8 gifts Ohtani has given baseball

Two-way star celebrating his 28th birthday today

July 5th, 2022

turns 28 years old on Tuesday, and no doubt he will be hoping for an Angels win in Miami to celebrate -- as well as perhaps a birthday homer like the one he hit in 2019.

But no matter what gifts Ohtani unwraps on this occasion, they won’t compare to the ones he has provided to the baseball world. Here is a look at eight of those, in honor of his birthday.

History-making performances
It seems like Ohtani does something just about every week that hasn’t been done before -- or at least hasn’t been done since the days of grainy black-and-white photographs. The name Babe Ruth comes up a lot.

There just isn’t much, if any, precedent for someone who is capable of producing elite pitching and hitting performances, all at once. Think back just a couple of weeks, when Ohtani drove in eight runs on June 21 and then struck out 13 batters on June 22. Not only had no player put together back-to-back games like that since RBI became an official stat (1920), but only one other player had done so over the course of an entire Major League career.

Heat and finesse on the mound
What type of pitcher do you prefer: a come-right-at-you flamethrower, or an artist who can spin some soft stuff with touch? Ohtani can be both. In his career, he’s recorded strikeouts on pitches as fast as a 101 mph four-seam fastball and as slow as a 69.7 mph curveball. That’s a gap of more than 31 mph -- one that can leave hitters’ heads spinning.

One of baseball’s most unhittable pitches
Paired with that blazing fastball, Ohtani’s drop-off-the-table splitter is almost impossible to hit. They look like the same pitch before one rides up in the zone and the other dives toward the dirt.

Over Ohtani’s Major League career, opponents have gone a ridiculous 22-for-244 (.090) with a .135 slugging percentage in at-bats ending on splitters. About 62% of those at-bats (151) have resulted in strikeouts. Since Ohtani arrived in 2018, no other pitcher has held batters to below a .100 average or .200 slugging percentage on any individual pitch type (minimum 200 at-bats).

Massive dingers
Who doesn’t love those? And Ohtani’s got ’em. He hits his homers hard, he hits them far, and while this can’t be quantified in the same way, he just hits them in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. The swing, the sound off the bat, the high-arcing flight of the ball -- it all works.

Over Ohtani’s career, his 41 homers hit with at least a 110 mph exit velocity are more than any hitter besides Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Gallo and Bryce Harper. He is also tied for 10th in that span with 17 big flies launched 440-plus feet. On June 25 against the Mariners, Ohtani became only the fourth hitter in the Statcast Era to blast a ball at least 118 mph and 460 feet. (And don’t forget his 513-footer in last year’s Home Run Derby, either).

Game-changing speed
It’s easy to forget that the guy throwing knee-buckling splitters and launching 450-foot homers can also run like a deer. His average sprint speed ranked above the 90th percentile in both 2020 and ’21, and while it’s down some this season, the man can absolutely still turn on the jets when he needs to. Ohtani has beat out three infield singles this season by getting down the line in under 4 seconds.

If all Ohtani did was pitch and hit and run at a high level, that would be plenty. Obviously. But he also seems to enjoy himself on the field (why wouldn’t he?), something that is apparent because of his expressiveness. Ohtani reactions -- facial expressions, gestures and more -- are entertaining, and they often mirror what those of us at home are feeling while watching him play.

A baseball fantasy, come to life
It sounds like a debate you might have with your friend: If you could combine any two baseball players, just how good would the result be? We really don’t have to wonder anymore, thanks to Ohtani. A year ago, Ohtani’s two-way contributions led to the highest total WAR in MLB. He’s in the top 10 again in 2022, which is not surprising when you consider that his offensive contributions roughly match those of Giancarlo Stanton and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., while his pitching numbers approximate those of Gerrit Cole and Kevin Gausman.

A wide-open baseball future
It would be a stretch to say that there will ever be another Ohtani, but his success has at least opened up the possibility. Whereas a legitimate two-way player in the Majors seemed like a vague dream not so long ago, teams now have every reason to take an open-minded approach to future prospects who excel in both areas. (It doesn’t hurt that an Ohtani-inspired rule makes it easier to use such a talent in the Majors). Exactly how that plays out in the years to come remains to be seen, but the possibilities are fun to ponder.