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After delayed start, Ohtani putting up ASG stats

Surging slugger leads pack of bubble candidates on the ballot
@mattkellyMLB
June 18, 2019

It’s OK if, only for a moment, you forgot just how good Shohei Ohtani is at the plate. He missed the entire first month working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and sputtered in fits and starts to a below-league-average .250/.330/.363 line in May. The overreactions were building. Had

It’s OK if, only for a moment, you forgot just how good Shohei Ohtani is at the plate. He missed the entire first month working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and sputtered in fits and starts to a below-league-average .250/.330/.363 line in May.

The overreactions were building. Had Ohtani’s rebuilt elbow sapped some of his power? Was he due for regression after his sensational rookie year?

Well, no, not exactly. Because as Ohtani enters the final days of Primary Round voting for the 2019 Google MLB All-Star Ballot outside the all-important top-three cutoff at designated hitter, you should know that Ohtani has been one of baseball’s very best hitters in June. Indeed, Shohei the slugger is back.

VOTE NOW: Google MLB All-Star Ballot

Monday’s All-Star ballot update listed Ohtani fourth in the DH race, roughly 143,000 votes behind the Twins’ Nelson Cruz. The top three vote-getters at each position after Friday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline move on to the Starters Election, which will take place over a 28-hour period starting at noon ET on June 26 (you can read more about this year’s revamped voting format here). Resurgent Rangers star Hunter Pence currently ranks second at DH, but his health for the Midsummer Classic is now in question as he landed on the injured list with a groin injury.

Cruz and Boston’s J.D. Martinez, the top DH vote-getter, are bona fide stars at the position. But don’t forget about Ohtani, because he’s been sensational over the last two and a half weeks. On May 31, Ohtani teamed with Mike Trout for back-to-back homers and later added an RBI single in Seattle. Since that day, he’s slashed .339/.391/.758 for a 199 weighted runs created plus that's tied for fifth-best in baseball. Ohtani has more than doubled his homer count since the calendar flipped to June, including one of the more impressive laser shots of the year that kickstarted his first career cycle Thursday.

Ohtani came out hitting the ball just as hard in May as he did last year, when he finished within baseball’s top 5% in hard-hit rate (aka batted balls hit 95-plus mph). The difference was where that hard contact was going: Ohtani pounded more than half of his hard-hit balls into the ground through the end of May, putting him in company with hitters like Starlin Castro, Hanser Alberto and Jason Kipnis. But Ohtani has sliced that hard-hit grounder rate by over 15% in June, allocating his hard contact for way more damage in the air.

In fact, a peek at Ohtani’s Statcast batted ball metrics in June looks a whole lot like the top 10 slugger he was in 2018.

Ohtani, 2018: 50.2% hard-hit rate | 16% barrel rate | .545 expected slugging (xSLG)
Ohtani, June 2019: 46.3% hard-hit rate | 19.5% barrel rate | .555 xSLG

This is the Ohtani that dazzled us as a rookie, the hitter whose 152 wRC+ last year ranked eighth among hitters with 250 plate appearances, just below Alex Bregman and Justin Turner and ahead of Aaron Judge and Paul Goldschmidt. While Ohtani might not have the novelty factor this year of hitting and pitching and channeling 1919 Babe Ruth, this month has shown that he remains a world-class hitter -- and one that deserves to be in Cleveland next month.

Ohtani is not the only star who’s on the outside looking in. Here are four others in danger of missing the Primary cutoffs with Friday’s vote deadline looming.

Anthony Rendon, Nationals (fifth place, NL third basemen)

Rendon’s future in Washington is unclear, but his current standing as one of MLB’s premier hitters is unquestionable. You can find Rendon’s name among MLB’s top 10 in average, on-base percentage, slugging and runs scored, and his rock-solid defense at third base makes him the complete package. Rendon is tied for the most FanGraphs WAR among third basemen (and sixth-most among all position players) with Astros star Alex Bregman, one of the leading vote-getters across the All-Star ballot.

Rafael Devers, Red Sox (fourth place, AL third basemen)

In a lineup stacked with superstars, Devers has arguably been Boston’s standout first-half hitter. Still just 22, Devers has put it all together this year, tapping into his power (see his 458-foot extra-innings homer from Sunday below) while also cutting down on his strikeouts and adding more than 60 points to his batting average (.240 to .302). No one has more hard-hit balls this year than this emerging star.

Trevor Story, Rockies (fourth place, NL shortstops)

Coors Field bias or not, Story is one of the most exciting young players in baseball with his power-speed combination. Story’s 64 runs scored are the most in baseball, and he’s matching his excellent .292/.359/.549 line at the plate with 12 steals and 10 Defensive Runs Saved -- third-best among shortstops.

José Abreu, White Sox (fourth place, AL first basemen)

Chicago’s uber-consistent first baseman continues to do his thing, pacing the AL with 54 RBIs while also ranking in the league's top 10 in homers, doubles and total bases. He’s also hit more barrels than anyone else in baseball and is tied for second in hard-hit balls.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.