The Angels have an off-day Thursday. That might be the only thing that can stop Shohei Ohtani from doing something spectacular.Hyperbolic? Well, sure. It's April 5. We can't exactly look at his stat line of .429/.429/.857 this early in the season as anything more than a flashy set of unsustainable
The Angels have an off-day Thursday. That might be the only thing that can stop Shohei Ohtani from doing something spectacular.
Hyperbolic? Well, sure. It's April 5. We can't exactly look at his stat line of .429/.429/.857 this early in the season as anything more than a flashy set of unsustainable numbers, but what we can do is to look at the underlying skills that have brought him to that point -- they're very real -- and to point out that in three games over the last four days, Ohtani has done something spectacular each time.
Video: [email protected]: Ohtani fans six, wins in pitching debut
Sunday: In his Major League pitching debut, Ohtani threw six innings in a 7-4 Angels win, flashing elite-level velocity, averaging 97.8 mph on his fastball, and getting so many swings and misses on his splitter that it was the third-best swing-and-miss splitter game of any pitcher in the past two seasons.
Monday: Ohtani rested. The Angels lost 6-0.
Tuesday: You'll remember the first-inning home run off Josh Tomlin as the first of Ohtani's career, but that's not really all he did, is it? Ohtani had three hits, and as Statcast™ will tell you, they were all mashed:
That final one, the 112.8-mph single off of Zach McAllister, is the hardest-hit ball by a pitcher (which we consider Ohtani as, even if he wasn't one at the time) since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015. He's the first pitcher to have three batted balls in a game of at least 100 mph; remember, he's been in the big leagues for a week.
Wednesday: Facing reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, Ohtani struck out in his first at-bat, as many do. In the fifth inning, though, he got his revenge, 400 feet worth of it. After a groundout against Andrew Miller in the eighth, Ohtani singled with an exit velocity of 104 mph off Cody Allen in the 10th, before grounding out again against Tyler Olson in the 12th. The Angels won, 3-2, on Zack Cozart's walk-off homer in the 13th inning.
Again, it's only a few games, perhaps best illustrated by the fact that he's single-handedly outhomered the Tigers and Royals (and tied the Rays and Marlins), but he hasn't drawn a walk yet. He's only pitched against one team, and that's not going to change soon, since he faces the same A's again on Sunday in Anaheim. There are going to be ups and downs. The 4.50 ERA doesn't matter, just like the .429 batting average doesn't matter.
We know that, so far at least, the excitement has been real -- and we know the skills that have come along with it are real, too.
What that means is that while you might need months to know if a batting average is "real," you don't need all that long to know if skills are "real." It takes about two pitches to know that Noah Syndergaard throws hard and R.A. Dickey does not. You know pretty much right away that Aaron Judge can crush a baseball in ways that Billy Hamilton cannot, and that Hamilton can run in ways that Jose Pujols cannot.
So in that sense, let's not look at averages or rates that we know are going to change considerably. Let's look at skills. Let's look at maximums. Let's show that Ohtani has proven that the hype in that department is warranted, even if he's got a lot of work to do to prove the performance will follow it.
Exit velocity: 112.8 mph
For all the homers and crushed liners, his hardest-hit ball so far this year was the single up the middle on Tuesday night. That gets rounded up to 113 for leaderboard purposes, so we'll do the same here. Last year, in the Majors, exactly 0.24 percent of batted balls touched 113 mph. Seventy-five players did it once. That may sound like a lot, but "once" is a pretty low bar, and even a stud like Anthony Rizzo did it exactly once in 486 plate appearances.
If we really want to get into it, 658 players had 20 plate appearances last year. Seventy-five of 658 is about 11 percent. So in three games as a designated hitter, Ohtani has shown a skill that 90 percent of hitters last season did not. That's a good start.
Pitch velocity: 99.6 mph
We dug into Ohtani's pitching start in depth the other day, so there's plenty more detail there, but there's one pertinent takeaway for right now, based on Ohtani touching 99 mph a dozen times against the A's on Sunday.
• The Statcast™ Podcast discusses Ohtani's smashing debut and speaks live to Rhys Hoskins in studio
Only six starters hit 99 mph a dozen or more times in all of 2017. Ohtani just did that in six innings. It's not hyperbole to say that he's got velocity unlike nearly any non-Syndergaard starting pitcher.
This actually works out in a similar way. Last year, only 0.51 percent of pitches got up to 99 mph. Only 85 pitchers touched 99 mph at least once, which again includes one-time-only guys like Michael Wacha, who did it once in 2,700 pitches. There were 673 pitchers who threw at least 100 pitches last year, so about 13 percent of pitchers can get to 99. Again, elite.
Sprint Speed: 29.9 ft/sec
Here's the part you either forgot about or didn't know in the first place: Ohtani is really, really fast. It's easy to overlook this with all the pitching and hitting exploits, but when you go back and look at some of last winter's scouting reports, like this one from MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo, it's in there:
The first scouting director said... [Ohtani] also had recorded home-to-first times at 3.9 seconds, which is well above average and a part of his game not often discussed.
Fortunately for us, we've seen Ohtani have to run all-out, giving us a chance to measure his speed. (We use Statcast™'s Sprint Speed, which is measured as "feet per second, in a player's fastest one-second window." The Major League average is 27 ft/sec, and the leaderboards are here.)
It came on Wednesday, when Miller got Ohtani to ground out to second. On the play, Ohtani's Sprint Speed was 29.8 ft/sec, which is just this side of elite. So far in 2018, there have been 46 players who have had at least one baserunning play of 29.8 ft/sec, and the names are mostly who you'd expect. Trea Turner has eight of them. Byron Buxton has five. Jose Altuve has four. Pujols has never had one, dating back to 2015.
There have been 290 hitters so far this year with 10 plate appearances. It's a little harder to put this one in context, since it's not as easy to say if they had any opportunities to run their hardest. (No one is going all out on a homer or a strikeout, for example.) And yet … 45 of 290 is about 16 percent. It fits with the scouting report.
It's still April 5, obviously. So, plenty can go wrong. At some point teams will adjust, on both sides of the ball, and Ohtani will need to adjust back. Maybe he won't. What we know so far, however, is that the skills are real. The excitement is, too. So far, the hype has been justified. A week into the season, after a rough spring, that's about as much as the Angels could have possibly asked for.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.