Shohei Ohtani had already proven that he could be one of the most exciting players in baseball coming into 2021, but health had proven an obstacle.
Could he really stay healthy over a full season? Could he have an entire year spent as a starting pitcher and put everything together at the plate? It seemed possible, but far from inevitable.
One bettor in Nevada saw a lofty ceiling, and back on March 19 he bet $30,000 on Ohtani with William Hill sportsbook, which is now Caesars Sportsbook, to win the American League MVP, according to ESPN. The odds: 30-1. Today, Ohtani is a heavy favorite to win the AL MVP. And if — perhaps, when — he wins, that bettor will pocket $900,000. And according to ESPN’s report, William Hill will overall be handed a seven-figure loss on Ohtani winning the award.
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“It’s going to be the biggest loss on that type of market ever,” Adam Pullen, assistant director of trading for Caesars Sportsbook, said, according to ESPN. “It’s going to stick out as a line item, when you see award betting and a big minus.”
Caesars won’t be the only book to face a heavy loss. SuperBook risk manager Randy Blum told ESPN that the sportsbook is set to face a “low five-figure” liability with Ohtani lined up to win the award.
“We just never expected him to be that type of hitter,” Blum said.
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There wasn’t a whole lot that could have predicted Ohtani’s breakout success. In 2018, when he won AL Rookie of the Year, he slashed .285/.361/.564 with 22 home runs and 10 stolen bases. He also threw 51 2/3 innings with a 3.31 ERA and struck out 63 batters, but he dealt with injuries and ultimately required Tommy John surgery after the season.
Ohtani played 106 games exclusively as a designated hitter in 2019 after he underwent Tommy John surgery. He still performed well, owning a slash line of .286/.343/.505 with 18 homers and 12 steals. He struggled at the plate in 2020, however, slashing just .190/.291/.366 with seven homers and seven steals.
The power looked real, as did the speed, but Ohtani had yet to put everything together. Until 2021. This season, he slashed .257/.372/.592 and was third in the AL with 46 home runs and was fifth with 26 stolen bases. On the mound, he pitched 130 1/3 innings in 23 starts, putting together a 3.18 ERA with a 29.3 percent strikeout rate and 8.3 percent walk rate. According to Fangraphs, he earned 3.0 WAR as a pitcher and 5.1 WAR as a batter.
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Per Fangraphs, Trea Turner led the majors in batting WAR at 6.9 and Corbin Burnes led the majors in pitching WAR at 7.5. No player reached Ohtani’s 8.1 collective WAR.