Wednesday, May 29, 2024
AL WestAmerican LeagueAnalysisLos Angeles AngelsMLB

The Most Skilled Baseball Player of All Time

When assessing the potential of the 2021 Los Angeles Angels, the natural first question is how will Shohei Ohtani be able to contribute? During consecutive injury-impacted seasons where Ohtani was unable to pitch in 2019-2020, his value began to wane as he became solely a full-time designated hitter. It became a growing sentiment that fans just wanted to see Ohtani return to his rookie form in 2018, where he posted a 149 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) at the plate, a 3.39 Expected ERA (xERA) on the mound, and took home Rookie of the Year honors. His swing and miss stuff was electric in 2018, which is supported by his strikeout percentage (K%) and whiff percentage (whiff%) being in the 88th and 96th percentile respectively, and the ball was exploding off of his bat, as seen in his 96th percentile hard hit percentage and 98th percentile expected slugging percentage (xSLG). These numbers help tell the story of his remarkable two-way performance as a rookie, but we have yet to see him do anything like that since 2018… until now.

Image: Twitter Image: Twitter

After a promising Spring Training, Ohtani started off the 2021 MLB season in unprecedented fashion. After 13 games, he is 12th in the MLB in wRC+, 2nd in barrels per PA, 2nd in max exit velocity (119 mph!), 13th in sprint speed, and 2nd in average 4-seam fastball velocity (98.1!). In addition to all of this, Ohtani’s fastball increased in average spin rate from 2,164 rpm in 2018 to 2449 rpm in his first start of 2021. Should that trend of increased spin rate persist, it would be a great indicator for an improvement in his swing and miss stuff, which is already among the best in baseball. He also threw a ball 101.1 mph and hit a home run that traveled 451 ft, not just this season, but in the same inning of an MLB game just two weeks ago. This should serve as a example for the absurdity that we are seeing here in what Shohei Ohtani is accomplishing right now. To further describe the offensive explosion that Ohtani is showing off right now, the numbers below indicate that his Statcast batting numbers are peaking across the board this season.

Data Table by Statcast

What also had been incredibly impressive about Ohtani’s start of the season is his flexibility and durability thus far. Ohtani has been given the freedom this season to determine his own schedule, which is evident in the way he is fulfilling full-time DH duties while also keeping his spot in the Angels’ six man rotation. This directly contrasts the hyper-cautious approach that the Angels’ have taken in the past where Ohtani would often sit out from his DH duties the day before and the day after any pitching appearance. Instead, this season Shohei Ohtani actually played DH (and clobbered the first pitch that he saw at the plate) in the same game that he started on the mound, as seen below.

A huge aspect of the impact that Shohei Ohtani has had so far this season lies in the simple fact that he is playing a lot. Even though a blister forced him to skip his spot in the rotation last week, he has currently played in all 13 games for Angels this season. The one game where he was not the starting DH was the day after he homered and threw 4.2 innings against the White Sox, and he still pinch hit in the game that he didn’t start in the highest leverage AB of the game and drew a HBP. This frequency of play combined with the great output by Ohtani is further described by his Win Probability Added of 1.20, which is currently third best in the MLB according to Fangraphs. Ohtani is set to only increase this production as he is currently penciled in to throw in his second start of this season this Tuesday (4/20), while he also continues DH duties night in and night out.

How do you properly evaluate the value of a player if they hit for power and contact, are the fastest player on their team, and strike out 29.3% of batters that they face in their career? And just to add onto what the numbers are telling us, his emotion on the field is at an all-time high as seen above, which will has to be a great sign of how he is feeling on the diamond. It would be foolish to think that a healthy Shohei Ohtani doesn’t have the ability to raise the ceiling of this 2021 Angels team through the roof. After sifting through all the insane aspects of Ohtani’s game, it’s clear that his unparalleled skillset makes him a 1 of 1 player in baseball history. With that being said, I would argue that we should pump the brakes on the whole “Japanese Babe Ruth” comparison. After all, I have never heard of Babe Ruth being 96th percentile in sprint speed before.