The Angels’ 2018 season did not end with their two-way player Shohei Ohtani leading them to their first postseason appearance in four years. But a month and a half after they wrapped up a third straight losing campaign and bid farewell to longtime manager Mike Scioscia, the Angels and Ohtani on Monday received yet another indication that the risk they took introducing Major League Baseball to its best two-way player in close to a century was worth taking.
Ohtani was named the American League rookie of the year by the Baseball Writers Assn. of America. He received 25 of 30 first-place votes and accumulated 137 total points, beating the New York Yankees’ Miguel Andujar by 48 points to become the Angels’ third rookie of the year in franchise history.
Ohtani might have won by even more of a landslide had an elbow injury not derailed the 24-year-old’s historic season. He had surgery in October on a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
“I don’t even want to talk about numbers,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara during a conference call. “I was just kinda disappointed I wasn’t able to play a full season. I feel like elite players should be able to play a full year to help out the team.”
Ohtani was on the disabled list from June 8 to July 3 but by then had already established himself as one of the game’s most talented players.
In 104 games as the Angels’ designated hitter, he batted .285 with 21 doubles, two triples, 22 home runs, 61 runs batted in and 3.9 wins-above-replacement, according to Baseball-Reference’s version of the statistic. He led AL rookies with a .925 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and, among that group, was second to the Kansas City Royals’ Ryan O’Hearn in weighted runs created plus (152). He also managed to steal 10 bases in 14 attempts.
When the UCL injury ended his season on the mound, Ohtani had pitched 51 2/3 innings over 10 starts, gone 4-2 with a 3.31 earned-run average and collected 63 strikeouts. He’d wielded a high-octane repertoire that featured a triple-digit fastball and a splitter batters hit at a paltry .026 (two for 55) clip.
“What Shohei’s done is not easy,” Scioscia said at the end of the season. “It’s not like anybody can do it. What he’s done is exceptional. He’s an exceptional talent.”
Two weeks into the season, Ohtani had already met the Babe Ruth comparisons that accompanied his debut. He became the third player to record two wins and hit three home runs in his team’s first 10 games of a season, and the first to do it since Jim Shaw in 1919. In that span, he batted .389 (seven for 18) with an .889 OPS and had a 2.08 ERA (three runs in 13 innings) and 18 strikeouts.
Ohtani hardly slumped as the calendar flipped through the first two months of the season. Even when held hitless by the New York Yankees during a series at the end of May, Ohtani collected four walks and one RBI to bookend the first 30 games of his major-league career. He hit .291 with a .929 OPS, seven doubles, one triple, six home runs and 20 RBIs during that stretch. He struck out 30 times, but also also drew 14 walks.
Ohtani sustained a high level of production in spite of his physical limitations. He stumbled briefly after returning from the disabled list, but found his stride in August, when he batted .328.
By season’s end, Ohtani had matched another Ruthian task when he became the first player to log 10 pitching appearances and hit 20 home runs in a season since Ruth in 1919. He had also become the first player with more than 50 pitching strikeouts and 15 home runs in a season.
Ohtani is the first Angels player named rookie of the year since Mike Trout in 2012. Tim Salmon won the award with the Angels in 1993. Ohtani is also the fourth Japanese-born player to win the award, joining Hideo Nomo (1995), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001).