profile Ohtani as a pure power hitter. He is the total package with a .287/.367/.586 slash line, and has been a threat on the base paths as well, with seven stolen bases. He has the power and speed to be an elite player.
All of this is what makes the Angels decision all the more difficult. Do they postpone surgery, have it as soon as possible, or try to get Ohtani to abandon pitching altogether?
Option 1: Have surgery immediately
As the most used method regarding injuries such as Ohtani’s, this would be the expected route. This would give Ohtani around 16 months to rehab and get back into game shape. The Angels could even try to bring him back as early as late next September if his recovery went exceptionally well, but that would be pushing it.
Shohei Ohtani is still considered a rookie, and will not reach arbitration until 2021. With such a long-term investment like Ohtani, it makes sense to let him take 12-16 months off and get fully back into shape before he plays again. But, Ohtani is not the only one with something riding on his play.
The Angels only have Mike Trout for two more seasons. Signed to a six year $145.2M deal three years ago, many believed that Mike Trout would be able to guide the Angels back into playoff contention before he reached free agency.
Three years through that six year deal, and that is looking more and more unlikely. If the Angels want to fully utilize Mike Trout’s potential, they need to get him into the playoffs. And Shohei Ohtani would certanily have to be a key part of that playoff push.
Option 2: Abandon pitching altogehter
After limited time on the mound, Ohtani was still able to show signs of ace potential. Over 51.2 innings this season, Ohtani posted a 3.31 ERA and an impressive 11.0 strikeout per nine rate. But it was a four game stretch in May that proved to be Ohtani’s shining moment on the mound.
Through four times in the rotation, Ohtani made all four of his scheduled starts. He also went a perfect 2-0 and would pitch to a 2.23 ERA. His stuff also proved deceptive, striking out 31 over 25.0 innings. This was the Ohtani we had all heard stories about. So why would either the Angels or Ohtani consider abandoning pitching?
Ohtani struggled in every other month but May. In a combined 26.2 innings, Ohtani gave up 13 earned runs, compared to just six in his 25.0 innings in May. Add in Ohtani’s dominance at the plate, and you get a decision that isn’t as easy as it looks.
While Ohtani is still able to provide offense for the Angels while injured, it was his pitching that the Angels needed the most. The Angels have been without a true ace since Jered Weaver in 2014. Ohtani was supposed to be that next ace. But it is still unsure if he will develop into that.
While this may sound like an outlandish idea, the postponement of Ohtani’s Tommy John surgery does lead to some questions. Why would they play him even though they are out of contention? Does he have anything left to prove after a stellar 83 game offensive sample?
Option 3: Postpone surgery
This seems to be the option the Angels are going with. Ohtani told reporters that he will finish the season as the Angels DH. And with the way Ohtani has been hitting lately, it’s not that hard to understand their decision.
In his last 28 games, Ohtani has been producing like no other. He has a Ruthian slash line of .347/.439/.816 over 57 plate appearances. He has also helped fill the void that Albert Pujols left after succumbing to another injury. Even so, should Ohtani still keep playing?
Even just below .500 at 69-72, the Angels are buried deep in the standings. They are 16 games back of the second AL Wildcard spot, and 19.5 back from the Astros in the AL West. This would give credence to the notion of getting Ohtani as much rest as they can.
But the Angels, and Ohtani it seems, do not care about the standings. Even with nothing to play for, Ohtani is still getting ABs with a torn UCL in his pitching elbow.
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