Ohtani's Hitting Far Exceeds His Pitching
ALSO: BASEBALL AUTHORS WILL SPEAK, SIGN BEFORE ALL-STAR GAME
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Did You Know?
Dean Stone once won an All-Star Game without throwing a pitch (1954 at Cleveland). The rookie southpaw of the Washington Senators was inserted in the eighth inning to face lefty-hitting Duke Snider with runners on the corners and the NL ahead, 9-8. As Stone went into his stretch, Red Schoendienst tried to steal home. The pitcher stepped off and threw to catcher Yogi Berra, who tagged the incoming runner. When Larry Doby homered in the last of the eighth (the first All-Star homer by a black player), Stone became the pitcher of record in a game the AL eventually won, 11-9.
The long and short of it: two All-Star Games have lasted 15 innings (Anaheim in 1967 and Yankee Stadium in 2008) and one went only 5 (Philadelphia’s Shibe Park in 1952).
New York has hosted a record nine All-Star Games: four at Yankee Stadium, two at the Polo Grounds, and one each at Ebbets Field, Shea Stadium, and CitiField.
In 1959, the first of four years when baseball staged two All-Star Games to raise funds for the players’ pension fund, Don Drysdale started both of them for the National League. The only pitcher to start two All-Star Games in the same season, he got a loss and a no-decision.
Longevity counts: Warren Spahn was an All-Star 17 times, a record for a pitcher, and the only pitcher to start All-Star Games in three different decades.
Shohei, can’t you see?
The Angels’ two-way star belongs on one side only—and it isn’t the mound
By Jeff Kallman
Co-hosting MLB Now, Brian Kenny had the audacity to suggest that it’s time to consider restricting Shohei Ohtani to one or another role, and that the role should not be pitching. If you’re dying to blow up social media, which is just what Kenny’s commentary did, that’s one way to do it.
All season long, with Ohtani enjoying a full one so far, we’ve been hammered by the hype. The once-in-a-dozen-generations two-way star. The guy who’s going to put Babe Ruth in his place. The guy who can pin you back on the mound one minute and blast you to smithereens at the plate the next.
There’s just one problem with that. Yes, Ohtani can pitch—if you think a fielding-independent pitching rate a mere .61 below the league average makes him Jacob deGrom. Or if you think looking like a virtuoso one minute and a walk machine the next equals a Hall of Famer in the making.
Ohtani looks better on the mound than he really is because his team’s pitching staff doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of batsmen everywhere — or anywhere. The team ERA is 4.98; the starters’ ERA is 4.83—without Ohtani’s 3.49 factored in. The good news is that Ohtani has an 11.7 strikeout-per-nine rate. The bad news is that he has a 4.7 walks-per-nine rate.
You’ll probably hate me for saying this, but those numbers are only slightly better on both ends than legendary minor league howitzer Steve Dalkowski’s four best cumulative seasons — in A-level ball. We’re talking about the best starting pitcher the Angels have right now.
Then Ohtani checks in at the plate. And hits ten tons. All of a sudden, the guy who’s barely better than Steve Dalkowski on the mound becomes Babe Ruth because it just so happens that he can also pitch a little with an ERA and FIP barely under four. Never mind that Ruth didn’t really become Ruth until he got his wish to move to the outfield full-time so that he could hit full time.
“Why would you stop him from doing one or the other,” an indignant New York Post columnist, Joel Sherman, demanded of Kenny?
“Because,” Kenny replied, “one could damage the other . . . He could thrive as your best offensive player. His ERA now is 3.60 If you can get that and .600 slugging, and he does both healthy, that’s great . . . [Ruth] became Babe Ruth when he was allowed to flourish offensively.”
Indeed. But Sherman remained just as relentless. “So you would like one of the 15-20 best starting pitchers in baseball to stop starting because you’re worried about something that could happen?”
“Yes,” Kenny said. “And you can see things happening to him on the field that could lead to a breakdown.”
Presumably, both referred to the injury factor. It’s not an unrealistic prospect. Ohtani isn’t exactly the hardest-throwing pitcher in the game. But he could still do something to his service shoulder, elbow, or arm that compromises his swing, even being a right-handed pitcher but a left-handed batter. He could still do something swinging the bat or running the bases that compromises him on the mound. It’s not unheard of.
DeGrom himself spent time out of action twice this season thanks to side issues caused by . . . swinging the bat. Adam Wainwright hasn’t been the same pitcher since he tore his Achilles tendon . . . running the bases. Max Fried missing three weeks after pulling a hamstring on the basepaths.
