Category Archives: Baseball

Ditching the DH for Shohei Ohtani

By Jim Allen

  wrote on Twitter about using Shohei Ohtani to bat when he pitches in American League games in response to my comment that Ohtani was quite successful in those games with Nippon Ham in 2016.

I’ve written in the past that as a pitcher, Ohtani’s OPS is virtually identical to his OPS when he was in the lineup but did not pitch, and that his pitching was quite a bit better in those games.

The table below breaks down his 82 regular season starts into games in which he batted — either in interleague or when Nippon Ham opted to ditch the DH in five games from May 29 to Sept. 21 and again in his final start in NPB on Oct. 4, when he batted cleanup and pitched.

But from a team perspective, how did the Fighters do with Ohtani as a pitcher only, as a hitter only, in a dual role and without him playing at all.

The quick answer is:

The big surprise is that in his five seasons since turning pro in 2013, the Nippon Ham Fighters overall were better without Shohei Ohtani. That is largely because he was not very good as an 18-year-old rookie.

Both his pitching and batting took a big stride forward when he was 19 in 2014, and his batting took another huge step forward in 2016. In 2017, he was hurt a lot (ankle, thigh, elbow) and was often not that good.

But wait a second. Ohtani appeared as a fairly useless pinch hitter in 57 games, and in those the Fighters went 19-36-2, and it’s hard to blame him for that. If we put those pinch hit games in with the others we get the following table.

Shohei Ohtani’s inside story

I guess we all remember the scouting report, heck I wrote one that was published in Japanese by Slugger Magazine. Prior to his MLB debut, a majority of scouts believed that Shohei Ohtani would be vulnerable to inside pitches because of his long swing.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that for the first few weeks, the majority of pitches (51.2 percent) to Ohtani were either inside over the plate or inside off the plate with the data thanks to Brooks Baseball.

Announcers and analysts noted his early tendency to back away from the plate — even on outside pitches — at the start of the season. But it seems after he hit too many balls hard on pitches in on his hands, pitchers have changed their tactics and are now trying more and more to get him out away.

All pitches to Shohei Ohtani from March 30 to April 13, catcher’s view

During that time, Ohtani had the following batting averages per pitch in each zone:

Batting average on pitches from March 30 to April 14, catcher’s view

Since then, pitchers have been vastly more careful about throwing pitches inside to Ohtani, who likes to extend his arms and drive balls to center.

Catcher’s view of total pitches to Shohei Ohtani since April 14, 2018

Here are the results since then.

Batting average on pitches since April 14, catcher’s view