In the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field last week, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout performed a thought experiment that might have seemed absurd.
I asked him whether the other superstar in the clubhouse, Shohei Ohtani, the major leagues' first two-way star player since Babe Ruth, could do even more on the baseball field than he does now.
My curiosity came from examining this year's AL MVP debate. What more would Ohtani need to do to surpass Aaron Judge's candidacy? Judge, whom many view as the favorite, leads Ohtani in total FanGraphs WAR (10.7 WAR to 8.8) and Baseball Reference's version (9.9 to 8.9) of the metric.
Ohtani made us rethink what is possible on the baseball field, and it's interesting to wonder if he could push those limits even further. What are those limits? After all, many thought it was a bad idea for Ohtani to consider hitting in addition to pitching before he proved it was possible in the modern game.
Through play Friday, Ohtani's made 617 plate appearances and thrown 153 innings this season. It's an incredible volume of work, to be sure, but what might a maximum amount of Ohtani look like? And how could it benefit both him and the Angels if he expanded his role without causing his performance to decline?
I asked Trout if he thought Ohtani could play in the outfield instead of DHing. I also asked if he thought it was possible for the Angels to transition to a five-man rotation.
"I think for the whole season it's too much," Trout said. "What he is doing is obviously working for him. But with Ohtani, it's crazy. If you need him to go in the outfield, he could do it. I think playing outfield and pitching every fifth day – that would be interesting."
To begin exploring this, we must consider the theoretical maximum playing time a two-way player might accrue in a modern season.
Last year, four pitchers exceeded 200 innings pitched, with Zack Wheeler leading at 213 1/3. Sandy Alcantara will likely top that this year. We'll use 200 innings as a maximum innings threshold, which would require being a part of a five-man rotation. The Angels use a six-man staff to accommodate Ohtani, which is why he's tied for 48th in innings pitched.