After Tommy John surgery and two injury-plagued seasons kept Shohei Ohtani off the mound entirely, he returned to full strength in 2021, just the second pitching season of his career. To help him get through the season without injury, Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon and general manager Perry Minasian came up with two plans.
The first was to deploy a six-man rotation, so that Ohtani could pitch in schedule without overworking himself. The second was just to let Ohtani be himself and play as often as he wanted. The plans worked to perfection, as Ohtani put together perhaps the greatest individual season in baseball history.
Now, the question becomes whether he’ll be able to do this — or anything close to it — again. It’s hard to sustain MVP-level greatness, especially when it requires both hitting and pitching at an elite level.
But Maddon and Minasian both believe that Ohtani can do this for years to come, and gave similar reasons why, according to Jack Harris of The L.A. Times:
“He truly does understand himself really well,” Maddon said at the end of the season. “I think that’s the contributing factor. That’s the main ingredient.”
“I think it’s sustainable from both sides,” echoed Maddon, who says he thinks Ohtani could potentially pitch 40 to 50 additional innings next year and benefit at the plate with lineup protection from a healthy Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.
“That’s a big reason why we talked about letting him play on a daily basis with no set rules. Just enjoy the game, go have fun,” Minasian said. “That’s what he did. And I don’t see any reason why that can’t continue.”
To argue against Ohtani’s sustainability, detractors will point towards the end of the 2021 season, when the Angels two-way star struggled at the plate and saw a huge jump in strikeout rate. However, part of those issues were that the Angels had little to no lineup support for Ohtani.
By the time he went into a slump, Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Justin Upton were all out for the season. Outside of Jared Walsh, there wasn’t much help. This is why Maddon believes in his ability to do this again, as he’ll have elite lineup support next season in the form of a couple of MVP caliber players.
As for pitching, the Angels just need to get more. They’ve signed Noah Syndergaard — which of course helps — but they need at least one more top-tier starter to make sure everything runs smoothly in their six-man rotation.
Syndergaard credits Minasian and Steve Cishek for recruitment
He said that Minasian’s dinner with him in New York revealed a deep knowledge of pitching, while Cishek — his workout partner — said that playing for the Angels is the most fun he’s ever had playing baseball.