I think the baseball world at large is running out of ways to describe Shohei Ohtani’s sustained dominance as a two-way player.
We are nearing the halfway point of the 2021 MLB season and Ohtani has very clearly been the most impressive player of the season. He has a very strong case for the American League Most Valuable Player award, usually an award reserved for his teammate Mike Trout. Every time we think Ohtani has hit a new high, he surpasses himself with an even more impressive feat. That was most obvious over the past few days, when Ohtani was the winning pitcher (six innings, one run) on Thursday night at Angel Stadium and then crushed home runs #20 and #21 on Friday night. It’s not hyperbole to say this is completely unprecedented on numerous levels.
To get a better grasp on just how incredible Ohtani has been, let’s take a look at 10 facts that have defined his historic 2021 season.
No player has been more valuable by bWAR
By Baseball Reference’s version, no player in the majors has been more valuable by Wins Above Replacement than Shohei Ohtani (4.5 bWAR), who is tied with Zack Wheeler for the MLB-lead. With 2.5 bWAR as a hitter, Ohtani is one of the 24 position players to reach at least 2.5 bWAR. With 2.0 bWAR as a pitcher, he’s one of the 30 pitchers with at least 2.0 bWAR. The Fangraphs version loves him too: only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (4.0 fWAR) and Jacob deGrom (4.0) rate better than Ohtani (3.7). It’s a true testament to Ohtani’s excellence as a hitter, pitcher, and baserunner.
Ohtani is the seventh-best hitter by wRC+
By Weighted Runs Created Plus, a rate statistic that contextualizes a hitter’s performance (100 is average), only six hitters have been better. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (194 wRC+), Jesse Winker (179), Fernando Tatis Jr. (173), Nick Castellanos (170), Ronald Acuña Jr. (169), and Matt Olson (167) are the only qualified hitters who have been better than Ohtani (165). In other words, Ohtani’s 165 wRC+ means he’s been 65 percent better than the league-average hitter in the 2021 MLB season, which accounts for park effects and the current run-scoring environment. Just for reference, Ohtani’s teammate Mike Trout, the best hitter of the past decade, has a career 172 wRC+.
This stat shows that Ohtani hasn’t just been a sheer power threat, although that’s where he’s shined the most; he ranks third in both home runs (21) and slugging percentage (.636). His .355 on-base percentage is well above the league-average mark of .313, as is Ohtani’s .273 batting average (.238 league-average).
Ohtani has the 15th-best ERA+
Among pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings this year, Ohtani ranks 15th in ERA+ (169), which normalizes a pitcher’s ERA across the entire league. Many of the names ahead of him are the ones you’d expect: Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Brandon Woodruff, and Lance Lynn are some of those names. What Ohtani’s 169 ERA+ means is he’s been 69 percent better than the league-average pitcher based strictly on ERA (not including strikeouts, walks, home runs). By both wRC+ (hitter) and ERA+ (pitcher), two significant statistics to evaluate talent, Ohtani is 65-70 percent better than the league-average player.
No hitter is barreling more baseballs
Ohtani leads the majors in barreled baseballs, a batted ball with the ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle that leads to big results. Whether you look at total barrels (38), barrels-per-plate appearance (14.5 percent), or barrels-per-batted ball (24.1 percent), Ohtani ranks first in the majors. Another way to look at this is nearly a quarter of Ohtani’s batted balls have been absolutely crushed. This should come as no surprise to anyone, evidenced by the aforementioned 21 home runs and .636 slugging percentage. It is, however, a true testament to just how Ohtani is consistently able to clobber baseballs.
Ohtani has the ninth-best strikeout percentage among starters
Among all of the starting pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings, Ohtani has the ninth-best strikeout percentage (32.9 percent). The pitchers ahead of Ohtani: Jacob deGrom, Corbin Burnes, Carlos Rodon, Tyler Glasnow, Max Scherzer, Freddy Peralta, Gerrit Cole, and Shane Bieber. This means that roughly a third of Ohtani’s plate appearances (as a pitcher) have ended in a strikeout. Ohtani’s strikeout rate in conjunction with his sparkling 2.70 ERA gives him dominance in multiple areas as a pitcher.
Ohtani ranks third with 21 home runs
Ohtani hit his 20th and 21st home runs on Friday night, both of them traveling over 400 feet. He did so on the same day that he announced that he would be participating in the 2021 MLB Home Run Derby. Only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. have more home runs than Ohtani’s 21 home runs. He’s one shy of his career-best 22 home runs he hit in 2018, which is remarkable given he’s done so in 105 fewer plate appearances. Ohtani’s 21 home runs have traveled an average of 418 feet, with Ohtani maxing out at 470 feet.
Ohtani’s splitter remains unhittable
Ohtani’s splitter is certainly in the conversation for the best pitch in the majors, especially if you look at just this year. If you look at every pitch in the majors this year (minimum 100 pitches), Ohtani’s splitter ranks fourth with a 57.8 whiff percentage (percentage of swing-and-misses out of total swings). In other words, hitters miss on over half of the swings against Ohtani’s splitter. In 71 plate appearances ending with an Ohtani splitter, hitters have a .075 batting average, .104 slugging percentage, and 64.8 strikeout percentage. His splitter is utterly dominant and is Ohtani’s go-to weapon for missing bats.
Ohtani has stolen 10 bases
Somehow, the guy that possesses otherworldly power at the plate and stuff on the mound can also run just about as fast as anyone. Ohtani stole his 10th base recently, making him just one of 15 players to reach double-digit stolen bases. That same guy who is one of the best hitters and pitchers in the majors is also adding immense value on the bases. Ohtani is a top-30 runner by sprint speed (29 feet-per-second) and has the fourth-fastest home-to-first time (4.08 seconds).
Ohtani is the perfect player in the Statcast era
In an era where every statistic and movement is measured, Ohtani is the perfect player to break down by a visit to his Statcast page(s). As a position player, he has a 100th percentile barrel rate and 94th percentile sprint speed. As a pitcher, he has an 89th percentile strikeout rate and 85th percentile whiff rate. If you haven’t done so already, do yourself a favor and check out Ohtani’s numbers by skimming through his Statcast page. You won’t regret it.
Ohtani has missed just one game
The last fact here is an important and perhaps underrated reason for his success this season. Prior to 2021, Ohtani was a legitimate two-way player for just about two months of his career (first two months of 2018). A barrage of different injuries (Tommy John and knee surgery) prevented Ohtani from consistently reaching this type of level prior to this season. That has changed in a major way this year, where Ohtani has played in all but one game for the Angels. He’s hit and pitched in seven different games this season, bucking the prior safer schedule he’d been on as a two-way player. Ohtani has been let loose this year and produced in a major way on an everyday basis.
*Cover Photo via MLB Twitter video*