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17 ways to follow Shohei Ohtani’s historic season of two-way stardom

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In your gauzy memories of baseball seasons past, the players reaching historic heights probably came with some sort of tracker. Newspapers would count strikeouts or homers, or count down toward the hallowed record about to fall. The broadcasts would cut in to watch every at-bat that might turn into The Moment.

For the first time in a long time, the 2021 MLB season has a player worthy of that treatment, but the tale of the tape isn’t so simple. Shohei Ohtani’s rollicking pursuit of true two-way stardom — leading MLB in homers as a DH while also serving as the Los Angeles Angels’ ace — is so unheard of that Babe Ruth comparisons have gone from outlandish to understatement in the span of about three months.

If Ohtani’s do-it-all All-Star Game performance was the culmination of a first half spent validating years of hype and erasing any doubt that yes, he can do this, then it was also the kickoff of a whole new phenomenon (a multi-purpose event, in true Ohtani fashion). The rest of the summer will be spent trying to fathom just how incredible his season stands to look in baseball lore.

Unlike those riveting statistical chases, there’s not a singular number to put in the corner of the screen. There are, instead, a bevy of numbers that might illuminate Ohtani’s record book reconfiguration.

To help make sure you don’t miss any of the riveting storylines in the second half, we made a list of 17 ways to follow Ohtani’s historic season.

(Moe Haidar / Yahoo Sports)
(Moe Haidar / Yahoo Sports)

1. Track his home run total

There is one very direct stat to follow, and it would be intriguing even if Ohtani didn’t, you know, pitch. Ohtani leads MLB with 33 homers heading into the second half. With the Angels having played 89 games, that puts him juuuust barely on pace to eclipse the 60-homer mark.

If he were to get there, it would be just the ninth 60-homer campaign in MLB history, and the first since Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa each did it in the record-smashing 2001 season. 

2. Follow him to unprecedented power-speed territory

In addition to the prodigious homers and everything else, Ohtani is fast. He has 12 stolen bases so far — already matching his career-high from 2019 — which puts him in range to break new ground on the power-speed front.

The most stolen bases ever tallied in a 50-homer season is 24, which Alex Rodriguez did in 2007 and Willie Mays in 1955. Ohtani is a bit behind that pace on steals, but not by much.

If he soars to that 60-homer season, the highest steals total in any of them was 18 by Sammy Sosa in 1998.

3. Quantify that ‘Ohtani is everywhere’ feeling

It feels like Ohtani does something ridiculous every night. That’s partially because unleashing his two-way abilities has afforded him more opportunities. Through those 89 Angels games, Ohtani has already taken 343 plate appearances and faced 283 batters. That amounts to 626 overall matchups, or about a full season of your favorite hitter.

The history on this is tough to contextualize since most pitchers have some plate appearances as a hitter, but few are taken seriously like Ohtani’s. His combo of real, important playing time could wind up being among the most ever in a single season.

For a baseline: Babe Ruth had 1,133 PA+BF in his most evenly spread season of hitting and pitching, 1919. Most of the top numbers belong to pitchers from bygone eras who threw 300 innings or more. Ruth himself had 1,455 PA+BF in 1917 when he was still starring on the mound. Sound-hitting pitcher Bob Gibson, in 1969, had 1,397.

4. Watch the WAR accumulate

Ohtani leads MLB with 5.6 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball-Reference. The cumulative metric of overall contribution is one way we can measure his breakout campaign at least somewhat evenly against the greats. He’s probably not going to reach the top of leaderboards — once again populated by players who dominated less advanced eras of baseball — but he could threaten Mookie Betts’ 10.7 WAR from 2018, the high-water mark among active players.

5. Compare Ohtani and Jacob deGrom

Amusingly, if Ohtani didn’t exist, we might be hailing Jacob deGrom's season as an all-around tour de force. The Mets ace — chasing Bob Gibson’s modern ERA record — leads all pitchers in hits by a country mile. He’s batting .364 with six RBIs, and may turn this season’s MVP awards into a sweep for guys who can do both.

