Shohei Ohtani has lit the baseball world on fire, despite leaving Tuesday’s game with a blister, and a large reason for the interest is his success at the plate. Over the first three weeks of the season the phenom hit three home runs in three straight days from the designated hitter position.
Ohtani’s offensive prowess has come despite a slow Spring Training, during which he struggled to get his timing down. Down in Arizona he got two hits in 20 plate appearances; since the regular season started, the rookie has hit .367/.424/.767 while posting a wRC+ of 226 in 33 plate appearances. One of the notable differences between his swing during Spring Training and his swing once the regular season started is that Ohtani has ditched the full leg kick and gone with a miniature step at the start of his swing.
Below is Ohtani’s third home run of the season, which came off of a 94 mile an hour fastball on the outside corner…just above his knees and was deposited into the rock formation just beyond the center field fence in Anaheim.
Now compare that swing to the home run he hit during the World Baseball Classic in 2017 at the Tokyo Dome.
It’s obvious that ditching the leg kick has allowed him to adapt his timing at the Major League level. And it’s honestly kind of terrifying that Ohtani not only recognized that his timing was off at Spring Training, but that he was able to adapt to the new pace of the game so quickly by ditching the leg kick.
But his timing isn’t the only impressive part of his plate appearances as he has been really selective when swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone. Ohtani is only offering at 37.7% of pitches outside and making contact with 65.5% of those pitches that he’s swung at. Which means that opposing pitchers are rarely going to get him to chase on pitches, so their pitches have to be in the zone…and he’s punished anything near the strike zone so far.
This heatmap shows that the majority of pitchers Ohtani has faced are keeping the ball in the middle to lower part of the zone. It’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues as the 23-year old phenom tears the cover off of the ball; or if the game plan for Ohtani will change to take advantage of the fact that he is currently struggling to hit anything above the letters on his chest.
The biggest concern about Ohtani’s numbers is that he is currently striking out in 21.2% of his plate appearances, despite having a contact rate at pitches inside the zone of nearly 97%. If the league is going to shut down him down, they’re going to have to feast on pitches up in the zone as he has yet to show that he’s able to punish those.
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