15 wild facts from Ohtani's MVP campaign
Shohei Ohtani’s 2021 MVP season was, undoubtedly, one of the most memorable and greatest in recent memory. We’ve seen two-way players before, but there’s never been a player quite like Ohtani -- capable of crushing 450-foot-plus homers and throwing 100 mph. We sped past the Babe Ruth and “Bullet Joe” Rogan comparisons by the end of April, and it was clear this was a season unlike any other.
Here’s a look at 15 of the coolest, craziest Ohtani facts from the ‘21 campaign that earned him AL MVP honors.
• In his first pitching start of the season on April 4, Ohtani hit 100 mph on the radar gun in the top of the first inning, then crushed a 115.2-mph, 451-ft. home run in the bottom of the first against the White Sox. He became the first American League starting pitcher to homer against an AL team since Roric Harrison on the final day of the 1972 season, before the DH was instituted. He also became the first player with a 110-plus mph batted ball and a 100-plus mph pitch in the same game tracked by Statcast (since 2015).
• Speaking of exit velocities, entering the 2021 season, the hardest-hit batted ball under Statcast tracking by a pitcher was a 112.5 mph home run by Madison Bumgarner on Opening Day 2017. By early September, Ohtani had already claimed the top five spots on that list, ahead of Bumgarner. And that’s only during the games he pitches.
• Multiple times in ‘21, Ohtani entered a pitching start leading MLB in home runs. Before him, nobody had done that since Babe Ruth on June 13, 1921, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
• It isn’t just about pitching prowess and slugging for Ohtani, though: There’s speed, too. He became the first player in MLB history (pending inclusion of Negro Leagues stats) to rack up at least 20 homers, steals and pitching appearances in a season. The next-most home runs for anyone with 20 steals and games pitched? That would be eight, by Bob Caruthers in 1887. Again, simply incomparable.
• There are so many historic combinations of stats that demonstrate Ohtani’s unique, never-before-done season that we can’t possibly list them all. But one other combo worth noting is his 30-plus homers and 30-plus strikeouts on the mound. And again, Ohtani had 46 homers and 156 strikeouts -- nowhere even close to those modest qualifiers. The prior most strikeouts in a 30-homer season was three, by Babe Ruth in 1930 (49 homers). The prior most homers in a 30-strikeout season was 29, by Ruth in ‘19, when he struck out exactly 30 batters.
• Ohtani was one of four qualified players in the 90th percentile or better in both hard-hit rate and sprint speed this season, showcasing that elite power-speed combo. The others on that list were Ronald Acuña Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. and Tyler O’Neill -- three other great players, but none who also made 20-plus pitching starts.
• Ohtani’s All-Star week performance is well worth a revisit, too. Sure, he lost in the first round of the Home Run Derby, but not before crushing a 513-ft home run among many others. And what did he do the next day in the All-Star Game? Hurled a 100.2 mph pitch to Nolan Arenado, his maximum velocity in the outing. 500-plus feet and 100-plus mph, in a 24-hour span. Incredible.
• Ohtani finished the season with 46 homers, third most in MLB, and eight triples, which was tied for the most with Bryan Reynolds and David Peralta. He became the first player to finish in the top three in both home runs and triples in a season, including ties, since Jim Rice in 1978.
• Let’s talk about his best pitch: his splitter. That pitch had an .087 opponent batting average this season, the lowest for any pitcher on any pitch type (minimum 120 plate appearances ending on pitch type). And it’s not just 2021. Ohtani’s splitter has merited an .075 opponent average in his career, the second lowest by any pitcher on any pitch type in the pitch-tracking era, which is since 2008 (minimum 200 plate appearances). The only mark lower is against Dellin Betances’ slider (.064).
• On May 11, Ohtani started at the Astros, struck out 10 and then moved to right field to remain in the game to hit. He became the third player in the modern era (since 1900) to strike out 10 or more batters and play a non-pitcher position in a game, according to Elias. He joined Sam McDowell on July 6, 1970 (15 K’s, played 2B), and Harvey Haddix on Sept. 28, 1958 (11 K’s, played RF).
• On May 12, Ohtani batted leadoff for the first time all season, and he did it the day after a pitching start. He became the first player to start a game on the mound, then bat leadoff in his team's next game since Ray Caldwell on July 25-26, 1916. Caldwell started for the Yankees, then batted leadoff, then played center field the next day, according to Elias.
• On June 4, Ohtani had 10 strikeouts. On June 5, he homered for the Angels, becoming the second player with a 10-strikeout game and then a home run in back-to-back team games (in that order) since the mound was moved to its current distance in 1893, according to Elias. He joined the White Sox Gary Peters, who struck out 10 on July 17, 1964, then hit a pinch-hit walk-off home run in the 13th inning in the team's next game on July 19.
If we look at the opposite order, of homering and then striking out 10 in back-to-back team games, we get 2008 CC Sabathia and 1898 Cy Seymour.
• On June 29 at Yankee Stadium, Ohtani hit two homers. The next day, he started on the mound, becoming the fifth player to hit at least two homers in a game and then start the team’s next game on the mound, joining 1930 Babe Ruth, 1887 John Clarkson, 1886 Bob Caruthers and 1883 Monte Ward, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
• On Aug. 12, Ohtani started the game in the leadoff spot and got the pitching win. The only other player to do that since at least 1906 was Charlie Jamieson on Aug. 19, 1918.
• Ohtani hit 25 home runs with a 110 mph exit velocity or harder, four more than anyone else. He also hit six that traveled at least 450 feet, tied for third most this season.