The Baseball Hall of Fame has been a big topic during this past month and this has been the offseason of Shohei Ohtani, so why not combine the two subjects?
We often discuss whether or not an active player is “already a Hall of Famer.” It’s a good sports talk radio or bar topic for people who just love to talk sports. It’s a topic that won’t be decided until years in the future, so — at least in the present tense — it’s one of those questions with no wrong answer. Last week I ranked the 10 active players closest to having a Hall of Fame resume. Again, that’s good bar/talk radio fodder, so why not continue with Ohtani?
Is Shohei Ohtani already a Hall of Famer? If not, what does he need to do the rest of his career to be a Hall of Famer?
My initial thought here is he’s not yet worthy of induction but he probably will be there once he’s eligible.
On the latter point, to get on the BBWAA ballot (where players start), Ohtani has to have logged 10 seasons of Major League Baseball. He’s currently at just six. Given his 10-year contract with the Dodgers that hasn’t started, he’s almost surely going to fly past the required 10 years with ease, but he’s still four seasons away. On this front, that means the whole “is he already a Hall of Famer” answer is an emphatic no.
The foundation Ohtani has laid is that of a Hall of Famer, however, even for a 29-year-old who requires at least four more seasons. I also don’t think it would be bad if people started throwing a “future Hall of Famer” label on him. Here’s why.
Ohtani has won two MVPs. He’s one of 30 players in history to hoist that hardware multiple times. Nearly all of them are Hall of Famers. The ones who aren’t are currently Hall of Famers are Ohtani, Roger Maris, Dale Murphy, Juan Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper, A-Rod, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Barry Bonds. Of those, Cabrera, Pujols and Trout are headed to Cooperstown five years after retirement and I’d bet Harper is, too. A-Rod and Bonds are PED-tied outliers.
Simply, the list of players to win multiple MVPs who didn’t make the Hall of Fame absent extreme circumstances is small.
Should Ohtani win another MVP, three-plus MVPs means the Hall of Fame unless you pulled an A-Rod/Bonds. Aside from that duo, the players to win three MVPs: Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, Pujols and Trout.
8.5+ WAR seasons
Ohtani has posted at least 8.5 in WAR (baseball-reference.com version) in each of the past three seasons. That’s a huge number. There aren’t that many players in history to have done so three times in a whole career, much less three straight seasons.
The only pitchers to do it in the live-ball era are Lefty Grove (six times), Roger Clemens (five), Randy Johnson (four), Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson and Bob Feller. Twenty-three position players have had at least three 8.5+ WAR seasons. Much like the pitcher list, all are either Hall of Famers (19 of them), PED-tied (Bonds and A-Rod) or haven’t yet been on the ballot (Pujols, Trout).
I realize Ohtani’s figure gets combined with pitching and hitting WAR, but that’s a component of what would become his Hall of Fame case.
The Fame Factor/Eye Test
Other than just career WAR and awards, it’ll be tougher to judge Ohtani’s numbers against other Hall of Famers than anyone we’ve ever seen except maybe Babe Ruth — and even then, Ruth basically overlapped as a pitcher and full-time hitter for just two seasons. Ohtani’s already surpassed him on the two-way front.
In and of itself, Ohtani should have a huge leg up on other players who seem similar just due to how much more difficult it is to both pitch and hit at the high level he does. As much attention as he gets for this from the media and MLB fan base, you should talk to some players. They are overwhelmingly awed by his work. Walking around All-Star media day, they all talk about him like he’s a rock star and they just can’t even fathom how he pulls it off.
CC Sabathia told me last April that Ohtani is the best player ever.
“I don’t think so and that’s why I give him such high praise,” said Sabathia when I asked if fans can grasp how hard it is to be a two-way player. “People like to compare him to Babe Ruth, but there wasn’t that much overlap and I don’t think the players were as good as they are now.”
He also noted the routine of MLB starting pitchers in this day and age.
“That’s what’s so amazing about it,” Sabathia said. “Everything that I did to get ready just to pitch every five days, I couldn’t imagine doing that and still being one of the best hitters on the team — producing that way. It’s incredible what he’s able to do.”
This really explodes any statistical comparisons for me.
It’s easy to lose grasp of such things when diving into numbers, too, but I always make sure to discuss the “feel” test. When you were/are watching a player, does it feel like you’re watching greatness?
I used the word emphatic earlier and, holy smokes, the answer for what we’ve seen from Ohtani these past three seasons is an emphatic yes. He absolutely feels like a Hall of Famer.
As a hitter, Ohtani is a career .274/.366/.556 hitter, which is good for a 148 OPS+. On a rate basis, that’s a quality Hall of Fame track. He has 681 hits, 129 doubles, 171 homers, 437 RBI, 428 runs and 86 steals. For his age, the counting stats would probably be lagging a bit behind where we’d want a compiler to be, but there’s just so much time left and, um, he’s also a freaking pitcher.
Baseball-reference.com has a handy tool where it shows the most statistically similar players and through age 28, Ohtani’s top 10 most similar hitters includes Hall of Famers David Ortiz and Fred McGriff. Big-time sluggers like Tony Clark, Ryan Howard, Pete Alonso, Mo Vaughn, Matt Olson and Cecil Fielder are also in there.
On the pitching side, he’s 38-19 with a 3.01 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 608 strikeouts in 481 2/3 innings. Through age 28, his top 10 most statistical similar pitchers list includes quality arms like Yu Darvish, Tim Belcher, Alex Cobb and Jacob deGrom.
And, again, we need to combine them. Just think if David Ortiz pitched like Tim Belcher or Matt Olson also threw like Alex Cobb? I guess we don’t have to think too hard, since Ohtani is showing it. We can’t take it for granted moving forward, so keep those examples in mind.
What more needs to be done?
Let’s say Ohtani hits the next few years like anything even remotely close to how he hit the past three seasons and then picks up where he left off on the mound starting in 2025 after elbow surgery. I’d say he really just needs to get the 10 years under his belt. The numbers probably don’t much matter, really. He’s already had three MVP-caliber, two-way seasons. Just stacking up a few more there and he’s already home.
What could derail him? Stuff we don’t want to think about that would prevent him from playing a full 10 years or a fall-off-the-cliff performance that just doesn’t seem realistic to even consider. We’ve seen dips in numbers cost players like Andruw Jones, but Jones never won an MVP and only finished in the top seven of voting once. He was a star, maybe even a superstar, but he wasn’t close to what Ohtani is now. This is to say, the kind of dip required in Ohtani’s numbers for him to get to 10 years of service time and not be a Hall of Famer is off the board.
Shohei Ohtani will be a Hall of Famer. I’m very confident in this. It’s just about biding his time.