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    • Keenan
      Keenan Wells

      When the season was in its infancy, I posted this conversation speculating about Ohtani’s potential.

      A lot has happened since then. Ohtani will need Tommy John surgery (a replacement of the uni collateral ligament in his throwing elbow) in the offseason which would keep him from pitching for at least an entire calendar year. Players typically make full recoveries from this surgery so we’ll likely see him pitch again, but not for a while.

      When he pitched, he was one of the better pitchers in baseball. Meanwhile, despite the ligament tear in his elbow, Ohtani has continued to bat without pain or complication. Out of batters with at least 250 plate appearances, he is legitimately one of the best hitters in baseball. He has an OPS of .953 (on base percentage + slugging percentage), one of the best in the league over that amount of plate appearances. He also has 20 home runs, more than all other starting pitchers in the entire league combined.

      If you took his home run rate and gave him a full season’s worth of plate appearances (600 or so), he is on pace for 48 home runs.

      Shohei Ohtani is, in fact, better than we thought. One of my favorite anecdotes about his season is from this article on Deadspin, which talks about his legendary batting practice session at Coors Field:

    • Chris

      Ever since you first posted about him, I have followed his story. I was once a huge baseball fan, had all the important player cards, knew every stat, and yet one thing about baseball has always confounded me: why can't pitchers bat? Do you know?

      Intuitively I would have thought they would make the best batters. They don't play as many games, they have extra time for the batting cage, and they should know every trick of the pitchers they oppose.

      The tragic part of this story is because he throws at 100 mph, some baseball insiders predicted he would face Tommy John surgery. It seems to unfair. Because Usain Bolt is fast, does that mean he should miss seasons to injury?

    • Keenan

      Pitchers are typically the worst batters on the team simply because they stopped practicing it at some point between high school and the big leagues. Most, if not all, were probably great hitters in high school, and perhaps college, but as they made their way through the minor leagues, coaches pushed them to focus solely on pitching.

      At this level, they’re doing hyper specific workouts and recovery intended to keep their throwing arms strong and healthy. There simply isn’t a good way for pitchers to also fit in the type of batting practice and strength training needed to become great hitters as well, which is why it’s so rare to find pitchers that can also hit as well as every day batters.

      And despite these extremely focused training regimens, Tommy John surgery is becoming more and more common, mainly because pitchers are throwing harder than they ever have. The elbow wasn’t designed to sustain amount of force over and over, and all pitchers that throw that hard are at risk for these tears. The good news is that a lot of pitchers actually come back stronger from this particularly surgery. The bad news is that it takes an entire year or more of rehab.

      We’ll definitely see Ohtani pitch again, but not until 2020.

    • Chris

      Fascinating, thanks! But why do they come back stronger? That seems counter-intuitive, at least to me. I was under the impression that for most injuries, you're never quite as good because scar tissue isn't as good as the original, etc.

      You got me so interested I started researching the operation and found this fascinating article:

      One quote from the article bothered me 😬

      most pitchers never regain their same level of ability following rehabilitation.

    • Keenan

      Well maybe saying they come back stronger isn’t exactly the right way to say it. What I actually meant is that after being replaced and rehabbed successfully, the joint/ligament is often stronger (than before the initial injury)... meaning it’s more able to withstand the strain than before. But yeah I suppose it’s not correct to say they come back and throw harder than before. I dont totally know how common that is but I would imagine it’s less common.

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