A Shohei Ohtani Update: He’s Still Good

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

This is a Shohei Ohtani Update. The World Baseball Classic is officially underway, and after a weekend packed with games, it’s time to check in on one of the biggest stars in the world. With Samurai Japan fresh off a 4-0 rampage through Pool B, FanGraphs can now officially report that Shohei Ohtani is still good at baseball.

The issue was not necessarily in question, but it’s worth taking a look at Ohtani’s performance considering his sudden disappearance at the end of the 2022 season. The two-way star didn’t play in a single game for more than four months — essentially the entire winter. Although he posted 9.5 WAR in 2022, several straw men constructed for the purpose of this sentence wondered whether, after such a long layoff, Ohtani would even remember how to play baseball at all.

Fortunately, Ohtani arrived at spring training in mid-February. After spending a couple weeks re-familiarizing himself with the sport, Ohtani got into three spring training games. Ohtani the batter hit a triple on the first pitch he saw, and has gone 2-for-5 so far. Ohtani the pitcher made one appearance, throwing 2.1 scoreless innings with no hits, two walks, and two strikeouts. Cactus League sources indicate that both a 1.200 OPS as a hitter and a 0.00 ERA as a pitcher are considered good.

Last week, Ohtani headed to Osaka to suit up for Samurai Japan in the WBC. Ohtani went 2-for-3 in a tune-up against the Hanshin Tigers of NPB’s Central League. Both of those hits were three-run homers, as Japan won 8-1. Ohtani dropped to a knee to drive the first ball out, while the second was a no-doubter to center. Although the fans seemed to enjoy the spectacle, Ohtani was less sanguine about his performance, citing jet lag and telling reporters, “As a hitter, yes, I had a couple at-bats, and I feel uncomfortable.”

Ohtani might be worrying a little more than is necessary here, though that’s not altogether surprising coming from the guy who apologizes after hitting batters, or after almost hitting batters, or even after catching an opposing catcher with a foul tip. FanGraphs can confirm that hitting two home runs in one game, even if you’re not completely comfortable while you do so, is in fact good.

But those were just warmup games. Spring training and exhibitions are nothing compared to the pressure of representing your county in the WBC. Ohtani told reporters, “It’s my first WBC game tomorrow. I am expecting that I’ll be nervous. But I’d like to be as usual, be myself, try not to do any special thing.”

Facing off against China in the first game of pool play at the Tokyo Dome, Ohtani started on the mound and batted third. The game once again ended 8-1 in Japan’s favor. Ohtani went four innings and was credited with the win. He touched 100 mph with his fastball, allowing one hit and no runs while striking out five. He barely even dipped into his repertoire, throwing four-seamers or sliders on 46 of his 49 pitches. At the plate, he drove in two and went 2-for-4 with a double and two walks. It would be fair to argue that, at least by Ohtani’s standards, that performance did not constitute any special thing.

Japan faced Korea on Friday, defeating the rival 14-3. Ohtani went 2-for-3 with two walks, a double, and another RBI. Ohtani’s exit velocity was 103.7 mph on the single and 108.7 on the double, giving him an average exit velocity of 106.2 mph for the day, which might explain why the Korean team stopped warming up just to watch him knock home runs off the scoreboard during batting practice.

On Saturday, the Czech Republic came the closest to holding Ohtani in check, which is to say that they kept his on-base percentage to an even .500. Czech electrician Ondrej Satoria struck Ohtani out on three pitches, the last a 71.1 mph changeup that induced a whiff so mighty that it sent Ohtani’s helmet flying. After the game, Satoria compared the feeling of striking out Ohtani to a heart attack. Ohtani ended the game 1-for-3 with a walk and a 118.7 mph RBI double, the hardest-hit ball of the tournament so far.

Japan finished off pool play against Australia yesterday, winning 7-1. Australia manager Dave Nilsson had no trouble identifying the game’s key moment. “I think the turning point was when Ohtani hit that ball about 500 feet in the first inning,” he said. The homer came on a looping 71 mph curveball from Australia’s Will Sherriff. It traveled 448 feet and came tantalizingly close to hitting a billboard with Ohtani’s face on it. Ohtani ended the day 1-for-2, adding two walks for good measure.

Just to put all that together, so far in the WBC, Ohtani is slashing .500/.684/1.000 with a 66.7% hard-hit rate. Among players with at least 11 plate appearances, Ohtani’s 1.684 OPS leads the tournament. He has a four-game extra-base hit streak. On the pitching side, his 0.00 ERA is also, obviously, tied for first. Only Se-woong Park 박세웅 of Korea has pitched as many innings as Ohtani and allowed fewer baserunners. Ohtani has an average exit velocity of 100.4 mph as a hitter and 72.3 as a pitcher. All of these numbers are good.

Despite not participating in any organized games during the offseason, it now seems safe to say that Shohei Ohtani is still good at baseball. He’s good at the hitting part. He’s good at the pitching part. He’s even good at the apologizing part. This has been a Shohei Ohtani Update.

Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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16 days ago

Lub it. Very interested to see how the league markets this guy in 2023. On one hand, he’s an evil and greedy FA to be. On the other, the league has taken so many steps to secure a cheap, cost controlled Future that maybe it doesn’t matter what this one Aging pest might do

100 avg EV off the bat and 72 on the mound…Jd