Shohei's hitting hallmark? Center field

After Sunday's HR vs. Dodgers, Angels phenom leads MLB in batting average and slugging to center

July 9th, 2018

In terms of pure hitting, the most impressive aspect of 's tiebreaking, pinch-hit home run against the Dodgers on Sunday night was probably where he hit it -- into the rocks beyond the center-field wall at Angel Stadium. And yet, that might also have been the most predictable thing about it.

Ohtani cleared his hands through a 95.8-mph inside fastball from JT Chargois and launched it 108.8 mph off the bat, a Statcast-projected 443 feet, just left of dead center. It was a beautiful swing -- and it was not a normal home run for a left-handed hitter. When a lefty puts a high-velocity, inside fastball that far into the seats, it's generally because he turned on it and belted it to the pull field. Ohtani inside-outed the ball and still hit it over 440 feet.

Since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015, there have been 245 home runs by left-handed hitters on high-velocity, inside fastballs -- those thrown 95 mph or harder, on the inner third of the strike zone or farther in. Of those homers, more than 85 percent have been pulled. Only 36 of the 245 have been hit to straightaway center or the opposite field. And only nine of those 36 were hit 440-plus feet. Ohtani's is one of them.

But that type of home run is a perfect emblem for Ohtani's success as an MLB hitter. Forget the batting-practice showcases where Ohtani crushes balls to the tops of right-field upper decks -- in real game action, his power has been to the heart of the field.

Statcast™ divides the field into three wedges to classify batted-ball direction: Pull, Straightaway and Opposite. This season, Ohtani leads the Majors in batting average and slugging percentage on "straightaway" batted balls. He's batting .538 when he hits the ball to the middle of the field, and after Sunday's homer, he's slugging 1.154. No other hitter with a similar number of batted balls is even approaching 1.000.

Highest batting average on "straightaway" batted balls in 2018

Minimum 30 batted balls hit to center of field (344 hitters)

1. Shohei Ohtani: .538

2. Matt Kemp: .507

3. : .470

4. J.D. Martinez: .468

5. : .462

Highest slugging percentage on "straightaway" batted balls in 2018

Minimum 30 batted balls hit to center of field (344 hitters)

1. Shohei Ohtani: 1.154

2. Matt Kemp: .918

3. : .889

4. Max Stassi: .872

5. Aaron Judge: .848

Six of Ohtani's seven home runs have been to straightaway center. So have 11 of his 17 extra-base hits, and 21 of his 36 hits overall. His hardest and farthest homer -- 112.4 mph and 449 feet on April 6 -- was to center, as was his homer off reigning AL Cy Young Award winner two days before that.

This isn't just Ohtani flashing power to center on a few scattered batted balls. He's driving the ball to center repeatedly. More than 40 percent of Ohtani's total batted balls fall within the "straightaway" region, putting him above the 90th percentile of Major League hitters in terms of frequency using the middle of the field. And the vast majority of those batted balls have been hard-hit. Thirty of Ohtani's 39 batted balls hit straightaway have had exit velocities of 95 mph or harder -- Statcast™'s threshold for hard contact. His 76.9-percent hard-hit rate to center is by far the highest in baseball.

Highest hard-hit rate on "straightaway" batted balls in 2018

Minimum 30 batted balls hit to center of field (344 hitters)

1. Shohei Ohtani: 76.9 percent

2. : 62.8 percent

3. : 62.5 percent

4. : 62.2 percent

5. J.D. Martinez: 62.0 percent

Hard-hit rate: Percent of batted balls with exit velocity of 95 mph or higher

Even as his elbow injury keeps him off the mound and limits him to half of his two-way potential, Ohtani continues to be a difference-maker for the Angels. He's already shown he has all the talent to thrive as a Major League hitter. This up-the-middle approach is how he's doing it.