Ohtani (who else?) has mastered the hottest new pitch

April 11th, 2023

The sweeper is the hottest pitch in baseball … and is the face of it.

As more and more MLB pitchers embrace the big-breaking slider variant -- sweepers, unlike traditional, tighter sliders, are defined by their Frisbee-like horizontal movement -- Ohtani is leading the new wave. Watch the Angels superstar on the mound in his third start of the season Tuesday against the Nationals, and you should see the sweeper on full display.

Ohtani throws more sweepers than anyone -- over a thousand since the start of last season, the only pitcher with nearly that many.

He throws a more valuable sweeper than anyone -- Ohtani's sweeper has been the second-best pitch in baseball since the start of last season by the number of runs it's saved his team.

And he threw the sweeper heard 'round the world in the World Baseball Classic -- Ohtani's tournament-ending strikeout of Mike Trout was on an 87 mph sweeper that broke 17 inches.

Here's what you need to know about the Ohtani Sweeper.

It has elite movement, plus velocity

The first question about any sweeper is fairly obvious: How much does it sweep? The answer for Ohtani is: A lot.

Ohtani is averaging 18 inches of horizontal break on his sweeper this season. And remember, home plate is only 17 inches wide.

Ohtani's sweeper movement is four inches greater than it was last season (when it was already moving plenty). It's also four inches more than similar sweepers thrown by other MLB pitchers, giving Ohtani top-five "sweep" in the league.

Sweepers with most horizontal break above avg., 2023

  1. Mitch Keller: +5.5 inches vs. avg. sweeper
  2. Brad Keller: +4.2 inches vs. avg. sweeper
  3. Michael Fulmer: +4 inches vs. avg. sweeper
  4. Max Fried: +3.9 inches vs. avg. sweeper
  5. Shohei Ohtani: +3.8 inches vs. avg. sweeper

Eighteen inches of break is also about a foot more than a traditional slider typically moves. Which, of course, is the point of throwing a sweeper in the first place. You want that east-west movement that a traditional slider doesn't have, and Ohtani gets it. But the key for his sweeper in particular is that he generates lots of movement while also keeping a high velocity.

Ohtani's sweeper sits around 84-85 mph, and he can dial it up into the upper 80s. That might not seem "fast," but it's fast for a sweeper. The league average sweeper velocity is in the 81-82 mph range.

A lot of the "sweepiest" sweepers come in slower (for an extreme case, take Rich Hill, whose sweeper moves over 23 inches but comes in at under 68 mph). A lot of the hardest sweepers have less movement overall (like Clarke Schmidt's, which he throws nearly 87 mph but averages under eight inches of break).

But Ohtani has both, and that shaves off precious time for a hitter to react to a pitch that's breaking across the entirety of the strike zone or more.

Only a few other pitchers -- Mitch Keller and Aaron Bummer would be a couple of examples -- throw sweepers in Ohtani's velocity range while also generating the same level of break.

Go back to Ohtani's World Baseball Classic sweeper to finish off Trout. That one came in at 87 mph, even harder than normal for Ohtani, and it still broke the full width of the plate.

Or watch the one he snapped off to strike out Julio Rodríguez in his second start of the season. That one was 85 mph and broke 21 inches.

It's become Ohtani's No. 1 pitch

Ohtani's splitter is his signature pitch, but his sweeper is the pitch he relies on the most.

In 2022, his sweeper criss-crossed his four-seam fastball and became his most-used pitch for the first time. In 2023, that gap has only widened.

Ohtani is throwing sweepers almost half the time so far in 2023. His 46% usage on the pitch is by far the highest of any starting pitcher.

By sheer volume, Ohtani is head and shoulders above his peers in deploying the sweeper. He threw more sweepers than anyone last season; he's throwing more sweepers than anyone again this season. Those sweepers have produced 89 strikeouts and 205 swinging strikes since the start of 2022. No other pitcher is even close.

Most K's on sweepers, 2022-23 
1. Shohei Ohtani: 89 
2. Griffin Jax / Penn Murfee: 60 
Gap: 29 K's

Most whiffs on sweepers, 2022-23 
1. Shohei Ohtani: 205 
2. Griffin Jax: 107 
Gap: 98 whiffs

It's one of MLB's most valuable pitches, period

Statcast measures the run value for every pitch in every pitcher's arsenal. So whenever Ohtani throws a sweeper, he gets credit for a good result (like a strike or a K) or dinged for a bad result (like a ball or a home run).

Add all those up, and Ohtani's sweeper has been worth 29 runs prevented for the Angels since the start of the 2022 season. It's been the most valuable sweeper in baseball by a mile. In fact, the only pitch in all of baseball worth more is Dylan Cease's slider.

Most valuable pitches in baseball, 2022-23

  1. Cease's slider: 38 runs prevented
  2. Shohei Ohtani's sweeper: 29 runs prevented
  3. Sandy Alcantara's changeup: 25 runs prevented
  4. Justin Verlander's 4-seamer: 24 runs prevented
  5. (tie) Edwin Díaz's slider / George Kirby's 4-seamer / Nestor Cortes' 4-seamer / Carlos Rodón's 4-seamer: 22 runs prevented

Next-closest sweeper to Ohtani's: Adam Ottavino (14 runs prevented)

As the number of pitchers throwing the sweeper across Major League Baseball skyrockets, Ohtani's has taken off, a product of both his willingness to throw it as his go-to pitch and the sheer nastiness of the pitch itself. You couldn't pick a better standard-bearer for the sweeper trend.