Otaniís Future Home

October 11, 2017

 

Shohei Otani is perhaps the most exciting baseball talent since Babe Ruth. That seems like hyperbole but when you consider that the 23-year old pitching phenom with the 100-mph fastball also won last yearís All-Star game home run derby, and for the past two seasons has hit .326/411/.570 with 30 home runs in 525 at bats, one begins to get a sense that very few people who are still living have ever seen talent of this caliber. And given that he appears to be coming over to play in the majors despite signing rules that prevent him from getting a contract of greater than $10 million, it seems redundant to suggest that every team will do everything it can to roster him including letting him play both sides of the ball, both on the mound and in the field. That is, after all, his greatest wish.

 

To get a sense of how good a pitcher he is, letís compare his age 18-22 seasons with those of two other Japanese imports who have enjoyed great success in the majors, Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish:

 

Year

M. Tanaka

Age

G

W

L

CG

SHO

PCT

BF

IP

H

HR

BB

HB

SO

WP

BK

R

ER

ERA

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

HR/9

K/9

BB/K

2007

Rakuten

18

28

11

7

4

1

0.611

800

186.33

183

17

68

7

196

10

1

83

79

3.82

1.347

8.84

3.28

0.82

9.47

2.88

2008

Rakuten

19

25

9

7

5

2

0.563

726

172.67

171

9

54

2

159

6

0

71

67

3.49

1.303

8.91

2.81

0.47

8.29

2.94

2009

Rakuten

20

25

15

6

6

3

0.714

771

189.67

170

13

43

7

171

3

0

51

49

2.33

1.123

8.07

2.04

0.62

8.11

3.98

2010

Rakuten

21

20

11

6

8

1

0.647

643

155.00

159

9

32

5

119

1

0

47

43

2.50

1.232

9.23

1.86

0.52

6.91

3.72

 

 

 

98

46

26

23

7

0.639

3012

703.67

683

48

197

21

645

20

1

252

238

3.04

1.251

8.74

2.52

0.61

8.25

3.27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year

Y. Darvish

Age

G

W

L

CG

SHO

PCT

BF

IP

H

HR

BB

HB

SO

WP

BK

R

ER

ERA

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

HR/9

K/9

BB/K

2005

Hokkaido

18

14

5

5

2

1

0.500

428

94.33

97

7

48

0

52

2

0

37

37

3.53

1.537

9.25

4.58

0.67

4.96

1.08

2006

Hokkaido

19

25

12

5

3

2

0.706

641

149.67

128

12

64

0

115

5

1

55

48

2.89

1.283

7.70

3.85

0.72

6.92

1.80

2007

Hokkaido

20

26

15

5

12

3

0.750

795

207.67

123

9

49

0

210

4

0

48

42

1.82

0.828

5.33

2.12

0.39

9.10

4.29

2008

Hokkaido

21

25

16

4

10

2

0.800

764

200.67

136

11

44

9

208

4

1

44

42

1.88

0.897

6.10

1.97

0.49

9.33

4.73

 

 

 

90

48

19

27

8

0.716

2655

652.34

484

39

205

9

585

15

2

184

169

2.33

1.056

6.68

2.83

0.54

8.07

2.85

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year

S. Otani

Age

G

W

L

CG

SHO

PCT

BF

IP

H

HR

BB

HB

SO

WP

BK

R

ER

ERA

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

HR/9

K/9

K/BB

2013

Hokkaido

18

13

3

0

0

0

1.000

274

61.67

57

4

33

8

46

2

0

30

29

4.23

1.459

8.32

4.82

0.58

6.71

1.39

2014

Hokkaido

19

24

11

4

3

2

0.733

639

155.33

125

7

57

4

179

6

1

50

45

2.61

1.172

7.24

3.30

0.41

10.37

3.14

2015

Hokkaido

20

22

15

5

5

3

0.750

621

160.67

100

7

46

3

196

9

0

40

40

2.24

0.909

5.60

2.58

0.39

10.98

4.26

2016

Hokkaido

21

21

10

4

4

1

0.714

548

140.00

89

4

45

8

174

6

0

33

29

1.86

0.957

5.72

2.89

0.26

11.19

3.87

 

 

 

80

39

13

12

6

0.750

2082

517.67

371

22

181

23

595

23

1

153

143

2.49

1.066

6.45

3.15

0.38

10.34

3.29

 

 

As you can see, his performance is comparable and in some ways superior to either of these All-Stars. He has a lower rate of allowing hits and homers, as well as a higher rate of striking batters out and a better strikeout to walk ratio. About the only thing missing from his resume is a full 200-inning season.

