AL WestAnalysis

Shohei Ohtani: MLB’s Little Leaguer

This year’s Little League World Series is set to begin on Wednesday, August 16, in Williamsport, PA. A total of 20 teams — 10 from the United States and 10 from other countries — will take part in the tournament. If you’re in search for a betting site for this tournament, then look no further than bro138.

If you watch any of the games, you may notice that there are certain teams that have a player that stands out among the rest. Some kids are their team’s ace on the mound, the best hitter at the plate, and overall, the best athlete on their team. That’s nothing new to the world of Little League baseball, though.

What is new, however, is the Major League Baseball player that has taken over as the game’s best player because of his abilities on the mound and at the plate. Of course, that player is none other than Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels.

Since debuting with L.A. in 2018, Ohtani has turned into the most talented player the sport of baseball has ever seen. Not only is he one of the best pitchers in the game, but he’s also one of the best hitters. And over the last two-plus seasons, Ohtani, who won the American League MVP in 2021 and finished second in the voting last year, has somehow reached a higher potential than anyone could’ve imagined.

Shohei Ohtani: The Pitcher

In his debut season, the Japanese-born two-way player pitched 51 2/3 innings across 10 starts. Ohtani struck out 63 batters that season and walked 22 while posting a 3.31 ERA and 3.57 FIP. The right-hander then underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019 and did not return to a big-league mound in a meaningful way until 2021.

During the 2021 season, Ohtani made 23 starts and pitched 130 1/3 innings. In that workload, he struck out 10.8 hitters-per-nine-innings-pitched and walked 3.0 hitters-per-nine. His ERA (3.18) and FIP (3.52) were similar to the numbers he posted in those categories back in 2018. So even after taking more than two years off from pitching, Ohtani didn’t seem to have any rust.

And just when we thought Ohtani couldn’t impress us anymore, he did just that on the mound last year. On his way to finishing fourth in AL Cy Young voting, the hard-throwing righty made 28 starts and pitched an even 166 innings. He led the AL with 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings and had 2.4 walks per nine. On top of that, he posted the sixth-lowest ERA in the game (2.33) with a 2.40 FIP.

Ohtani’s numbers on the mound this season have regressed a little, but they’re still very good. Through 22 starts, he’s pitched 130 2/3 innings with a 3.17 ERA and 4.02 FIP. He’s struck out 11.4 batters per nine and walked 3.7. The reason Ohtani has struggled on the mound at times this year was a blister issue he dealt with on the middle finger of his throwing hand. He posted a 4.97 ERA in four July starts as a result. However, in two starts to begin August, the right-hander hasn’t allowed an earned run in 10 innings of work.

Over the last three seasons, Ohtani has featured a number of pitches. But he mainly uses his sweeper, four-seam fastball, splitter, and cutter. However, he’s not used his splitter as much this year as he has in the past and he’s throwing his cutter more often.

Overall, Ohtani’s sweeper has consistently been his best pitch. When compared to 2021, he’s relied on it more heavily in each of the past two seasons and it has worked out quite nicely:

YearSweeper UsageBA againstSLG against
Numbers courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Not only are hitters having a tough time hitting his nasty sweeper, but they’re also having a hard time catching up to Ohtani’s fastball, which averages 96.9 miles per hour this year:

Shohei Ohtani: The Hitter

If Ohtani was just a pitcher, he’d still be one of the better players in the game of baseball. But what really puts him over the top is his hitting. As a 23-year-old rookie, Ohtani made 367 plate appearances and posted a .925 OPS with 21 doubles, 22 home runs, and 10 stole bases. He put together another productive season one year later — as a one-way player — with a .286/.343/.505 slash line. The left-handed hitter also hit 20 doubles in 2019 with 18 homers and 12 stolen bags.

Ohtani didn’t enjoy much success in 2020 with a 79 OPS+, but that was a weird year for a lot of different players. He came out of the gate raking in 2021, though — his break-out season. While putting together a 3.18 ERA on the mound, the then 26-year-old had a .925 OPS with 26 doubles, a Major League-leading eight triples, and a whopping 46 home runs in 639 plate appearances. He also stole 26 bags, scored 103 runs, and drove in 100.

Last season wasn’t as great as two years ago, but it was still a very good year for Ohtani. He had a 144 OPS+, 30 doubles, 34 home runs, and 11 stolen bases. With that performance, it looked like he may have peaked at the plate in 2021 — until this year.

Just when we thought he couldn’t get any better, Ohtani was been the best hitter in baseball this season. Through play on August 9, the left-handed slugger had 570 plate appearances and led the AL with 74 walks and a .410 on-base percentage. On top of that, his seven triples, 40 homers, .666 slugging percentage, 1.076 OPS, 187 OPS+, and 283 total bases all led the Major Leagues. He also had 16 stolen bases and 130 hits — 30 shy of his career-high 160 from last year.

Ohtani hasn’t just been a great hitter this year, he’s on an entirely different planet than any other hitter:

2023 StatisticTotalPercentile
Average Exit Velocity94.8 mph99th
Maximum Exit Velocity117.1 mph99th
Hard-Hit Percentage55.6%97th
Barrel Percentage19.9%99th
Numbers (through 8/9) courtesy of Baseball Savant.

And not only do the numbers say he’s different than everyone else this season, but it totally sounds different than everyone else:

Oh yeah, he also hits bombs even when he pitches:

Final Words

Maybe saying Ohtani is MLB’s version of a Little Leaguer isn’t the greatest comparison in the world. It’s probably more appropriate to compare him to a unicorn. But when he’s on the field, he’s the Angels’ ace on the mound, best hitter at the plate, and overall, their best athlete.

He’s recently added to his long list of first-time achievements, too. In a doubleheader on July 27 in Detroit against the Tigers, Ohtani pitched a one-hit complete game shutout — the first shutout of his career — in Game 1 while going 0-for-5 at the plate. He then followed that up by going 2-for-3 in Game 2 with a pair of homers, becoming the first player to pitch a shutout in one game of a doubleheader and hitting a home run in the other.

Even more recently, in a game on August 9, Ohtani, who already had 40 homers, picked up his 10th win of the season as a pitcher, becoming the first player in AL/NL history to hit 40 homers and win 10 games in a single season.

Ohtani is special. It’s always “Showtime” when he steps onto the baseball diamond. And when he strikes out 10 hitters while hitting a 400-foot homer in the same game, he clearly stands out above all other players on the field. Just like some of the players will at this year’s Little League World Series.

Featured Photo: Twitter / @MLB

Bailey Digh

I've been writing for Diamond Digest since July 2022. I'm also currently a contributor for Phillies Nation. You can find me on X @bailey_digh.

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