6. Hold up his season against Mike Trout’s best

The reigning best player in baseball is, of course, Ohtani’s teammate. Still just 29 years old, Mike Trout is second among active players in WAR, and has put up 6.9 WAR or more in every single full season he has played. He has four 9+ WAR seasons and two different 10.5 WAR peak years.

7. Break Ohtani’s production into its parts

One fascinating way to untangle Ohtani’s absurd production is to simply pretend, for a moment, that he’s two different players.

Ohtani the hitter’s line right now is .279/.364/.698 with that aforementioned mix of power and speed. The thrilling young MVP contender who led off against him in the All-Star Game, Fernando Tatis Jr., is running a stunningly similar .286/.364/.656 slash with 28 homers and 20 steals. 

Tatis plays an eye-catching shortstop, to be sure, but he’s not simultaneously mirroring Lance McCullers Jr.’s season as a pitcher.

DENVER, CO - JULY 12:  Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays pose for a picture during the 2021 T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Coors Field on Monday, July 12, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
All-time two-way greatness or a Triple Crown threat? The AL MVP race is already a two-man race between Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

8. Revel in his AL MVP race with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Remember when Trout squared off with Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in a sport-consuming MVP race? Well, gear up for the Ohtani version if Toronto Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. maintains his breakneck pace at the plate. By the odds at BetMGM, it’s already a two-man race.

9. Make the Ichiro connection

If Ohtani can outrun Guerrero for the AL MVP hardware, he’d become just the second Japanese player to win the sport’s top award, following in the footsteps of Ichiro Suzuki.

Ohtani has said he grew up idolizing Ichiro — who took the league by storm in a jaw-dropping 2001 season that saw him collect Rookie of the Year and MVP honors — and was emotional when the Mariners legend retired in 2019. Ichiro, for his part, was always aware of Ohtani’s potential.

“Shohei needs to be the world’s greatest player,” he told reporters then.

10. Rate his dominant splitter

On the mound, Ohtani’s signature out pitch is a baffling splitter that is inducing whiffs 29.6% of the time it’s thrown. That’s in an elite tier alongside Kevin Gausman’s splitter and not too far behind deGrom’s world-beating slider (35%) among the best offerings in the bigs.

11. Keep an eye on his refined pitching approach

An improving feel for pitching, to be expected after so much injury-induced start and stop at the beginning of his American career, has helped Ohtani’s two-way ambitions stick in 2021. 

Outside of a nightmare outing in New York, he has averaged more than five-and-a-half innings per start. He has reigned in a four-seam fastball that can reach triple digits when he wants it to, keeping the heater around 95 mph and logging more pitches in the zone and more swings than ever.

12. Sound the alarm for his appearances in the outfield

So far, Ohtani has played five games and a total of 6 1/3 innings in the outfield. Who doesn’t want to see more of that speed and that arm used on defense?

13. Count the triples

Speaking of the speed … Ohtani currently leads the AL with four triples.

14. Tally the total bases

Plus, he leads baseball in total bases, which is a nifty, underrated stat if you want to measure sheer dominance at the plate.

15. See if he achieves Statcast superiority

For a more scientific elucidation of Ohtani’s status as a complete athlete, we can turn to Statcast. So far this season, he has a league-leading six homers with exit velocities of 115 mph or more.

And only Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton has hit a baseball harder than this double that came off the bat at 119 mph.

16. Make your own Sho-time pun

Sho-time. Sho-case. Sho him the money. Start the Sho. MLB The Sho. Create your own, add it to the internet’s frenzied festival of Ohtani love, and enjoy.

17. Watch minds get blown

Having thoroughly won the admiration of the baseball world, Ohtani is expanding his reach into the national consciousness.

Kevin Durant and J.J. Watt are already sold, and this may be the real impact of Ohtani’s all-everything 2021: Enlivening the world to new possibilities in baseball. Exciting new ground often fuels baseball’s crossover moments: The McGwire-Sosa home run battle, DiMaggio’s hitting streak, etc. That sort of territory has been hard to find in the years since the Steroid Era, and Ohtani is an unusually gifted pioneer bent on exploring it. So, no, he’s not in hot pursuit of any one easily identifiable record, but Ohtani stands to achieve something much, much bigger.

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