Shohei Ohtani put on an absolute show on Sunday night and proved that he is one of the most entertaining things to happen to baseball in its long history. We just got to witness a player pump fastballs over 100 mph while crushing balls at the plate, including a 451 foot bomb to right field. The home run itself had an exit velocity of 115.2 mph and sounded like a gunshot on the broadcast. Watching a player dominate on both sides of the baseball happens in Little League, but just never happens in MLB. While today’s game of baseball is still entertaining and has an incredible amount of talent, some of the league gets repetitive with the three true outcomes and all that stuff. Because of this, when a player that the league has literally never seen before puts on a performance like that, its pretty hard to argue that anything in baseball is as fun as that.
I’ll start by looking at his performance at the plate, where nobody can ask for much more than what he did in this game. Everyone was dreaming of a home run from him, and he wasted no time doing just that. On top of that, even his two other plate appearances that both ended in outs were impressive. In his second plate appearance, he hit a 109.7 mph lineout, but it had an xBA of .700. Not bad for a pitcher. He got one more plate appearance and grounded out with an exit velocity of 94.2 mph and an xBA of .360. This kind of performance at the plate is good for anyone, let alone a guy that is starting at pitcher for your team. When we consider who else would be at DH if Ohtani strictly pitched in his games, this level of performance is just such a huge boost for the Angels lineup. Every time Ohtani steps up to the plate it feels like the ball can leave the stadium. Ohtani is an extremely fun and talented hitter, but his pitching was even more fun in this game.
We all knew that Ohtani can crush baseballs, especially after the spring training he had this year. However, the pitching was a huge question mark coming into this game. It is impossible for baseball fans not to be encouraged after what he flashed against a good White Sox lineup. He used his fastball on over half of his pitches, and the velocity was tough to miss. The fastball averaged 98.1 mph and had almost 300 more RPMs than his fastball did in 2018. It did get hit hard due to his spotty command all night, but having a fastball like Ohtani does just makes the off-speed pitches so dangerous. The raw stuff on his fastball was extremely encouraging and he won’t have to rely on it quite as much when he gets a better feel for some of his breaking balls than he had last night. Ohtani’s second most used pitch, his slider, may have been his most impressive pitch last night. It had an impressive 19.7 inches of horizontal movement, a Whiff% of 50%, and a jump in both spin and velocity. Compared to his 2018 season, his slider was up about 3 mph with an increase of almost 200 RPMs in spin rate. Lastly, his splitter looked filthy in this game as well. A 90 mph splitter with almost 32 inches of drop will have hitters looking silly on a regular basis, especially when the hitter is setup with a fastball at 100mph on the pitch before. His 2018 splitter was 3 mph less than what he showed last night and had less spin by almost 400 RPM, so this was another encouraging pitch. Ohtani’s splitter is by far his best put away pitch, making it so important that he has this pitch working. This splitter to Luis Robert below is just filthy, and Ohtani even adds the layer of emotion to his off the charts fun-meter.
It is early of course, but the velocity bump in both his fastball and splitter is such a good sign for his health right now. A visit to Driveline by Ohtani was discussed this spring, and the spin rate increases have to correlate to a more data-driven approach by Ohtani. He has a lot of work to do with his command for sure, but his pure stuff is as good as it gets when he is on, and he showed how enjoyable it is to watch last night.
Breaking down Ohtani’s performance is fun and all, but we all need to step back and realize just how lucky we are to be watching a guy do this. There’s a world where Ohtani stays healthy this season, performs like this all summer and runs away with the MVP while the Angels exceed everyone’s expectations. Baseball fans everywhere should be crossing their fingers that this world is ours, because it would be a storyline for baseball that can really dominate across the sports world. A good Ohtani season should get the same level of headlines that events such as the McGwire/Sosa home run race or the Athletics 20 game win streak in 2002 got. When Ohtani hit that home run in Sunday’s game, the whole sports world was tweeting about it. Baseball desperately needs something to catch the whole sports world attention, and a healthy two way player will do just that. For all the talk about baseball losing popularity, Ohtani is the perfect player to end those narratives and entertain sports fans for the summer.
From an Angels fan’s perspective, it was impossible not to reflect on the chase for Ohtani in 2018 and just how lucky the Angels fanbase is to be able to watch this player every night. We all thought the 2018 season, before Ohtani went down with an injury, was as entertaining as it gets. But with Ohtani playing even more and now hitting in games he is also pitching in? Angels fans are in for a treat this season. Add Ohtani’s encouraging performance on the mound to the fact that the Angels just took three out of four against a very good White Sox team, and the excitement for the Angels season is only growing. The team looks really good through the first five games of the season, and they also look like the most fun team to watch in the league due in large part to Shohei Ohtani. Try to name a more fun team in baseball than a team starting a pitcher with Ohtani’s stuff that’s running out a lineup including Fletcher, Ohtani, Trout, Rendon, Upton, Walsh, and more. I struggle to believe an example for that exists. Sign me up for more series like this past one with Chicago, and sign me up again for more Shohei Ohtani Sundays. Ohtani is the Angels clear x-factor as they try to make a run to the playoffs, and he showed what he can do on Sunday. The best part for the Angels last night? He can still be even better.