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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 4: Shohei Ohtani, two-way threat

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Shoehi Ohtani’s posting and signing late in 2017 was a big story last year, but it paled compared to the impact he had in 2018.

The hope was that Ohtani would be a fine major league pitcher who would spot in at DH once between starts and provide some occasional pop. In the event, the fine pitching was more than fine and the hitting was far better than anyone expected. He was a true two-way threat, the likes of which baseball has not seen in a century when Babe Ruth played both ways for the Boston Red Sox.

At the outset it didn’t look like it’d be that way. Ohtani struggled early in spring training, looking lost at the plate in Arizona. Once the season began, however, he turned it on, hitting .341/.383/.682 with four homers as the Angels’ DH in the first month of the season. He likewise turned heads as a pitcher early, striking out 12 in seven one-hit shutout innings against the Oakland Athletics on April 8, showcasing electric stuff. Not all of his outings were that good, of course, but the mere fact that he was making them while hitting a high level was unprecedented in living memory.

As the season wore on, the hitting continued to be exceptional and, actually, improved and, overall, his rookie year was tremendous. He posted a batting line of .285/.361/.564 (152 OPS+) with 22 home runs — 13 of them coming in August and September — 61 RBI, 59 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases in 367 plate appearances. On the mound, he went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA (126 ERA+) and a 63/22 K/BB ratio in 51.2 innings. Was that Babe Ruth? No, not exactly. But some argued that it was the equivalent of stapling Boog Powell to a young Tim Lincecum and turning them into one player. Which, eww, but that’s pretty cool!

You know by now, of course, that Ohtani’s season wasn’t all beer and Skittles. He was diagnosed with a sprained UCL in early June and that put his pitching on ice for a couple of months. With the exception of a single two-inning outing in September he simply stopped pitching and worked mostly full-time as a DH. Ohtani finally underwent Tommy John surgery after the season and will not pitch again until 2020. He is expected, however, to be able to hit more or less full time in the coming year.

The second coming of Babe Ruth? Not exactly, but that was always an unreasonable ask. He was something just as rare, though, and that made Shohei Ohtani‘s debut season a big, big story.

Report: Angels to sign Cody Allen

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Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Angels and reliever Cody Allen are in agreement on a one-year contract, pending a physical. The value of the contract is not yet known.

Allen, 30, was looking for an opportunity to close and the Angels can certainly provide that. He will likely be the favorite to break camp as the closer. 2018 was the roughest year of his career, however, as he finished with a 4.70 ERA, 27 saves, and a 80/33 K/BB ratio in 67 innings. Among Allen’s six full seasons, his 27.7 strikeout rate and 11.4 percent walk rate represented career-worsts. FanGraphs also shows him losing nearly a full MPH on his average fastball velocity.

The Angels lost closer Keynan Middleton to Tommy John surgery early last season and he likely won’t return until the second half of the 2019 season. Blake Parker, who handled save situations in Middleton’s place, was non-tendered by the Angels in November and ended up signing with the Twins. The closer’s role is Allen’s to lose, it seems.