Shohei Ohtani is the unicorn we all hoped he would be

Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The cynics and trolls will dismiss him, even now. "It won't last," they'll say, citing the sample size or invoking something more qualitative, more dubious.

Ignore them.

Deride them.

Unfriend them. Unfollow them. Un-marry them.

Yes, it's true that definitive statements are dangerous at this time of year, with so little data to parse. Still, it's clear beyond a reasonable doubt that Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels' two-way phenom, is every bit the unicorn we hoped he would be when he announced this winter his intention to play in the big leagues. To resist his greatness, as a baseball fan, is a dereliction of duty.

On Sunday, after bashing home runs in all three of his starts at designated hitter in the days leading up to his first career start at Angel Stadium, Ohtani authored the most spectacular pitching performance of the young season. Before a capacity crowd of 44,742, drunk on greatness by late afternoon, the 23-year-old flirted with perfection, allowing no batters to reach base until Marcus Semien poked a single into left field with one out in the seventh inning. As he navigated his way through 19-up, 19-down, unfettered by the early lead afforded to him by his offense, Ohtani's fastball sizzled, reaching triple digits on multiple occasions, and his splitter evaporated, disappearing mid-flight. Conspiring together, they embarrassed the Oakland Athletics, who put only 10 balls in play against Ohtani and whiffed on more than a quarter - 27.5 percent, to be exact - of his 91 pitches. This kind of stuff should be illegal:

By the time Mike Scioscia relieved Ohtani, who easily wiggled out of the most piddling of jams after losing his perfect-game bid in the seventh, the kid had racked up a dozen strikeouts and managed the third-highest game score (86) - a metric devised by sabermetric OG Bill James to measure the quality of individual starts - of 2018, behind only Jameson Taillon and Patrick Corbin. Over his seven shutout innings, Ohtani allowed just the one hit and one walk, becoming only the third pitcher in Angels history to huck seven-plus scoreless with at least 12 strikeouts.

"That's as good a game as you can see pitched," Scioscia said, per MLB.com's Avery Yang.

Respectfully, however, Ohtani disagreed with his new manager. By his own estimation, he's been better.

"Probably my best outing ever was when I was in elementary school," Ohtani quipped.

What a fitting reminiscence. Ohtani's masterful outing Sunday in Anaheim had a schoolyard vibe to it, after all, in that he made a lineup of big-league ballplayers look like small children, hapless and hopeless against this cyborg engineered for a kind of baseball greatness that was previously unthinkable - for the past century, at least. The comparisons to Babe Ruth that dominated the discourse this winter always felt too rich, a bit of effective branding more than anything, but in less than two weeks of regular-season baseball, stateside, Ohtani has made them palatable.

Right now - and it can't be overstated - Ohtani has more home runs than the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals, and a gaudier OPS (1.310) than every hitter with at least 10 plate appearances save for Bryce Harper, Didi Gregorius, and Rhys Hoskins. Following his humiliation of the Athletics, Ohtani also has more strikeouts than Max Scherzer, the reigning National League Cy Young award winner (a three-time Cy Young recipient), while his 2.08 ERA (192 ERA+) and 0.46 WHIP pale in comparison to nobody. Between his contributions at the plate and on the mound, Ohtani has accrued 1.0 WAR, making him the game's second-most valuable player so far - a damn fine facsimile of Babe Ruth, to be sure, if the Bambino had to face ungodly velocity at the plate while also having to retire a coterie of hitters that was meticulously scouted, prodigiously talented, and racially heterogeneous.

As for those disinclined to trust the eye test, to shrug at the unmitigated dominance of Sunday's performance, well those skeptics can take solace in the underlying numbers from his two starts thus far, both coming against the A's, because they've been straight-up bananas. This, below, is what happens when you can paint the black with 100-mph four-seamers, mix in a splitter that masquerades as a strike for 59 feet, and flick a curveball into the zone at 68 mph:

- K% SwStr% Soft-contact% Avg. exit velocity
Stat 40.0% 23.5% 32.0% 83.9
MLB Rank 4th 1st T-5th T-6th

At the plate, meanwhile, though he's only received 19 plate appearances, Ohtani's nascent batted-ball data looks pretty darn encouraging, too:

- xWOBA Hard-contact% Avg. exit velocity
Stat .487 42.9% 97.3
MLB Rank T-20th T-67th 2nd

The pessimism inspired by Ohtani's underwhelming spring has already dissipated, and even the most sober-minded fans have to be pondering the unprecedented, fantastical possibilities made plausible by this unprecedented, fantastical talent. Surely, he can win the American League Cy Young award - the Rookie of the Year award seems fait accompli - but can he also take home the MVP? Can he be better than Mike Trout? Can he be the best player ever?

Well, he's a unicorn. Anything is possible.

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Shohei Ohtani is the unicorn we all hoped he would be
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