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Does Ohtani have game's most unhittable pitch?

@_dadler
July 2, 2020

The Angels made the designation official when they released their 2020 player pool this week. There were the pitchers, the catchers, the infielders, the outfielders, and then, right there in the middle: "Two-Way (1): Shohei Ohtani." Finally, Ohtani is a two-way player again. It's been too long. Because while the

The Angels made the designation official when they released their 2020 player pool this week. There were the pitchers, the catchers, the infielders, the outfielders, and then, right there in the middle: "Two-Way (1): Shohei Ohtani."

Finally, Ohtani is a two-way player again. It's been too long. Because while the Angels phenom slugged his way to 40 home runs and an .883 OPS through his first two MLB seasons, proving he can hit with the best, Ohtani hasn't taken the mound for a start in nearly two full calendar years.

That's set to change when the 2020 season begins. Ohtani is ready to pitch. And in case you forgot what he looks like on the mound -- this guy has some of the best stuff in baseball.

Here's why we can't wait to watch the return of Ohtani the pitcher.

He throws 100 mph

It was one thing to hear about Ohtani's 100 mph fastball and watch the Nippon Professional Baseball highlights on YouTube in the winter of 2017-18. It was another to see the hype become real in the Major Leagues.

Ohtani's 101.1 mph max velo on May 30, 2018, is still tied for the fastest pitch thrown by an MLB starting pitcher over the last two seasons. He hit 101 three times in his rookie season, which is still the most of any starter since his debut, even with Ohtani not pitching for all of 2019.

Fastest pitches thrown by SP since Ohtani's debut
101.1 mph -- Shohei Ohtani (LAA), 5/30/18
101.1 mph -- Gerrit Cole (HOU), 7/6/19
101.1 mph -- Josh James (HOU), 9/1/18
101.0 mph -- Shohei Ohtani (LAA), 4/24/18
101.0 mph -- Shohei Ohtani (LAA), 4/24/18
101.0 mph -- Nathan Eovaldi (BOS), 10/16/18 (postseason)
101.0 mph -- Nathan Eovaldi (BOS), 10/8/18 (postseason)

On April 24, 2018, Ohtani blew a 100.6 mph fastball past Josh Reddick -- the fastest pitch to get a swing-and-miss by any starter all year.

A few weeks before that, on April 8, when he took a perfect game into the seventh inning in his second MLB start, he fanned Marcus Semien with a 99.6 mph fastball for his personal-best strikeout velo in the big leagues. Feel free to round that up to 100 if you want.

Triple-digit velocity is reason enough to get excited to watch a pitcher. And then you realize it's not even the best reason to watch Ohtani.

His splitter might be baseball's most unhittable pitch

Do you remember how absurd the numbers are for Ohtani's splitter? Well, here are the highlights:

• 59 batters had plate appearances decided on Ohtani's splitter in 2018. They went 2-for-55 against it -- an .036 batting average. They struck out in 35 of those 59 plate appearances -- a 59% strikeout rate.

Lowest BA allowed by SP on a single pitch type
Since Ohtani's MLB debut
1) Shohei Ohtani's splitter, 2018 -- .036 BA (2-for-55)
3) Tyler Glasnow's slider, 2018 -- .083 BA (4-for-48)
4) Anibal Sanchez's changeup, 2018 -- .091 BA (5-for-55)
6) Trevor Bauer's slider, 2018 -- .095 BA (14-for-147)
8) Blake Snell's slider, 2018 -- .096 BA (8-for-83)
Mininum 50 PA ending on that pitch type

• Hitters started the year 0-for-42 with 30 strikeouts against Ohtani's splitter. The first hit he allowed was a single by Wilson Ramos off third baseman Zack Cozart's glove on May 20. The only other hit on Ohtani's splitter was a double by Nick Castellanos on May 30.

• Hitters swung at Ohtani's splitter a total of 95 times in 2018. They whiffed on 53 of those swings -- a 56% swing-and-miss rate.

Highest whiff rate by SP on a single pitch type
Since Ohtani's MLB debut
1) Shohei Ohtani's splitter, 2018 -- 56.4%
2) Blake Snell's curveball, 2019 -- 54.9%
3) Patrick Corbin's slider, 2018 -- 53.6%
4) Blake Snell's curveball, 2018 -- 53.4%
5) Kyle Gibson's slider, 2019 -- 52.6%
Minimum 75 swings against that pitch type

The list of Ohtani splitter strikeout victims includes Matt Olson (four times), Matt Chapman (twice), Marcus Semien (twice), Yuli Gurriel (twice), Nelson Cruz and José Altuve -- great hitters waving at a great pitch.

Those are just the most fun of the Ohtani splitter fun facts.

His breaking stuff is a third weapon

Ohtani's triple-digit heat and wipeout splitter would be enough to make his return to the mound must-see TV. But his two breaking pitches, his slider and curveball, aren't just ornamental. They're really good.

Hitters swung and missed 40% of the time at Ohtani's breaking stuff in 2018, and they hit just .125 (a combined 7-for-56, with 20 strikeouts) against his slider and curve.

Ohtani's slider is his main breaking pitch -- the curve is more of a "show me" pitch in the low 70s to keep hitters off balance -- so let's focus on the slider for now. It's the perfect complement to his fastball and splitter, because the action on those three pitches takes them in three directions.

Ohtani throws his four-seamer hard and true, with a little bit of rise. His splitter, thrown off of that, takes a vertical dive. His slider breaks hard horizontally to the glove side. In fact, Ohtani had top-five horizontal slider movement in MLB.

Most horizontal slider movement in 2018
1) Chaz Roe (TB): +15.0 inches above avg.
2) Kyle Crick (PIT): +10.8 inches above avg.
3) Shohei Ohtani (LAA): +8.8 inches above avg.
4-T) Shane Greene (DET): +8.6 inches above avg.
4-T) Adam Morgan (PHI): +8.6 inches above avg.

A 100 mph fastball, an unhittable splitter, one of the biggest-breaking sliders in the league … and that's just Ohtani the pitcher. Add his star-level hitting, and -- oh, right, that's why Ohtani at full strength is one of the most unique players Major League Baseball has ever seen.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.