Shohei Ohtani is not looking to produce a repeat of a season that saw him make history, shatter even the wildest expectations and do things on an MLB field no one has seen in over 100 years.
Instead, Ohtani’s brilliant two-way campaign in 2021 might just have been the blueprint for what comes next.
“I think this year’s numbers are the minimum,” Ohtani said during an interview with NHK as part of an hourlong documentary about the Los Angeles Angels star that aired Sunday.
Another player might have been laughed out of the room for suggesting what Ohtani said in such a plain, matter-of-fact fashion. But coming from Ohtani, who has already shown there’s nothing too improbable to consider, you simply have to believe him — an amazing thought considering just how good he was this year.
Ohtani spent the entire season as a fully two-way player, going 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts as a pitcher while also batting .257 with 46 home runs, 100 RBIs and 26 stolen bases. He set records and was seemingly the first player in decades to do one thing or another every time he played.
He took the mound for the final time on Sept. 26 with a chance to become the first player to reach double digits in both pitching wins and home runs since Babe Ruth in 1918. Ohtani, though, was not chasing Ruth that day. As he explained during the documentary, he was still making adjustments that he’ll try to use to become even better next year.
“Of course winning is important and I think reaching double digits is a big thing, but beyond that, I had some things I wanted to try in a real game,” Ohtani told NHK. “It’s really good that I was able to finish pitching in good form and it means I have a good mental image to take into next year.”
The NHK documentary focused mostly on Ohtani’s 2021 season and also featured interviews with Ohtani’s father Toru — who revealed his son was an average player with little control as a pitcher in his youth — interpreter Ippei Mizuhara and Angels manager Joe Maddon, who did away with the previous restrictions on Ohtani and allowed him to flourish as a fully two-way player.
Ohtani also spoke of how he coped with the physical demands of being a two-way player and revealed the internal pressure he faced to get off to a good start this season.
“I thought it would be hard to continue (as a two-way player) if I didn’t leave a good impression at the beginning,” he said.
Ohtani, of course, got off to a good start and never slowed down during the first half of the season. He quickly emerged as one of the most talented pitchers in MLB with a split-finger fastball that was so feared, batters took great pains to avoid counts where Ohtani could punish them with it.
He hit home runs in bunches at the plate and maintained his torrid pace even after injuries to Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon left him with less protection in the Los Angeles lineup.
Ohtani continued to pitch at a high level after the All-Star break, even as his average and home run rate began to wane. Pitchers approached Ohtani differently in the latter half of the season and he faced a litany of hurlers pitching on the edges or working around him as well as managers intentionally walking him as the Angels faced teams still in the playoff race late in the year.
Ohtani, though, called the second half a good experience and one that he would be able to build off of in order to be stronger at the plate from the start of 2022.
Altogether, Ohtani may have put together the most impressive single season in MLB history. Although if this is just the standard in his mind, we could be saying that again as he soars to new heights next year.
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