Los Angeles Angels, MLB

Upton, Sabathia gush over Ohtani’s skills as one of the most unique baseball players ever

Shohei Ohtani is a unique two-way talent and hearing two of his fellow players rave about his tools reminds us just how special he is.

While we may not have baseball, we can still appreciate how unique and unprecedented a player like Shohei Ohtani is. That robust Ohtani fan club includes at least one pair of MLB All-Stars.

Appearing as a guest on R2C2, the podcast hosted by CC Sabathia and broadcaster Ryan Ruocco, Angels outfielder Justin Upton was effusive with his praise.

“His tools are, like, silly,” Upton said. “When I saw him in spring training the first time, he had stupid thump taking BP with him. Stupid thump.”

Sabathia not only agreed, but upped the ante in describing the 25-year-old two-way player.

“I keep saying this and people laugh at me when I say it. He’s the best baseball player I’ve ever seen in my life,” the former Yankees ace said, to Ruocco’s astonishment. “Are you kidding me? Motherf***** can hit a ball 900 feet and throw 99 off the mound. Who else is doing that, bro?”

The short answer to Sabathia’s question is no one since Babe Ruth, but some further research uncovers just how absurdly rare the Japanese phenom is.

Though Tommy John surgery in late 2018 limited Ohtani to only hitting duties in 2019, he still managed to bat .286/.343/.505 with 18 homers, 62 RBIs, 20 doubles, five triples, 51 runs scored and 12 stolen bases in 425 plate appearances.

Baseball-Reference has an amazing tool called similarity scores, which rates every player who ever lived out of 1,000. As a hitter, Ohtani’s most similar current career comps are to Luke Voit, Austin Meadows, Troy Neal, David Dahl and Pete Alonso.

Not bad.

But through his age 24 season, generally before a player’s prime, Ohtani compares closest to former power-hitting first baseman Greg Walker, five-time All-Star Fred McGriff (who hit 493 career homers), Meadows, five-time All-Star Adrian Gonzalez and two-time All-Star Richie Sexson.

Not too shabby. Did we mention that Ohtani can also pitch?

Baseball-Reference doesn’t have a set of similarity scores for Ohtani the pitcher, because he hasn’t reached the minimum threshold of 100 innings pitched, according to a 2018 Ringer article by Zach Kram. But if you remember Ohtani blowing away opposing hitters in 2018 before he was derailed by elbow ailments, you’ll know how impressive he can be on the mound.

In 10 starts over 51 2/3 innings, the righty hurler went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA, and 63 strikeouts to just 22 walks. While it’s difficult to compare other pitchers to a player who’s only thrown barely 50 big league frames, let’s start with his strikeout rate. His 10.97 whiffs per nine innings ranked 14th among all pitchers who started at least 10 games in 2018, per FanGraphs. His ERA among those players was 10th. Over a 162-game season and 176 innings, B-R projected Ohtani to win 14 games and strike out 217. Combine that with Ohtani’s 22-homer, 61 RBI season at the plate and you have yourself a runaway winner for AL Rookie of the Year.

Like many injured players during this time, Ohtani is oddly benefiting in a way from the suspended start to the 2020 season. A knee injury would’ve limited him to just hitting until the middle of May, according to MLB.com. If and when the season begins, Ohtani would seemingly be able to get into a routine of pitching once a week, perhaps Wednesdays, while serving as the DH three or four other days.

Here’s to hoping that Ohtani reaches that 100 inning mark in 2020, so we can see how he stacks up to other pitchers on Baseball-Reference. As more two-way players like Tampa Bay’s Brendan McKay become more prevalent over time, they’ll inevitably be compared to the Angels star.

A healthy Ohtani over an extended period will allow Upton to again witness those stupid tools up close. It’s those same tools that made Sabathia proclaim Ohtani, not Upton’s L.A. teammate Mike Trout, the best player he’s ever seen.

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