This Thursday, Los Angeles Angels two-way wunderkind Shohei Ohtani will be announced as the American League's starting DH for the 2021 All-Star Game. Phase 2 of the fan voting is still open, so Ohtani hasn't officially won anything yet, but I'm comfortable saying he'll win the voting given the Phase 1 results.
- Shohei Ohtani, Angels: 1,961,511 votes
- JD Martinez, Red Sox: 755,663 votes
- Yordan Alvarez, Astros: 691, 218 votes
Ohtani received more than twice as many votes as any other AL DH candidate, and the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 in the voting is the fourth largest at any position in either league. Only Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Salvador Perez, and Fernando Tatis Jr. finished with a larger lead at their positions. Ohtani starting the All-Star Game at DH feels like a lock.
What about on the mound though? Although his pitching workload pales in comparison to the AL's other top starting pitchers (his 59 1/3 innings are a little more than half league-leader Zack Greinke's 103 2/3 innings), Ohtani has been outstanding on the mound this season. A 2.58 ERA with a 33.1 percent strikeout rate (12.4 K/9) won't ever look out of place starting the All-Star Game.
We have not seen anything like Ohtani in our lifetimes and, truth be told, we may never see anything like this ever again, even from Ohtani himself. He may never have another season like this in his career. He's been an elite hitter () and a top-tier starter. His combined 5.6 WAR is a full win better than any other player in the game right now.
Given his once-in-a-lifetime season, MLB should do everything in its power to have Ohtani pitch and hit in the All-Star Game, even if it means changing the rules. Under official league rules, the AL would forfeit the DH if Ohtani starts the game as the pitcher and hits for himself, or if Ohtani starts at DH and moves to the mound later in the game. The AL would have a pitcher's spot in the lineup.
MLB should just do away with that rule for the All-Star Game. It's a meaningless exhibition -- it has been years since the All-Star Game last determined home-field advantage in the World Series -- so who cares if we change the rules? Let the AL keep the DH even after Ohtani pitches and exits the game, whenever it happens. Make it as easy as possible to showcase this guy's talent.
Also, if it helps at all, MLB should do away with the three-batter minimum for the All-Star Game. If Ohtani can only face one batter because pitching and hitting the day after participating in the Home Run Derby is too taxing, then let him only face one batter. Under no circumstances should he be asked to risk injury, so if he has one batter and only one batter in him, let him face one batter.
The X-factor in all this is Ohtani's workload. He has appeared in 73 of the Angels' 78 games,. The Home Run Derby can be very taxing, especially for players who advance beyond the first round. Ohtani taking his hacks in the Home Run Derby one day, then hitting and pitching in the All-Star Game the next day may be too much to ask.
If the workload is too much and Ohtani can't pitch in the All-Star Game, so be it. He is the sport's marquee player right now as a global sports icon and an incredible marketing figure, and protecting him is of paramount importance. In that case, MLB would have to settle for showing Ohtani pitching highlights during the All-Star Game broadcast while he's at the plate for an at-bat.
But, if Ohtani is up to doing all that (Home Run Derby and pitching and hitting in the All-Star Game), MLB should make it happen, even if the league has to bend the rules so the AL doesn't have to forfeit the DH. We needn't protect the sanctity of the All-Star Game. It's a marketing tool and a showcase for the game's best players, and Ohtani is the game's brightest star, so showcase him.