The most exciting player in Major League Baseball has not yet played an inning. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed Shohei Ohtani, a 23-year-old Japanese hitter and pitcher, last Friday to a minimum-salary contract with a paltry $2.3 million signing bonus, and made official what fans stateside had been looking forward to for months. When next season opens in the spring, MLB will feature something it hasn’t in decades: a player as feared at the plate as he is on the mound.
The “Babe Ruth of Japan,” as Ohtani has been called—referencing Ruth’s status as a star pitcher before he became baseball’s archetypal slugger—arrives with extensive credentials. At 6-foot-3 and nearly 200 pounds he has the build teams look for in both workhorse aces and middle-of-the-order hitters, and over the course of his five-year career with the Nippon Ham Fighters, he served as both. He has a 100-mile-per-hour right-handed fastball and a vicious left-handed swing. During three separate seasons, he won 10 or more games as a pitcher with earned-run averages below 3.00; twice he hit for an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of better than .940 (his new teammate Mike Trout’s career OPS, for comparison: .976). Ohtani’s 2016 season, which cranked up the volume of the international rumblings, remains impressive. He posted a .322 batting average with 22 home runs that year while striking out 174 batters across 140 innings. Translating such numbers to the tougher environment of the American big leagues, FiveThirtyEight guesses Ohtani will hit like Hideki Matsui and pitch like Yu Darvish—a World Series Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award runner-up, respectively.