This column appears on the JAPAN Forward website.

By Ed Odeven

When the Los Angeles Angels signed Shohei Ohtani in December 2017, they knew what they were getting: a dynamic two-way star.

Four seasons into his Major League Baseball career, Ohtani has scratched the surface of his tremendous potential. He’s become a true international superstar, a must-watch athlete, a fan favorite at every ballpark he plays in.

Healthy and penciled into the lineup on a daily basis for the first time for an entire MLB season, Ohtani wowed baseball fans and delivered daily highlights in an era of 24/7 news coverage augmented by social media. (For more on Japan’s other MLB players, see below.)

Ohtani, 27, finished one victory shy of becoming the first MLB player since a Boston Red Sox standout named Babe Ruth in 1918 to have 10 or more wins and at least 10 home runs in the same season. The Bambino slugged 11 homers and went 13-7 as a pitcher in 1918, his next-to-last season as a regular pitcher.

In 2021, Ohtani bashed 46 homers, 26 doubles and eight triples. He scored 103 runs and drove in 100 as L.A.’s full-time designated hitter.

He was No. 2 among AL players in extra-base hits (80), and trailed only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals star Salvador Perez in home runs (48 apiece). He led the AL in triples, was No. 2 in slugging percentage (.592) and third in walks (96, which included an AL-most 20 intentional walks). He also struck out 186 times, which was fourth among AL players. He stole 26 bases and was tied for the league lead for the most times caught stealing (10). And he had an outside shot at becoming MLB’s first 50-30 player.

Armed with an electrifying fastball and a devastating split-fingered fastball, Ohtani went 9-2 with a 3.18 in 23 starts for the Angels (77-85), who finished fourth in the AL West for the fourth straight year. 

What’s more, Ohtani limited opposing batsmen to 98 hits in 130⅓ innings. He issued 44 walks and fanned 156 batters.

In Ohtani’s final start of 2021, he had 10 strikeouts and no walks in seven innings against the Seattle Mariners on September 26. He allowed five hits and one run, a game-tying solo shot to Jarred Kelenic in the seventh, and the Mariners won 5-1.

“He was really good and he’s been like that,” Angels manager Joe Maddon was quoted as saying by “He’s been so consistent and he’s pitched like an absolute ace. He had really good stuff and finished strong. He can throw a strike when he wants to. He’s becoming that guy, and he’s just getting better.”

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