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A closer look at Shohei Ohtani’s home runs

Shohei Ohtani blasted three home runs in his first week at Angel Stadium. Let’s dissect each one of them.

Cleveland Indians  v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Do you have Ohtani fatigue yet? No? Good. That would be insane.

We’re talking about the potential of a front-line pitcher who might be capable of handling the high offensive expectations that accompany the designated hitter position. This is something we’ve never really seen before — at least in our lifetime — and while it’s early, it sure looks like the Shohei Ohtani experience will be a lot of fun.

Upon returning to Anaheim after their opening series in Oakland, Shohei Ohtani started at DH in the second, third, and fourth games of the Angels’ home-stand. In all three games he went yard. It’s been an astonishing beginning to the career of this burgeoning two-way marvel and a quick answer to those who would take his spring training struggles at the plate as a sign of things to come.

Since it’s early in the season and everything that happens is magnified simply for the fact that we’re watching real baseball that matters again, I though it might be interesting to take a look at all three of Ohtani’s homers.

We knew that his carrying tool as a hitter was raw power, but there is still something we can learn regarding Ohtani’s impressive early showing of game power. Just as detractors jumped to conclusions during spring training, we have to be careful not to overreact to this small sample either, but Ohtani’s early power display does answer a few early questions about his capabilities. Let’s dive in and take a closer look.

Home Run #1

Opposing pitcher: Josh Tomlin

Pitch Type: Curveball (73.6 mph)

Count: 2-2

Gif via MLB.com

Tomlin had a clear plan of attack against Ohtani — pound him down and in with cutters and curveballs. The sequence went like this: cutter, cutter, curveball, curveball, cutter, curveball. On the sixth pitch, that third curveball, Ohtani blasted a home run 397 feet to right-center field.

Chart via MLB Gameday

The ball left Ohtani’s bat at 104.5 miles per hour, but it wasn’t a meatball over the heart of the plate, it was a legitimately tough pitch that he just crushed. What was most impressive, is that Ohtani had to go down and get the curve as it straddled the inside part of the lower-third of the zone. Sure, he had a hint that the offering would be down and in as Tomlin’s plan of attack had been made clear, but to actually drop the bat head down and drive that ball as far as he did was impressive. According to Statcast, left-handed hitters had an xwOBA of just .268 against pitches in that zone last season. That’s not a totally feeble mark, but it shows how that particular pitch location is not exactly a prime location for left-handed dingers.

Home Run #2

Opposing pitcher: Corey Kluber

Count: 1-1

Pitch Type: Four-Seam Fastball (91.6 mph)

Gif via MLB.com

As nice as Ohtani’s first home run was, it came against Josh Tomlin, who is not a frontline starting pitcher. That’s not meant to insult Tomlin — who by the very act of pitching in the major leagues is demonstrating his incredible talent — but Ohtani was bound to face tougher tests as his journey continued. That test came the very next day in the form of two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber.

The nice thing about this homer is that it’s almost the complete opposite of his first. Just as we move from bottom-of-the-rotation starter to ace, our pitch-type characteristics do a 180. His first home run came on a down-and-in curveball, but his second was against an elevated fastball on the outer third. And did I mention it was against Corey Kluber?!

Historically the four-seam fastball has been one of Kluber’s more mediocre offerings — with a career wOBA and wRC+ against of .315 and 109 respectively — but he’s coming off of a season that saw those marks drop to .252 and 66. Those numbers can be altered by sequencing changes, but there’s no doubt Kluber’s four-seamer was more effective last season than it typically had been. This particular fastball caught more of the plate than Kluber would’ve liked, but it wasn’t a meatball. Ohtani had to extend his arms and drive it to the opposite field. The ball left his bat at 100 miles per hour and traveled 400 feet over the left-center field wall.

Two home runs, two vastly different pitches to hit, and two incredibly impressive swings.

Home Run #3

Opposing pitcher: Daniel Gossett

Count: 2-0

Pitch Type: Two-Seam Fastball (93.8 mph)

Gif via MLB.com

Part of being a successful major league hitter isn’t just putting good swings on decent pitches, but being able to punish bad pitches. If Ohtani’s first two home runs were impressive hitting displays against solid offerings, his third was the demolition of a meatball.

Chart via MLB Gameday

As Travis Sawchik noted for FanGraphs after the first game in which Ohtani homered, the Japanese wunderkind immediately verified for us that he hits the ball hard. It seems simplistic, but it’s a necessary skill to possess to hit at the major league level; and once demonstrated, it’s a skill that must be respected.

Daniel Gossett fell behind on two straight fastballs that missed away and inside. His third pitch clocked in at 94 miles per hour, but was essentially down the middle, allowing Ohtani to send it 449 feet away onto the rocks in center field. The ball left his bat at 112 miles per hour, which — as Travis Sawchik noted in the above linked article — eclipsed his highest known mark in Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan.

Shohei Ohtani’s third home run was the worst of the three home run pitches he saw, but was also his most extreme display of his power. Do me a favor and go back and watch all three of the home run gifs. You don’t have to be a hitting coach to notice how he maintains the same balance in all three instances. That has to be a good sign, right? What we see are three different pitches requiring three different swings, but all seem to show a hitter who stayed within himself and maintained his mechanics. Ohtani has not been overmatched at the plate.

***

It’s early, and he’ll surely experience some growing pains as pitchers make adjustments to him, but nothing we’ve seen so far indicates that Shohei Ohtani won’t hit in the majors, as many anonymous scouts seemed to voice during his spring training struggles. The power is clearly real and he seems to have enough bat control to handle different pitch locations and types.

Oh, and Ohtani has a fastball sits in the upper 90s with a devastating splitter that falls off the table like an upset toddler’s dinner plate... good luck with that, MLB hitters.


Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @MrChrisAnders.