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Finding Shohei Ohtani’s at-bats: How can the Padres maximize a two-way player?

Shohei Ohtani possesses a unique skill set. The Padres can use every tool in his bag. I’ve come up with a plan to get the most out of his massive potential

Japan v Mexico - International Friendly
See this bat? I can use this bat. I want to use this bat often.
Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

In Major League Baseball, a hitter needs 3.1 plate appearances per team game to qualify for the batting title, which equates to 502 PA’s over a 162-game season. Last year, the pitcher with the most plate appearances in baseball was Jacob deGrom, one of the better-hitting pitchers in the league, and he only came to the plate 77 times last season, which included five appearances as a pinch-hitter. While qualifying for the batting title is logistically unlikely, the Padres may have incentive to find as many ways as possible to get his bat into games.

South Korea v Japan - WBSC Premier 12 Semi Final Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

Starting Pitcher: 90 plate appearances

Let’s assume that Ohtani starts 30 games. That may be a bit optimistic, but I like to see the world through rose-colored glasses. Clayton Richard and Jhoulys Chacin both started 32 games last year, so it’s not much of a stretch. I’m assuming that the Padres will try to work his schedule so that he doesn’t start a game in an AL park. Pitchers typically hit near the bottom of the order, but the team may slot Ohtani in the middle or even near the top of the order to get him to the plate as often as possible. Let’s give him three PA’s per start, so there’s 90 trips to the dish.

Netherlands v Japan - International Friendly
Shohei Ohtani learned this “modified flamingo style” stance from Miyagi-san.
Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

Designated Hitter: 40 PA’s

The Padres are scheduled to play ten games as visitor in AL parks in 2018. If they can work his schedule so he can DH in all ten games, and he averages four trips per game, that’s 40 plate appearances.

Let’s get weird.

With 30 pitching starts and 10 DH starts accounted for, we’ve found 130 plate appearances for the kid, but there are still plenty of games left in the season. We can’t expect a starting pitcher to have game action on all of his days off, so let’s give Shohei a day off per rotation turn. Okay, so 122 games remaining minus 30 days off = 92 games left to find as many more plate appearances as we can.

Starting Outfielder: 80 PA’s

I’m trying to be marginally realistic here, so I’m not just going to slot him in as the starting leftfielder, especially considering that he hasn’t played a game in the outfield in over two years. That said, these are the same Padres who gave Christian Bethancourt a dozen starts out there when Preller and Green were trying to shake unicorn dust out of him. Hunter Renfroe doesn’t hit righties well at all, so maybe Ohtani gets 20 or so starts in RF. There’s another 80 PA’s. Yeah, yeah, I wouldn’t want to risk the kid’s health by doing this either, but if that’s what he wants, that’s what they’ll probably let him do. Like I said, marginally realistic is my goal.

Mexico v Japan - International Friendly Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

Pinch Hitter/defensive replacement: 72 PA’s

You may not have noticed that Ichiro Suzuki set the MLB record for both pinch hit at-bats (100) and appearances as a pinch hitter (109) in 2017. That’s okay, I didn’t either. We’ve already whittled ourselves down to 72 remaining games. Let’s presume that in half of the remaining games, Ohtani is used as a pinch hitter who then remains in the game as an outfielder and comes to the plate twice in each game. That’s 72 more at-bats.

Let’s get really weird: 36 PA’s

So far I’ve found 282 plate appearances for Shohei Ohtani, and there are still 36 games left in the season. In my perfect little world, Andy Green and Darren Balsley are standing in front of a huge whiteboard as we speak, plotting out the season, and they’ve craftily left these remaining 36 games spread across games where the Padres will play as the visitor. For these games, the Padres will bat first, before taking a turn in the field. In these starts, Ohtani will be listed as a position player on the lineup card, in one of the top three spots in the batting order. He will complete one plate appearance (with the chance of more should the Padres bat around), and a defensive substitute will be named before the beginning of the bottom of the first. Then he’ll go to the bullpen and do his side work.

Netherlands v Japan - International Friendly Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

318 total plate appearances

In 2017, 287 major league hitters (but only nine Padres players) logged more than 300 plate appearances. I have found a way to get Shohei Ohtani into that club while taking the mound every fifth day and having a proper day of rest. Of the players that logged between 300 and 318 plate appearances last season, we have plenty of examples of quality production:

  • Home Runs: 19, Kurt Suzuki
  • Doubles: 23, Nick Hundley
  • Hits: 89, Austin Jackson
  • Runs: 27, Jose Martinez
  • Runs Batted In: 59, Adam Lind
  • Stolen Bases: 21, Ben Revere

It’s a tall enough task to be a full-time starter in Major League Baseball. It’s an even taller task to be the Ace of a rotation, and everywhere Ohtani goes will be a media circus unlike anything we’ve seen since Ichiro first came stateside. But the kid wants to hit, he seems like he should be good at it, and the Padres should have incentive to get him to the plate as often as reasonably possible. 300+ plate appearances is incredibly optimistic, but it can be done. People seem to think that the AL is the only place where Ohtani can rack up quality at-bats, but I’ve presented some ideas to get him those same opportunities under (mostly) National League rules.

Mr. Ohtani, if you’re out there reading this, we want you to come to our fine city, represent our beloved Padres, and enjoy playing the game you love for some fans that will embrace you and welcome you with open arms. If you want to hit, then we want you to hit, and you’ll be playing for management and ownership that will give you the flexibility to do what you want to within the game of baseball.