More pitchers than you think or care to think about get hurt on the offensive side of the ball. But what would happen to the Angels’ already inconsistent offense if Ohtani has to miss significant time on the injured list for any reason?
News flash: Ohtani isn’t even one of the Show’s top 20 pitchers in ERA terms. At this writing, he’s 34th. Or, in FIP terms, he’s tied for 30th.
At the plate it’s a very different story. He leads the entire Show with his .692 slugging percentage and he’s third with his 1.113 OPS. He’s also third with his 176 OPS+. Whether he’d be there if his storied teammate Mike Trout wasn’t on the injured list with a calf injury, nobody can know for certain.
That’s all without mentioning that, at this writing, Ohtani leads the Show with 31 home runs and has a shot at passing Ruth, Roger Maris, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds for single-season bombardment.
I get the hungering and hankering for someone like Ohtani, the so-called two-way player. I get that baseball has done such a terrible job finding and promoting its stars that Ohtani presents a brilliant opportunity entirely on his own. That’s great for the gate and the press. “Shut up and let us enjoy the ride,” Joe and Jane Fan holler at the Brian Kennys.
But it isn’t smart baseball.
Smart baseball requires the maximum placement of a player into the maximum position to do the best he has to help his team win with the least risk possible. It requires Shohei Ohtani to spend his complete days at the serious work of play at the plate. Do you really want a roll call of outsize talents ruined because the gate and the hype were allowed to override if not steamroll the game?
A man walking four batters per nine innings on the mound is a risk that really reduces his value from 11 to seven strikeouts per nine. The same man with a .745 real batting average in 2021 so far (total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) is a man who can out-hit your pitching staff’s liabilities.
Go right ahead and keep up the two-way hype if it makes you happy.
Personally, I’d have loved nothing more than to see Ohtani live up to it both ways. Don’t mistake me. But I knew in my gut it wasn’t realistic.
In a saner time and place, a team administration that couldn’t see the big, big, big difference in the healthy Ohtani between what he does on the mound and what he does at the plate would be thrown overboard faster than an Ohtani home run travels from bat to bleachers.
Jeff Kallman is an IBWAA Life Member who writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research, for whom he is now one of the editors of their Games Project, plus The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He has lived in Las Vegas since 2007 and has been a Met fan since the day they were born.
Big Denver Bookstore Presents All-Star Authors of Baseball Books
By Dan Schlossberg
Like Ozzie Albies, who said he was thrilled to make the National League’s All-Star roster, I was delighted to be included on the roster of baseball book authors speaking about the state of the game and signing at The Tattered Cover at 5 p.m. MST Sunday.
The bookstore, located in McGregor Square directly across from Coors Field, has several different branches. But the Coors Field location has been stocking up on baseball books in advance of the All-Star Game, slated for the Lower Downtown bookseller two days after presenting the panel of writers.
The event, which will be followed by book signings, also features Tyler Kepner, John Shea, Jared Diamond, Jayson Stark, Keith Law, Robert Whiting, and Buster Olney. A similar panel will be held the day before but I won’t be there yet.
Authors on the panel will examine the game at the halfway point and try to explain why there are so many strikeouts and no-hitters, a potential Triple Crown winner (Vladimir Guerrero Jr.), a throwback to Babe Ruth (Shohei Ohtani) and a 76-year-old manager (Tony LaRussa) who has a team he first managed in 1979 in first place.
All-Star games always have ancillary activities, including a gala party the night before, an invitation-only brunch on Monday morning, a celebrity softball game, a “futures” game featuring minor-league stars, a FanFest-type event featuring celebrity autographs, and a red carpet parade where spectators can see and photographs this year’s All-Stars. This year’s events roster also includes a fund-raising 5K race.
For me, the All-Star Game is both a professional obligation (for which I obtained media credentials) and a social event — a chance to visit with baseball friends I may see only once or twice a year.
The game itself has lost its former luster, as participants no longer care whether they win or lose. Inter-league play, plus the abolition of the league offices and presidents, has taken care of that. So has the fan vote, which allows teams to plug hometown heroes rather than the most deserving players in the league.
This year’s contest, which had been scheduled for Atlanta, will also include a tribute to the late Hank Aaron, who died in January just weeks before his 87th birthday. He was an All-Star 25 times, more than any other player, and holds the records for total bases, runs batted in, and a long list of others too extensive to list here.
Coors Field, perhaps the most photogenic ballpark on the planet, has seats that are exactly one-mile high, food stands that serve such exotic fare as Rocky Mountain oysters, and breath-taking views of the real Colorado Rockies. It’s also accessible via streetcar (aka light-rail) or even by foot (five short blocks from the 15th Street pedestrian mall).
