Shohei Ohtani is here.
Coined the “Japanese Babe Ruth” because of his ability to both hit and pitch at the professional level, Ohtani will be one of the biggest storylines surrounding the game throughout the entire 2018 season. Questions surround him not only due to his novelty as a player who wants to try to do both in the Majors, but also about how the Angels plan to use him and limit his workload.
After an underwhelming Spring Training, many were concerned that Ohtani had too much on his plate. Jeff Passan wrote an article for Yahoo Sports that cited scouts who had already said that Ohtani’s bat was not Major League ready, let alone his arm. Some considered a situation in which Ohtani struggles so much at the plate that the Angels would attempt to convert him into a full-time pitcher.
Remember: those scouts were judging Ohtani based on spring games. A swing is a swing, sure, but it’s hard to consider the verdict in on a player based upon his first Major League Spring Training, not even considering the difficulties of Ohtani’s cultural transition to the United States.
Regardless, we are now four games in. Ohtani has both hit and pitched in an Angels uniform, so we can obviously tell how he’s going to produce for the rest of his career (If you didn’t pick up on the sarcasm, in all honesty, we cannot.) It is, however, worth breaking down what Ohtani did show over his first games in the Major Leagues, not in a predicative sense, but as a way to see whether he looks different now than he did in camp.
On the very first pitch of Ohtani’s career, he singled through the right side. It looks like a pretty weak single, but that is because the ball bounced just eight feet from home plate. In fact, Ohtani’s single had a 102.1 MPH exit velocity, very formidable for a player trying to make the transition to Major League Baseball. A hit’s a hit.
Ohtani went on to have four more at bats in the game. His first (in the GIF) and second came against Kendall Graveman, and the subsequent three came against Ryan Buchter, Blake Treinen and Chris Hatcher. In total, he saw 14 pitches in his Major League debut, making contact on eight, watching five and swinging and missing on just one.
In addition to his 102.1 MPH single, Ohtani grounded out against Treinen, still posting a 103.9 MPH exit velocity on a 97.2 MPH two-seam fastball. While the exit velocities are certainly good, both pitches were hit into the ground. We know he’s got natural power. It’s whether or not he can have quality contact that will determine whether Ohtani can cut it as as a Major League hitter.
It’s quite obvious that Ohtani has at least probably has the ability to turn around a fastball Perhaps it’s even more important, however, to note that Ohtani only faced two true off-speed pitches in the debut. They were both curveballs from Buchter, and while he did make contact on both, neither resulted in anything great.
Here is No. 1:
And here is No. 2:
Neither swing was particularly pretty, but it does not mean that Ohtani cannot hit the curveball. This is something we will have to monitor over the course of the season. Two curves are not enough to come to a total conclusion on Ohtani, so let’s get a larger sample size on that before we come to a true judgment.
Three days after Ohtani’s first appearance at the plate, he started on the mound for the first time, against the same Oakland Athletics.
While Ohtani’s hitting debut went rather quietly — as quietly as it could go considering the circumstances — his pitching debut did not. He handled the Athletics well, pitching six innings, allowing just three hits and three runs. He struck out six and walked just one, and on the whole, he pitched pretty well. Ohtani even retired 14 of the last 15 hitters that he faced.
But Ohtani did leave one pitch in the middle of the zone, and A’s third baseman Matt Chapman took him deep.
Only focusing on this pitch would be doing Ohtani a disservice. First, the Angels won the game, and Ohtani did collect his first victory (if you like keeping track of that). So, the home run did not mean a whole lot in terms of the outcome. But, Ohtani’s outing was rather special given the circumstances.
Ohtani’s fastballs were classified as four-seamers, cutters and two-seamers on Baseball Savant. The classification of those does not really matter. The velocity on the pitch (or pitches) ranged from 96 to 100 MPH, and he was able to maintain these figures until the very end of the game. His 89th pitch of the game (of 92) was clocked at 98 MPH. Ohtani’s arm has come to the United States just as advertised.
Ohtani’s speciality, however, is his splitter. It comes with more downward movement than the average splitter. Observe as Matt Olson swings and misses:
Ohtani also mixed in a slider and a changeup. Of his 15 sliders, four induced swinging strikes and another six were called strikes. And of his 17 changeups, one went for a swinging strike and another four were called strikes.
Here’s a low slider that gets Marcus Semien to whiff:
And now a high slider that fools Khris Davis:
Ohtani threw quite a few high sliders, so it’ll be interesting to watch to see if this is going to be part of his permanent repertoire going forward.
On the whole, one of the biggest concerns with Ohtani’s game coming into this season was his control. But he threw 63 strikes (with 18 whiffs) over his 92 pitches, for a cool 68.5 strike percentage. The control appeared to be no issue for Ohtani, at least on this given day.
Based on what I’ve seen in this extremely small sample, Ohtani’s greatest potential does seem to be through his arm. But, if he can hit even at a league-average level this season, he might be able to provide positive value as both a hitter and a pitcher, making him one of the best players in baseball. It is too soon to tell, at least for now.
However, Shohei Ohtani’s first series makes him an exciting player to watch going forward. I know that I’m going to be tuning in for a lot of Ohtani at bats and starts this season, just due to the novelty of the situation.
For at least three days, though, Ohtani looks exactly as advertised. Still, I’d say that the verdict isn’t in quite yet. There’s certainly a chance for Ohtani to be a big-time player. Only time will tell if that comes to pass.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.