Does the Addition of Shohei Ohtani Make the Angels a Playoff Team?
It's not often one player can be enough to push a team into the MLB postseason, but when you're talking about Japan's version of Babe Ruth, things are different.
Shohei Ohtani shocked the baseball world by signing with the Los Angeles Angels over perceived favorites like the New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers, joining two-time MVP Mike Trout and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols in the City of Angels.
How significant is this move? The Angels have just added what could be a generational talent to their roster overnight.
Shohei Ohtani represents the first player we have ever ranked among @MLB's Top 10 prospects at two different positions 👀
OF: https://t.co/wwZghuGwK3 pic.twitter.com/521n0Mxmtj
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) December 9, 2017
At Ohtani's introductory press conference, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the team is planning to use him as a two-way player, meaning time at designated hitter and the outfield in between starts. As a pitcher, Ohtani features a fastball that reaches 100 miles per hour in addition to a forkball and slider -- all of which make him a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher right now. In 543 career innings in Japan (82 starts), Ohtani had a 2.69 ERA, averaging 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.3 walks per nine with a WHIP of 1.08.
Offensively, Ohtani has raw power that makes him a potential middle-of-the-order bat, as well. In 1,170 career plate appearances in Japan, he hit .286/.358/.500 with 48 home runs and 70 doubles, good for an OPS of .859. In an injury-shortened season last year, he batted .332/.403/.540 with 8 homers and 16 doubles in 65 games, and in 2016. he slugged 22 bombs in 104 games with a slash line of .332/.416/.588.
If Ohtani performs at a similar level in 2018, how much closer does he get the Angels to the postseason?
Last year, Los Angeles went a surprising 80-82, finishing 5 games behind the Minnesota Twins for the second wild card spot in the American League. If Ohtani puts up a pitching line similar to the one he did in 2016, when he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 140 innings, he could be a five-to-six-win player for the Angels right now. Take a look at some of the other top pitching performances from last year and their fWAR totals.
Of course, it's not as easy as assuming Ohtani's production from Japan will translate seamlessly to the MLB. There will undoubtedly be a period of adjustment for Ohtani this season, and the Angels could go with a six-man rotation, which is what he was used to in Japan. It's easier to be a two-way player if you're only pitching once a week, but that could also cut into his WAR totals. Nevertheless, if Ohtani's numbers translate to the bigs, he could land anywhere in the 4.0-win total, surrounded by the rest of the game's elite pitchers.
That would conservatively put the Angels at around 84 wins. Let's say he also added another win above replacement with his offensive skills (being conservative), that puts L.A. at 85 wins and in the wild card conversation.
Also consider that the Angels got to 80 wins last year with Trout missing 48 games. Over the last five seasons, Trout has averaged 9.3 fWAR, and he finished with 6.9 fWAR last year. Add another two wins (for a full season of healthy Trout), and the Angels are at 87 wins. Outfielder Justin Upton, who was added to the team at the trade deadline last year and played just 27 games for Los Angeles, tallied 0.5 of his 5.7 WAR with the Angels, meaning a full season of Upton could add a couple more wins to the Angels' total. Now, you're looking at a 90+ win team, which is certainly good enough for the postseason conversation.
All in all, the Angels appear to be a serious contender in the loaded American League.
Again, it's impossible to know how Ohtani's numbers from Japan will translate to the MLB. It's also unclear how often he'll be in the everyday lineup when he's not on the mound. When he's in the lineup, he'll likely be taking away at bats from Pujols (at DH) or Kole Calhoun (on days he plays right field).
But if he Ohtani is as good as advertised, he can turn the Angels into a legitimate playoff contender, and there were no other free agents on the market who could do that.
Add in that he's just 23 years old, and the Los Angeles Angels may have already won the offseason.