A Japanese trailblazer is set to transform baseball

THE PAST five years have been a golden age for tactical experimentation in Major League Baseball (MLB).  Defensive alignments and bullpen-usage patterns that would have been unthinkable a decade ago have now become commonplace. Yet even the clubs most inclined to think out of the box have never questioned one of the sport’s fundamental truths: pitchers pitch, hitters hit, and never the twain shall meet.

In 2018, however, this bedrock belief will be put to a long-overdue test. On December 8th Shohei Ohtani—an unprecedented two-way star, who has a strong claim to be both Japan’s best hitter and its best pitcher—announced that he would sign with the Los Angeles Angels. The team in turn promptly declared it planned to use the 23-year-old as a batter on the days he does not pitch. The last player deployed this way with any success was Babe Ruth, the greatest star in baseball history. He started out as a pitcher and briefly excelled in both roles, but gave up pitching for good when he joined the New York Yankees in 1920.

On one hand, the potential benefit of a two-way player is so vast that their extinction long ago might seem surprising. Modern starting pitchers throw just once every…Continue reading

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