Five Takeaways From Shohei Ohtani’s Start To The Season
Shohei Ohtani, Jason Heyward
Jonathan Hui/USA TODAY Sports

The biggest news of the Major League Baseball offseason was, without question, the 10-year, $700 million contract the 29-year-old signed with the Dodgers. It was the largest contract in professional sports history, given by a team that won 100 games last season. Most fans were likely annoyed to see Ohtani joining the free-spending Dodgers, but Los Angeles fans have been ecstatic about the early results, even if mired in a massive scandal. Here are five takeaways from the start of his season.

Expectations Are Sky-High

Expectations were high before the start of the season but have only jumped for the Dodgers since. Today, Ohtani is batting .368 with five home runs and 13 runs batted in, along with 19 runs scored and 12 walks. According to Fangraphs, he ranks 4th in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), behind his teammate Mookie Betts, who leads the league.

When it comes to MLB betting picks, armed with arguably the two best players in baseball, the Dodgers are the prohibitive favorites in the National League to win the pennant and the World Series.

Won’t Be Suspended

In March, Los Angeles abruptly fired Ohtani’s interpreter after allegations of massive theft. After $4.5 million of wire transfers were sent from Ohtani’s bank to a bookmaking operation, the allegations turned up. Ippei Mizuhara allegedly had enormous gambling debts, which he attempted to pay off by stealing from Ohtani. At first, many were skeptical of this story, but a federal investigation led to reports that MLB is expected to “quickly interview and clear” Ohtani. In other words, it looks like Ohtani was a victim in this situation and will likely not face any suspension, which is excellent news for Dodgers fans.

100% Healthy

Aside from avoiding a suspension, nothing is more critical to the Dodgers than Ohtani’s health. In August of last year, he experienced arm fatigue and was later diagnosed with an ulnar collateral ligament tear in his right arm, requiring Tommy John surgery. The surgery shut him down for the season as a pitcher, and an oblique strain ended his season as a hitter on September 16.

Ohtani has a lengthy injury history and has only played at least 150 games in a season twice in his six years. This is likely due to the extra toll of pitching and hitting. Where other pitchers have five days to recover for their next start, Ohtani was right back on the field. And where position players have daily recovery routines, Ohtani also had to prepare for the mound.

Right now, he isn’t pitching or playing the field as the designated hitter for the Dodgers and looks healthy. They should be World Series contenders if they can keep him healthy all year long.

Won’t Pitch in 2024

To piggyback on the last point, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts reiterated during Spring Training that Ohtani wouldn’t pitch in 2024. As he is still recovering from his surgery last season, Ohtani will spend this season as a designated hitter only. This bodes well for Ohtani’s health but does diminish his value. Having a player that not only hits and pitches but does it at MVP and Cy Young levels has a twofold impact. He is a player who highly impacts winning on both sides of the ball, but he also saves his team a roster spot as a two-for-one player.

There is also the consideration that Ohtani’s routines as a player for nearly his entire career have been based on his pitching and hitting. It isn’t uncommon to see players struggle to adapt to the in-game routine of a designated hitter role because they don’t have a position to play. That might be even more true for Ohtani, who will do more sitting in the dugout this season than he ever has as a player.

Gets More Barrels

From a performance standpoint, few players in baseball are hitting the ball harder than Ohtani. Only Bobby Witt Jr and Tyler O’Neill get barrels at a higher percentage than Ohtani. For a hitter, getting a barrel means squaring the ball to his bat. A batted ball is classified as a barrel if it has an exit velocity of at least 98 MPH and is struck at a launch angle between 26-30. Players who barrel up more balls are the players who hit the most home runs and have the most hard-hit balls. After a slow start, Ohtani is back to his mashing ways and barreling up nearly one in four balls he hits.

Dodgers Underperforming

Despite an all-star lineup, the Dodgers have struggled to start the year. They are just 13-11, which is good enough for first place in their division. Expect them to heat up as the season progresses and their pitching staff settles in.