Why have ‘hard-hitting pitchers’ like Shohei Ohtani become a rarity?

Ohtani Shohei’s 2023 is huge. In March, he became the MVP of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) by playing a big role in both 메이저사이트 pitching and hitting. He continued to play in the regular season of the Major League. At the end of the first half, he had a batting average of 0.302, 32 home runs, and an OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) of 1.050. Home runs and OPS are the top home runs in the American League (AL). As a pitcher, he has a 3.32 ERA (13th) and 11.84 strikeouts per nine innings (2nd).

In the fWAR (multiplier vs. substitute player, fan graph count), which converts a player’s performance into a multiplier, he won 4.3 games as a batter and 1.7 games as a pitcher. Arithmetically, at the end of the season, you can win fWAR 10.68 games. One fWAR win in the free agent (FA) market in 2022 was worth approximately $8.5 million. If this is applied, Otani’s appropriate annual salary this year is $90.8 million (about 117.5 billion won), more than three times the actual annual salary of $30 million.

This season, Ohtani is performing like a monster in both pitchers and batters. He is the best baseball player in the world at this time. ©©AP Photo

The highest annual salary for Major League pitchers this year is $43.33 million (about 56.1 billion won) for the New York Mets’ Cy Young duo Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. The highest salary for a fielder is $40 million for New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge. Otani will be in the FA market at the end of this season. Otani’s agent has every reason to insist, “Please treat me at the highest level as a pitcher and a fielder, respectively.” Already, there is a saying that “a 10-year, $700 million contract is cheap.”

Otani is now the best baseball player in the world. A major league player once said after last season, “It is unfair for Otani, who also plays pitching and hitting, to compete for MVP.” It is also read that Otani’s value actually comes from the world’s only batter and pitcher performing at the highest level. But why is Otani the only one.

It is common knowledge of baseball that pitchers are weak in hitting. However, among various positions, pitchers have the best physical conditions. There will be a high possibility of good athletic ability and a high probability of becoming a slugger. Korean high school baseball has introduced a designated hitter (DH) system since 2004. Prior to that, “strong hitter pitchers” were not uncommon. Choo Shin-soo (currently SSG), who hit 1,671 hits in the Major League, was also an ace pitcher when he was at Busan High School. Lee Seung-yeop, who hit 626 home runs in Korean and Japanese professional baseball, joined Samsung as a left-handed pitcher in 1995. In Japanese high school baseball, which does not have a designated hitter system, many teams still have pitchers as the fourth batter. Ohtani was like that in high school. There is the John Olerud Award in American college baseball. It is an award given to the best pitching and hitting player. In 1988, while a junior at Washington State University, Olerud batted .464 with 23 home runs and 15 wins and no losses with a 2.49 ERA in 66 games as a batter.

The DH system, which takes the batter’s box instead of a pitcher, was first introduced in the Major League in 1973. From the 19th century when baseball was born to before that, of course, pitchers also hit. In early baseball, there is a greater pitching and batting player than Otani ‘on record’. Al Spalding, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame, was the first member of the National Association (NA), the first major league established in 1871. Spalding was the top star with 251 wins and a 2.13 ERA in eight career seasons. He also had a career batting average of 0.313 and 613 hits as a batter. Guy Hecker, who played in the 1880s in the National League (NL), the successor of NA, won 173 games as a pitcher and 812 hits as a batter.

There are always questions about how long Otani’s pitching and batting will be successful. ©©AFP
As pitching becomes more and more specialized, the number of concurrent jobs decreases

Sluggers like Spalding and Hecker have become very rare since then. In Major League history, only two pitchers have recorded more than 0.800 OPS based on 1,000 at-bats, and only 15 pitchers have more than 0.700. Why is that. The change in baseball rules was crucial. Spalding has won 251 games in just seven seasons (substantially six). It’s a record that can’t be made in modern baseball. In 1871, his team Boston played 71 games, including a draw. Spalding started 69 games and pitched 2 games as relief and pitched 617 1/3 innings. At that time, the distance between the pitchers was 13.64 meters, much shorter than now (18.18 meters). Overhand pitching was banned, so there was less strain on the shoulder. That’s why it was possible to take the mound in such innings.

In early baseball, the role of a pitcher was to throw a ball that a batter could hit. Pitching was similar to serving in tennis or volleyball. The batter could order the ball he wanted from the pitcher. The ball that did not swing and the foul did not strike. However, with a series of rule revisions, pitching has become increasingly specialized. The purpose of the pitch has also changed to get the batter out. Pitchers began throwing fastballs with overhand pitching form and developed various breaking balls. As pitching became a high-quality technique, it became impossible for a pitcher to take charge of team innings like in the 19th century. The concept of rotation, in which several pitchers alternately start, emerged, and after that, the proportion of relief pitchers, or bullpen, increased. As a result, the number of at-bats with one pitcher has decreased significantly compared to the fielder.

Suppose a pitcher starts in 30 games of the season, faces 30 batters on average, and enters four at-bats. If so, he will be responsible for 900 at-bats as a pitcher in a season and 120 at-bats as a batter. It is clear that no matter how talented a pitcher is at batting, it is better to focus on which side. Don Drysdale, who formed a golden duo with Sandy Kofax for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s and 1960s, was known as a “strong hitter pitcher.” In 1965, he batted .300 with seven home runs and an OPS of 0.839 in 138 at-bats. However, the overall OPS was only 0.523. Focusing on pitchers was a more reasonable choice.

If you do both pitching and hitting, the risk of injury increases that much. Legendary home run king Babe Ruth is Otani’s role model. Ruth served as a pitcher and outfielder for the Boston Red Sox from 1918-1919. He won 22 games as a pitcher and became the home run king for the second consecutive year as a batter. However, after moving to the New York Yankees in 1920, he devoted himself to hitting. Ruth was more attracted to hitting, but there was a great concern about injuries caused by pitching. Ruth asked the club to switch to batting, but was rejected, and instead compromised by playing as an outfielder on the day he did not take the mound as a pitcher. This is an explanation from a biography of Ruth written by Karl Wagenheim. As such, pitching and hitting are difficult. “We play the same baseball, but pitchers and fielders are different from the way they throw the ball,” said Masato Yoshii, a pitching coach for Ohtani’s team Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan.

Former KIA manager Kim Sung-han recorded 10 wins as a pitcher and a batting average of .300 as a batter in the first year of the KBO League in 1982. He is the only person in the history of Korean professional baseball who has achieved significant results with both pitching and hitting. The concurrent employment actually ended in a year. Former head coach Kim said, “There was also a big injury problem. I hurt my elbow when I was in college, so I thought it would be difficult for me to last as a pitcher. So, Kim Dong-yeop, the then head coach, recalled, “Since he joined the team, he has said, ‘Concentrate on the pitcher,’ but I have been steadily training for batting.”

As such, there are always questions about how long Otani’s pitching and batting will be successful. Otani has already undergone elbow and knee surgery once since entering the Major League. However, since Otani became a professional baseball player in 2013, he has fought and overcome negative views.

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