When I saw a Sports Illustrated article a few days ago that Ohtani had had precautionary PRP injections in his throwing elbow, I was unconcerned. All teams that were in on Ohtani knew of this injury, so this isn’t some grand controversy about him hiding it. However, Jeff Passan has now provided a more detailed account of Ohtani’s elbow issues based on a copy of the physical that was sent out to major league clubs during the free agency process and there is some cause for concern. Passan writes that Ohtani has a first degree sprain of the UCL as well as a small body floating in the elbow. On October 20, Ohtani received an injection of PRP, a biologic of centrifuge-spun blood that is used to promote healing and was told that he would most likely be able to begin a throwing program approximately 30 days after the injection. On Tuesday, Ohtani was seen playing catch in Japan where he has returned after signing with the Angels. Passan states that “while a first-degree sprain is the least severe of the UCL injuries, further damage could lead to Tommy John surgery.” Dylan Hernandez reported that “with a first-degree sprain, there are no problems with the integrity of the ligament. Just irritation/inflammation…should be able to recover without surgery.” As with all injuries, it would appear it is wait and see how Ohtani responds to the treatments he has received as to whether he will be ready (on paper he will) for Spring Training.
Fans complain that Japanese pitchers are too fragile and fade too quickly to be successful in Major League Baseball. Baseball savants, such as Tom Verducci have been arguing for years over the success or lack thereof of Japanese pitchers in MLB. Fans recall the unsuccessful careers of Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matzuzaka, but forget the solid consistency of Hiroki Kuroda. Recently, Ben Lindbergh, of the ringer.com wrote an interesting article exploring the myth of fragility of Japanese pitchers, and while he does not address Ohtani’s injuries, he explores whether it is true that Japanese pitchers become injured and/or fade at a higher rate than non-NPB pitchers.
Lindbergh says, “Given the differences between leagues and the possibility that foreign pitchers might benefit at first from exploiting hitters who haven’t faced them before, the belief that Japanese pitchers decline particularly quickly sounds somewhat reasonable—right up until you really study the stats, at which point it falls apart. The myth was probably born from the fact “Japanese pitchers” is still a small enough sample that the individual declines are burned into our minds; when we think of that group, we immediately remember Matsuzaka, Nomo, and others who failed to sustain the hype that they generated right before and/or after their big league debuts.”
It would seem Ohtani has failed to sustain the hype of his talent even a week. Fans across baseball were breathing a sigh of relief that their team had not won the Ohtani sweepstakes yesterday when Passan’s article came out. Their reasoning is based in this myth of the fragility of Japanese pitchers, and if you read Lindbergh’s article, you will find that the careers of Kuroda, Darvish and Tanaka have bucked the myth. Non-NPB pitchers are fragile, too and yearly, too many pitchers become injured and undergo Tommy John surgery, and recover, and have productive post-surgery careers. But we get ahead of ourselves. For now, the news is that Ohtani had issues, and treatment has been instituted. He is recovering, as shown by him throwing yesterday, on schedule.
This is not tragic news, despite what it may seem. I think fans should look forward with optimism as clearly Angels GM Billy Eppler was when he told Yahoo Sports: "...there are not signs of acute trauma in the elbow. It looks consistent with players his age. We are pleased with the results of the physical and we are very happy to have the player.” As a baseball fan, I look forward to seeing what Ohtani brings to the game in 2018, and am hopeful that he is every bit as good as the hype.
-Chris Northrop (@ringoangel653)
FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @NYYSportsTalk
PODCAST: LISTEN NOW!
WIN FREE YANKEE TICKETS FOR THE 2018 SEASON