We’ll start with this: No living baseball fan has ever seen anything like Shohei Ohtani.
Five days after going 3-for-4 with a home run, four days after going 2-for-5 with a home run, and two days after going 1-for-4 with a home run, Ohtani took the mound against the Oakland A’s on Sunday and turned in the best start of the young season. He carried a perfect game through six innings and finished the day with 12 strikeouts and one hit allowed in seven innings. He needed just 65 pitches to strike out 10 guys through five innings. He made the A’s swing and miss 25 times. He spotted 100-mph fastballs on every corner of the strike zone. He threw hard, disappearing splitters that were never under any threat of being touched by a bat. At one point, just for kicks, he threw a 68-mph curveball for a strike.
And so now the Angels have a player who is slashing .398/.421/.889 to go along with three home runs, and has started his career as a pitcher with two dominant starts that have yielded 18 strikeouts in 13 innings. Again, nobody has done anything like this on a baseball field in the last 100 years.
Here is the part where we’re supposed to remember that 19 plate appearances is nothing but a slight shuffle down the long road one has to walk before proving anything about what kind of hitter they are, and that the Oakland A’s are not very good.
And yet this feels like a rare occasion in which cries of “small sample size!” truly do not matter. The point isn’t that Ohtani has a losing battle with regression ahead of him—he almost certainly does—but that he is this, right now, right in front of our very eyes. It’s 2018 and the current most dominant pitcher in baseball is also rocking 449-foot homers to straightaway center. It’s 2018 and Angels fans can turn on the TV one day to watch their rookie pitcher throw like peak Roger Clemens, and then turn it on a day or two later to watch the same player hit balls like Bryce Harper.
It’s not easy to wrap your head around something like this, mostly because of all the possibilities it opens up. Yes, Ohtani will find his struggles, but what if... what if... he mostly keeps doing this? What if he wins the Cy Young award then becomes the Rookie of the Year and hits 35 homers? What if he sets the single-season WAR record? What if he eventually becomes the most expensive free agent in baseball history? What if every dominant high school pitching prospect who is also a cleanup hitter starts refusing to put the bat down once the time comes? Will Ohtani become the planet’s new God King?
A week ago, these would have been stupid questions to ask. But after just two starts and 19 plate appearances, they seem a lot less stupid. That’s the power of Shohei Ohtani, and the reason why you should not, under any circumstances, take your eyes off him.