Is Shohei Otani the Next Babe Ruth?
Turning heads from across the sea, Shohei Otani is working this way through Japanese baseball with his two-way dominance. Only four seasons into his career and many are comparing him to the Babe.
Even without his appearance in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, the baseball world knows the name Shohei Otani. With his wide-variety of menacing pitches, including a high-90s fastball, he is ranked as the top pitcher in Japanese baseball. Not only that, but his 6’ 3” stature and unteachable knack for baseball makes him a dangerous threat at the plate. Otani makes being a two-way ballplayer look easy.
With only four years in the Japanese Pacific League, many are comparing Otani’ thorough dominance to that of Babe Ruth. During his rookie season with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2013, Otani went 3-0 with a 4.23 ERA through 11 starts. At the dish, he finished the season with a .238 batting average and 20 RBIs in 204 plate appearances.
“Hitting and pitching, it’s the only baseball I know. Doing only one and not the other doesn’t feel natural to me,” Otani said (per sportsnet.ca). “I suppose it’s an accomplishment—I’m doing what others are not. But, to me, this is just normal.”
After an up-and-down pair of seasons, Otani busted in 2016 with the most successful season of his career. Across 382 plate appearances, he batted .322 with a career-high 22 homers. On the mound, he went 10-4 with a microscopic 1.86 ERA and averaged 11.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings. Not only was he named the NBP Pacific League’s best pitcher, but also their best designated hitter.
The Next Babe?
Before his historic trade to the New York Yankees, Ruth was the last ballplayer to truly dominate baseball on both sides of the field. As a member of the Boston Red Sox, the Babe averaged 16 wins per season, including a pair of 20-win seasons in 1916 and 1917. Along with his 23-12 record, he posted a career-low 1.75 ERA that led the American League in 1916.
All the while, the Babe struck fear into his fellow major league pitchers with the might of his swing. During his two-way seasons, Ruth batted .308 with 49 homers and .413 OBP.
Following his trade to the Yankees, Ruth chose to solely commit to the plate and smashed his way into the baseball history books. When evaluating the quality of ballplayers today, Ruth is still the standard to be reached.
While only a few have tried to emulate Ruth’s two-way success, Otani has the most potential to match or outshine the Babe. In the meantime, the major leagues eagerly await the arrival of possibly baseball’s next two-way sensation, which could come to pass within the next couple years.
“I’ve always had a desire to play in the majors,” Otani said (per sportsnet.ca). “I don’t know exactly when that’s going to be. But when I feel ready to go, I’ll go.”
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