Because of the thin air and low humidity, curve balls don’t curve but baseballs travel 10 per cent further than they do at sea level. A 400-footer in New York equals a 440-foot wallop in Denver.
The outfield, built to accommodate the conditions, is by far the biggest in the bigs — creating more room for doubles, triples, and ridiculous scores.
No lead is safe there. The Rockies have twice rebounded from nine-year deficits and recovered from an eight-run hole three times. On July 4, 2008, they won an 18-17 games from the Marlins with the two teams combining for 43 hits, 20 of them for extra bases, in addition to 35 runs. There were eight home runs in the game.
In 1998, the only other time the All-Stars met there, the leagues combined for 21 runs, the highest total in All-Star history (the AL won, 13-8). No league has ever scored more than 13 runs in a game (the AL has done it three times) but that record could fall with a vengeance with so many sluggers playing Home Run Derby in the actual All-Star Game.
Suffice to say the Rockies once hit seven home runs in one game and also gave up seven in another. These All-Stars could do that easily, especially since they combined for a record 10 home runs — five by each league — just three years ago in Washington.
Consider these examples of craziness at Coors, which has been called everything from Coors Canaveral to a pinball machine of a ballpark:
On Oct. 1, 2007, when the Colorado Rockies faced the San Diego Padres in a sudden-death playoff for the NL wild-card, the game was 6-6 until the 13th, when the Pads pushed across a pair of runs. But future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman blew the save and game, yielding doubles to Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki, a triple to Matt Holliday, and a sac fly to the otherwise-forgettable Jamey Carroll.
Opened in 1995, Coors Field holds the record for most home runs hit in a season (303 during the 81 home games of the 1999 season). The average score that year was 8-7.
Thanks to the hitter-friendly dimensions, the Rockies have had eight batting champs — including Larry Walker three times — and nine players who hit for the cycle. The team also had six home run kings, including Nolan Arenado (now with St. Louis) three times.
Walker won an MVP trophy in 1997 and Hall of Fame election — a first for a player from the Rockies — in 2020. A five-time All-Star himself, he’ll be at the festivities this year as a participant in the celebrity softball game (and probably honorary captain of the NL All-Stars).
Writers almost denied Walker his Cooperstown berth, stating that the home-and-road splits of Rockies hitters are disjointed. From 2012-25, the team led the leagu in runs scored at home but was last in runs scored on the road.
Walker had to wait an extra year for his induction, thanks to the pandemic, but will finally get his plaque two days after Labor Day, the rescheduled date for this year’s ceremonies.
Colorado fans will turn out for both the inductions and the All-Star Game. The Rockies hold attendance records for Opening Day (80,227) and a season (4,483,350) but were helped by old Mile High Stadium, a converted football stadium that is now a parking lot. Capacity at Coors is 50,144 and every seat will be taken Tuesday — except when spectators are waiting in line for Rocky Mountain oysters (don’t ask).
I’m looking forward to the entire experience. After Covid strangled baseball for more than a year, it would be really nice to return to normal. Or at least as normal as the conditions at Coors allow.
HERE’S THE PITCH weekend editor Dan Schlossberg writes, talks, eats, and sleeps baseball. The author of 38 books, he contributes to forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Ball Nine, and Sports Collectors Digest, among others. E.mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first All-Star Game RBI was collected by a pitcher (Lefty Gomez in 1933) . . .
Five pitchers started All-Star Games for both leagues: Vida Blue, Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson, and Max Scherzer . . .
Lefty Gomez, Robin Roberts, and Chris Sale are the only pitchers to start three consecutive All-Star Games . . .
If Gerrit Cole starts the 2021 game for the American League, it will be the 12th time a member of the Yankees staff opened the game (the Dodgers lead the NL with 11) . . .
Lefty Gomez, Robin Roberts, and Don Drysdale share the record for the most All-Star starts by a pitcher (5) . . .
Former All-Stars Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer won’t be in Denver for the All-Star Game. The former just went on the IL with left forearm inflammation, while Bauer was placed on paid seven-day administrative leave after a woman accused him of sexual assault and obtained a temporary restraining order, clouding his future. The Dodgers are also without budding star Dustin May, who tore his ulnar collateral ligament May 1 and is out for the season . . .
A rainout gave Jacob deGrom a golden opportunity to start the 2021 All-Star Game for the NL but the Mets ace, who hates pitching in Coors Field, declined — a disgraceful, unsportsmanlike decision that should offend all true baseball fans.
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