Let’s take a closer look at how the new two way player rule will affect this century’s most famous two way player, Shohei Ohtani.
To recap: the rule states that teams must (a) designate each player as either a pitcher or a position player/designated hitter and that designation will stay the same for the whole season unless that player achieves two way player status. When a player achieves two way status, he will have that status for the rest of the current season as well as for the next season. When a player achieves two way player status, he no longer counts towards the maximum number of pitchers a team may carry on the roster.
Why do we care? Because position players are only allowed to pitch if their team leads by six or more runs, is behind by six or more runs, or the game is in extra innings. Obviously, since Ohtani is a starter, the Angels cannot designate him as a position player or designated hitter. (Games never start with a six run lead or a six run deficit.) In order for him to have the opportunity to start games and rack up some innings, he has to be designated as a pitcher. Fortunately, the rule does not place any limitations on the use of pitchers as designated hitters or position players.
How is one to become a two way player? To qualify, the player must pitch 20 major league innings plus play 20 games as a designated hitter or position player. In the 20 games, the player must have at least three plate appearances. The rule was not in effect last year, so the best I can figure out from the FAQ on MLB.com is that Ohtani’s games as designated hitter last year do not count toward qualifying as a two-way player.
As we know, the Angels do not intend to have Shohei Ohtani start pitching major league games until the middle of May this season. Can he qualify as a two way player this year? When is it likely to happen? There are only 19 Sunday games from May 17 through September 27, 2020. If the rule was for pitchers to pitch in 20 games there might be a problem. Fortunately, the rule is that he must pitch 20 innings. There are 30 games in March and April this year. Even allowing for a day of rest here and there (and possible rehab starts in the minor leagues), Ohtani will qualify with his bat before the middle of May. He will probably do it by the end of April. Assuming he begins to pitch at the May 17 home game against Oakland, and assuming he is on a pitch count, it could take him as many as five games to get his 20 innings of pitching. If so, he would qualify as a two way player by the June 14th home game against Seattle or at the latest the June 21st home game against Texas.
In other words, Shohei Ohtani can qualify as a two way player before the All Star break. He will no longer be counted as a pitcher on the roster, which would give the Angels an opportunity to add another pitcher at the trade deadline. Here’s to hoping the Angels are competitive into the All-Star break and that Billy Eppler will go out and find a much needed starter.
Photo credit: Rex Fregosi