Newspapers are dying and professional sports leagues are taking it upon themselves to break news rather than talking to the pesky press. In light of that, what’s to become of Johnny Sportswriter? Why, covering individual athletes! From a recent story in the Wall Street Journal about the Brooklyn Nets Deron Williams:
By all appearances, Deron Williams has enjoyed the trappings of life as an NBA superstar … For most human beings, this would be enough. Not Williams, whose wide-ranging list of accomplishments and assets includes something extraordinary, unique even among pro athletes: He employs his own team of beat writers. Their mission? Spread the gospel of D-Will on his website, DeronWilliams.com.
Seriously: Williams employs his own beat writer to provide daily news updates on his website. Granted, its run by Williams and his agents/managers, so it’s not like this is “news” as we know it, but it is different than, say, an athlete updating social media sites or a publicist offering press releases. These are bylined stories that read like newspaper reports.
We live in a world where the message is being increasingly sculpted, crafted and controlled, even when the news goes out through independent media. In light of that, it’s not necessarily shocking that such a thing is happening, even if it is somewhat depressing. I would not be at all surprised if we see several other athletes following suit soon and, eventually, this becoming the new normal.
Spring training is tough for players under the best of circumstances. Even in an age when players work out all year, getting back into the swing of baseball-at-full-speed is tough. Many players spend the bulk of February and March knocking off the rust and getting their timing back. Because of this — and because the games have no real stakes — it is not wise to take spring training statistics super seriously. Especially if the player in question is assured of a spot on the roster and is trying to avoid injury before the regular season arrives.
Spring training for Shohei Ohtani is doubly difficult. Not only does he have to knock the rust off from the offseason, but he (a) has to get used to a new country and language; (b) has to get to know all new teammates, coaches and, really, an entirely new baseball culture; and (c) do all of that while dealing with a media crush that hasn’t been seen in baseball since Ichiro first arrived 17 years ago. In short, Ohtani is under massive pressure and has to make massive adjustments in a short time.
With that said, neither the Angels nor Ohtani can be all that pleased with how his spring training has gone. In two actual major league exhibition games he’s allowed eight runs in two and two-thirds innings. Seven of those came on Friday when he was shelled by the Rockies in an inning and a third. If you include B-games against minor leaguers, he has allowed 17 runs on 18 hits, four of which were homers, in four games. As a hitter he’s 2-for-20.
As Jeff Fletcher of the OC Register notes, Ohtani’s peripherals are not bad, as he has struck out a lot of guys and walked very few and the average on balls in play against him has been brutal, which is not super sustainable. Bad luck and some fat pitches at a time of the year when luck doesn’t really matter and the pitches, because of the rust, are likely to be fatter than normal.
As Fletcher also notes, Nolan Arenado, who faced Ohtani on Friday, said that his stuff looked good and that he’s going to be a good big league pitcher. Ohtani and Angels officials are all striking the right notes about bad luck and adjustments, saying that they’re not worried.
I imagine they’d be worrying even less if things had gone well this spring. Unless of course this is just a professional wrestling-style work aimed at getting more of us to watch his regular season debut, in which he’ll reveal that he was sandbaggin’ all along.