 

As for the Ruth comparisons, consider that in his final years of pitching full-time, Ruth posted an ERA of 2.01. That might sound amazing especially considering that it was over 326 innings, but that was only good for 12th best in the majors. OK, so it is actually kind of amazing. The next two years Ruth pitched and played outfield, so the number of starts and innings dropped in half (with still good results in ERA) but it was with the bat he started to shine. In his first season playing outfield regularly (317 at bats) he led the league in home runs with 11. The next year in 432 at bats he broke the all-time single season home run record with 29, and led the league in on base, slugging, runs and RBI. So even before he was a full-time hitter, he was dominating the leader boards as a hitter.

 

To give you an idea of what Otani is doing, his average over the past two seasons would have been good enough to win the batting title in either league in Japan. His on base and slugging percentages would also have ranked first overall. So you have a pitcher who is comparable to two of the best pitchers to ever come to the US from Japan, who also happens to be the best hitter in Japan. In fact, before he came to the US, Hideki Matsui was considered the best power hitter to ever come from Japan. In his age 23 season, he hit .298/.419/.564. So itís not controversial, then, to suggest that Otani is one of the best power hitters to come from Japan as well.Itís pretty unanimous among scouts, stat analysts and front office observers that Otani is a unique talent the likes of which no one in recent memory has ever witnessed.

 

So where will he sign? Is there any team that has the inside edge to acquire him? Many think that he will end up with one of the major market teams like the Dodgers or the Yankees because they always seem to be the winners in these kinds of free-for-alls. But they win mostly because they offer more money. However, this enterprise is more a lottery than a sweepstakes. Just about every team has a decent argument as to why Otani should sign there.

 

Some have speculated that he wants to be on the same team as his idol, Darvish, so whoever signs him will have the edge to sign Otani. Thatís not to say that some wild card couldnít find its way into the mix. No team has more to gain by adding a top starting pitcher than the Marlins. If they were to add both Darvish and Otani, with their young hitting they would be playoff favorites for the next five years at least. But Miami does not have a large Asian population so there might not be as big a bump in attendance as there would be from cities on the West Coast. Likewise, Tampa is desperate for someone to energize a franchise that struggles to attract fans and has no significant obstacles for playing time at DH or outfield. But they are loathe to spend, and the prospect of playing in half full stadiums for half his games might not intrigue Otani. Baltimore is another possibility Ė and they are desperate for starting pitching Ė but they have not shown much willingness to go big on contracts so they are not likely to bid seriously on Darvish. Toronto is a dark horse with the expiration of Jose Bautistaís contract but they already have a DH for two more years to that limits how much playing time they might give Otani at the plate.

 

I have another theory.

 

By all accounts, Otani is a quiet man, who keeps to his modest apartment despite making pretty good money in the NPB. Basically his life is baseball and sleep. Heís also from a very sparsely populated region of Japan, which leads me to believe that he will shy away from the bright lights and attention that accompany the big markets. Heís from the Iwate Prefecture, which if you have seen pictures very closely resembles Seattle in its climate, architecture and landscape. So if youíre looking for an early leader in who will end up with the phenom, I would go with a mid-sized city that is near water but has mountains nearby, a place that reminds him of home. That pretty much eliminates all but the cities on either coast. Of those, I would venture that Seattle, San Francisco and Washington are the only ones that fit the geographic and demographic landscape as well as have the willingness to spend on a pitcher like Darvish in an effort to sway Otani. Both Seattle and San Francisco have a dire need for help in the outfield and in the slugging department so I would give them a slight edge over Washington. One might argue that Seattle has the advantage because they can offer him at bats as a DH. That might be true, but that would also mean putting Nelson Cruz, their current DH, back in the outfield. That would not be good.So between those two cities, there is no real DH advantage.

 

Frankly, Iím having a very difficult time deciding between the two. Based on the standings this year Seattle is closer to bringing home a championship and he clearly wants to win. But just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Giants this season and they still have the core of the team that won three World Series in five years. San Francisco offers the lure of pitching to Buster Posey, and playing in the city that Barry Bonds ruled for a decade. Given that heís willing to forego tens of million of dollars in order to play in the majors two years earlier than a guaranteed massive payday, itís pretty clear he wants to prove to himself and the world that he may be one of the best to ever play the game. What better place to do that than in the city of the most famous slugger in recent times on the team with one of the best all-around players in recent times.

 

But Seattle has been the landing place for many of Japanís stars Ė Ichiro Suzuki, Hisashi Iwakuma, Kazuhiro Sasaki are at the top of the list but Nori Aoki, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Mac Suzuki, Masao Kida and Munenori Kawasaki have all called Seattle home at one point in their careers. If Otani were to lead the Mariners to a championship, he would surpass Ann and Nancy Wilson, Dave Grohl, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee and Paul Allen as the most beloved individual in Seattle history. That, my friends, is a Hall of Fame greater than the one in Cooperstown.