2650525, Funny you should mention Hobbs...|
Posted by ShawndmeSlanted, Fri Apr-13-18 08:41 AM
Good piece about tempering expectations, the likelihood of ups and downs, but just enjoying the moment as a fan
The joy of Ohtani, a sleeping giant and MLB's next big thing
By Bradford Doolittle
Instead of wondering about what might hold Shohei Ohtani back, we should all be marveling about the two-way ride unfolding in front of our eyes.
Imagine a world in which Roy Hobbs exists.
This is about inimitable rookie sensation Shohei Ohtani, but let me make my point using the fictional Hobbs, the protagonist of the great baseball movie "The Natural" (Yes, it was a book first. A great book by Bernard Malamud. But the movie works best for our purposes.) Spoiler alert: Let's pretend Hobbs did not get shot by Barbara Hershey and manages to reach the majors, out of nowhere, as a flame-throwing, power-hitting young man.
Given what we know about him -- the unprecedented arm on the mound, the unmatchable power at the plate -- we would have a fictional character doing something similar to what Ohtani is doing right now. Ohtani is not the Japanese Babe Ruth. He's the Japanese Roy Hobbs.
Does that little bit of hype annoy you? If it does, I kind of feel sorry for you.
What we remember about Hobbs is that he was nearly destroyed by the cynical work of those around him. As if driven by a mania induced by a primordial version of social media, sportswriter Max Mercy was fixated on finding out where Hobbs came from, what his flaws were and where his skeletons lie.
The problem was that while the cynical Mercy recognized the beauty of it all, he couldn't accept it at face value: No, this kind of unique greatness just does not happen, so there must be something else at work.
Mercy has to dig, spread doubt, amplify the negative and, ultimately, aid those who would corrupt Hobbs. All in search of that something else. Why? So he can prove he was right all along.
When it comes to Ohtani, let's not be Max Mercy.
The range of outcomes for Ohtani remains vast. That's true of all young players, but it's more true for him because only a handful of players have ever possessed his diversity of gifts. Yet, he has faced only one team as a pitcher. He has less than a week's worth of plate appearances. We've seen the gifts on display -- the searing fastball, the diving splitter and the explosion off the bat when he barrels up a pitch. But what he has done so far has to replicated (or at least approached) many times over the span of many, many games before we can say he's the real thing.
Much could go wrong. Ohtani could get hurt, as he was last season in Japan. Teams could learn to lay off his splitter and focus on jumping on his slider. At the plate, he may struggle once a book on how to pitch him is established. Supertalented players have failed at this game before. It's the nature of the endeavor, and it remains far too early to draw any firm conclusions about Ohtani.
Still, there is an aspect to the coverage of Ohtani that is hard to fathom. Ever since he signed with the Los Angeles Angels over the winter, it feels like there has been as much written and said about what he can't, shouldn't and might not be able to do as about his fantastical possibilities. He has been scrutinized like few rookies in recent memory, for good reason. Nevertheless, Ohtani has risen above it all so far.
No matter what happens from here, Ohtani has already done things we have never seen. Even Babe Ruth never had an eight-day stretch when he won two games as a starter and hit three home runs at the plate. Ohtani accomplished that within the first 10 games of his career. He has struck out 18 batters, walked two and leads the majors with a 0.462 WHIP. The WHIP figure ranks fourth all time among players with at least 13 innings pitched. At the plate, he has an OPS+ of 236. No one with a minimum of Ohtani's 29 plate appearances has a better career mark. No one! Chew on that combination of numbers for a minute.
Sure, this can be true only because Ohtani is at the very beginning of his journey, but that's kind of the point. Let's not harp on that fact that this level of production almost certainly won't last. Let's not overscrutinize what might emerge as flaws in his skill set. Let's not worry about whether a big league player in the 21st century can withstand the rigors of pulling double duty for a full season. Can't we just enjoy it while it lasts?
Roy Hobbs was not a real person. But as long as Ohtani is doing what he's doing, let's pretend The Natural has finally come to life.