Sport The Best Player in the World? Inside Shohei Ohtani's Unmatched Skills

02:55  18 may  2018
02:55  18 may  2018 Source:   online.wsj.com

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Shohei Ohtani arrived in the major leagues cloaked in intrigue. Hailed as the “Japanese Babe Ruth”—no pressure—he signed with the Los Angeles Angels intending to do something that seemed impossible: thrive simultaneously as a starting pitcher and an everyday batter, a feat hardly attempted, let alone accomplished, in a century.

Scouts predicted the 23-year-old Ohtani would quickly give up hitting and focus his energies on the mound. A dismal spring training even raised questions about whether he should open the season in the minor leagues. It suddenly wasn’t clear he was all that good as a hitter or pitcher.

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Nobody questions Ohtani anymore. He entered Thursday with a .325 batting average, five home runs and a .963 OPS. As a pitcher, he owns a 3.58 ERA in six outings, racking up 43 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings, or nearly 12 per nine.

  The Best Player in the World? Inside Shohei Ohtani's Unmatched Skills © Mike Sudal/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Essentially, take all of the best skills of the sport’s most elite players, wrap them up into one freakish athlete, and you end up with Ohtani. Veteran Logan Morrison, whose Minnesota Twins whiffed 11 times in 6 1/3 frames against Ohtani last Sunday, put it this way:

“With what he does on the mound and with the bat, he’s probably the best player in the world.”

Aaron Judge emerged as a rookie sensation a year ago because of how hard he hit the baseball—94.9 mph off the bat on average, the best in the majors. Ohtani has nearly matched that, posting an average exit velocity of 94.1 mph, revealing his remarkable ability to consistently make solid contact.

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Perhaps the best example of this came on April 27. Yankees ace Luis Severino threw him a 97 mph fastball. Ohtani hit it back out at 112 mph, sending it over the right-field fence for a homer. So basically, the best hitter against Shohei Ohtani the pitcher might be Shohei Ohtani the batter.

Lots of pitchers throw hard in 2018. Almost none of them throw as hard as Ohtani. His average fastball travels at 97.1 mph, trailing just two starters in baseball: Luis Severino of the Yankees (97.6) and Noah Syndergaard of the Mets (97.5). Ohtani has thrown six pitches that reached 100 mph; Severino and Syndergaard have thrown four combined.

And when Ohtani needs even more, he rears back and finds it. Twice this season, Ohtani has thrown fastballs clocked at a ridiculous 101 mph. No other starter in the majors has gone above 100.2. Now remember Ohtani’s slider averages 82 mph, and it’s not hard to see why he piles up the strikeouts.

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The one at-bat that sums up the breadth of Ohtani’s skills came on April 12. He was thrown a 97 mph fastball, he smacked it 106 mph--and then came his most impressive feat: sprinting to third base, for a triple, in 11.49 seconds. Ohtani’s average sprint speed this season, 28.1 feet per second, is well above average. Early in the season he reached almost 30 feet per second, a rate only surpassed by the sport’s elite speed demons. So, among other ways he’s changing the game, he’s also tearing down the convention that a designated hitter is a lumbering slowpoke.

When Ohtani took a perfect game into the seventh inning in April, it was the coming out party for one of the most devastating pitches in baseball: his split-finger. He threw it 33 times. Batters swung and missed on 16 of them. In all, batters have swung and missed on 29.4% of his splitters this season. Meanwhile, the starting pitcher with arguably the best splitter in baseball, Masahiro Tanaka, only got batters to swing and miss on 23% of his last year. So far, Ohtani has thrown 136 split-fingers. He hasn’t given up a hit on any of them.

Write to Jared Diamond at jared.diamond@wsj.com and Andrew Beaton at andrew.beaton@wsj.com

Ohtani-Tanaka pitching matchup falls apart, for now .
At least one part of the matchup between Shohei Ohtani and Masahiro Tanaka will occur. Just not the one many were hoping to see. Just not the one many were hoping to see.

usr: 1
This is interesting!