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How Shohei Ohtani's skillset changed baseball's future
Dec 14, 2021, 4:04:00 AM

How Shohei Ohtani's skillset changed baseball's future

Shohei Ohtani has proven himself as a baseball superstar using his two-way skillset. He is an amazing player who carved out a unique role for himself. Let’s talk about his overall impact on the sport with his playstyle.

Baseball players are typically locked into a role on the field. If they are playing shortstop, they will stay within that role for most of their career. Shohei has proven that this should not be the norm because baseball players should have the freedom to move around and play what they like.

There should be a balance between structure and freedom and Shohei is showing that. He is playing at an elite level and he will do so for a long time. He reached this high level by playing the way he wants to as a pitcher/batter hybrid.

In the past, this kind of playstyle was discouraged because they were pushing themselves too much. Shohei has proven that balance can be achieved as long as the team is built properly.

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Baseball players should not be restricted to a certain role

While it’s not bad to play one role when the player likes it, it is not fair to their talent if they stay in just one role. Players should get the chance to unlock their potential during training sessions and even in some games. They will learn that it is difficult to play a certain role but they can live with their decision since they tried it.

Some players love to play their preferred role but that should not be the only option. If a player can find the right role for him but he’s stuck playing another position, he won’t get the chance to switch roles.

This can be done early on in baseball players’ youths. If they are encouraged to play different roles, you can expect them to be much more refined players. It also helps the players adjust to tough situations because they would know what to do when they’re put into a corner.

Becoming a multi-faceted player is an important part of being a star. Every baseball pro has a chance to become a superstar in their career and being given more opportunities to shine is the quickest way to cement a star. If they can follow the Shohei model, you can expect more players will shine as long as they’re given the freedom to play what role they want.

This will take solid communication from both coaches and players because they will work together here. It is tough to strike that balance but it can happen just like Shohei. There will be some mistakes on the road to finding the next star but that happens in sports. Promising players will pop up and can end up becoming a flash in the pan but they can also turn into stars.

The likelihood of creating stars this way is high given that baseball players will get the freedom of choice. Developing a multi-faceted star is the best-case scenario here and it will produce many Shohei-like players in the future. His influence will last for a long time even if some players in the future exceed him.

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Innovation in baseball is good

Sports is an ever-changing industry and if an athlete stays stagnant, they will struggle to perform at their peak level. 2021 was a big year for Shohei because he was given the freedom to perform for the Los Angeles Angels. When Mike Trout was not present for the majority of the campaign, Shohei took advantage of the opportunity.

Shohei innovated how baseball is played by performing as both a pitcher and batter which was seen as an outlier role in the past. Teams only scooped up players like him when they were desperate for a versatile player who can fill a roster spot. When the Angels gave the opportunity for Shohei to perform, they were proven right with their trust because Shohei was not only hitting home runs but he was also throwing 100 mph pitches.

2021 was a strong year for Shohei especially since it was a bounce-back year for him. He was dissatisfied with his performance in 2020. At the time, he said, ‘My mechanics were off. It felt like the best I could do was simply get a hit. I was happy to get one, but even when I did, there were a few times when everything clicked. Home runs rarely feel like flukes, but that's how they felt. Something felt wrong’.

Trust goes a long way when it comes to sports. If a coach believes in his players to play a different role, you can expect them to thrive. In baseball, managers have to believe in the players who are sent to the mound and if they thrive or fail, they need to be supported.

While Shohei has innovated, you can expect younger players will look to copy him. Some bad players will pop up because of his popularity. However, you should also look for talented players in the future who will realize that the style fits them to a tee.

Playing as a two-way threat is a classic skill but it was not encouraged in the modern era because of efficiency issues. While it is a good tactic to rely on analytics to keep a team going, ignoring talented players is an issue.

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The baseball world didn’t appreciate versatility before

Awesome athletes are always present in baseball but versatile players are a dime a dozen. Coaches love stars who play defined roles but there are always the scrappy players who serve as the glue guys for the team. After that, there are truly unique stars who can serve as the cornerstones but you can also expect them to do everything the team needs like the glue guys.

Shohei is a prime example of that kind of star because, before his rise to stardom, the two-way player was not seen as a top threat. Players like Babe Ruth and Rick Ankiel were solid options back in the day but the rise of analytics hurt the players who loved being versatile.

Analytics has been beneficial for almost every sport but there needs to be a balanced approach with using it as a primary tool for teams. Players should convince their coaches to tweak the system so they can get the best of both worlds. 

Ankiel himself talked about how the trend is moving towards baseball stars playing multiple positions and he was correct in his assessment.

He said, ‘When you get to the big leagues, there’s no secret: It’s about winning. And these guys can help you win on both sides of the ball. Why not let them do it? I think the fear is always that one is going to take away from the other’.

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Shohei proved baseball is moving in a new direction

With all of the talk about versatility, Shohei is the best example of players realizing that a new style of baseball is here. The MLB needs to embrace this because every team can get their chance of having a player like Shohei.

Japanese players have been present in the MLB for a long time and Shohei has brought a different brand of the sport to the league again. It’s a familiar playstyle but he has combined all of the positives of Japanese baseball and North American baseball.

It will be difficult to stop Shohei from influencing the younger generation which means that there will be many elite two-way players on the way. They are still young but you should expect the influence to pay off in the future. They will have a difficult time early on but they will continue to break the mould just like what Shohei has done in his career.

Just like the NBA’s shift towards the future, the MLB is on the same trajectory. While it will not be a positionless league, solid changes will be made where players will thrive even more. Stars will emerge just like Ohtani’s rise to stardom with the Angels.

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Baseball will only improve with time

As the years pass, baseball will become an even better sport because players will keep evolving. You can expect more young players to be built in the same mould as modern stars like Shohei, Trout, and Mookie Betts. That is good for the sport’s growth because they will only improve with time.

Every sport evolves with time and baseball has been around for a long time now. Athletes will have new training regimens and you can expect some great success from those players. While some fans are still not appreciative of Shohei, they need to get used to that kind of player because that will be normal sometime soon.

Traditional fans should know that sports evolve and baseball is no different. Roles should only be encouraged and not enforced on new baseball players. Baseball’s evolution should be a bigger event for the fans because they will also grow with the sport they’re watching. Hopefully, Shohei can change some fans’ minds for the better.

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Words: Cholo Martin

Image: PA