A little over a month into the 2018 season, it’s safe to say Shohei Ohtani has lived up to his massive hype. The 23-year-old turned in yet another strong start Sunday, striking out 11 batters in 6 1/3 innings against the Minnesota Twins.
The Los Angeles Angels’ bullpen blew Ohtani’s lead, but came back to win the game 2-1.
With the performance, Ohtani now has 43 strikeouts on the season. That’s the most strikeouts ever by an Angels pitcher through his first six starts.
There are a fair amount of qualifiers there, but it’s still worth examining Ohtani’s excellent performance in the majors thus far.
On the mound
With Sunday’s start, Ohtani now has a 3.58 ERA over 32 2/3 innings in the majors. He’s struck out 32.8 percent of opposing hitters. That’s exactly what Robbie Ray did during his 2017 breakout. Ray finished fourth among starters in strikeout rate in 2017.
The performance also marks the second time in Ohtani’s first six starts that he’s struck out 11 batters or more. That puts him in some pretty fun company.
#Angels Shohei Ohtani is the third player since 1908 to have 11+ strikeouts in two of his first six games as a pitcher, joining Cubs' Kerry Wood (1998) and Brooklyn's Karl Spooner (1954).
— Matt Birch (@MBirchAngels) May 13, 2018
Baseball fans today may not have been around for Karl Spooner’s career, but many still remember what Kerry Wood did during his rookie season.
At the plate
Perhaps improbably, Ohtani has been even better at the plate. That should come as a surprise, not just because he struggled swinging a bat during spring training, but also because many thought he would stand out more as a pitcher.
After his rough spring, Ohtani made an adjustment with his front leg, and he’s hit ever since. He has a .348/.392/.652 slash line — with 5 home runs — in 74 plate appearances.
Shohei Ohtani’s last two outings on the mound: 12 innings, two runs. He has a 1.044 OPS. He is the best story in baseball in the last 20 years. Absolutely incredible.
— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) May 13, 2018
What about his competition?
The critics like to point out that Ohtani hasn’t faced the best competition, but that’s not really the case. Ohtani has gone up against the Oakland Athletics, Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins in his first six starts (he played Oakland twice).
By wRC+ — an advanced stat that measures offensive performance — only the Twins rank outside the top-10 in offense. The M’s rank fourth, the Red Sox rank seventh, the Astros rank eighth and the A’s rank 10th. He’s faced some strong offensive teams and has still managed to perform well on the mound.
Expectations weren’t as high at the plate, but it’s worth noting that he’s hit home runs against Corey Kluber and Luis Severino. That’s good enough for us.
The Angels have kept quiet about Ohtani’s pitching starts this year. Most of his starts have come on Sunday. The one outlier — a Tuesday start against the Red Sox — only came because Ohtani’s Sunday start was postponed. Whether or not the Angels keep him on that schedule, his next start should come against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Until then, he should get plenty of chances to hit a few home runs for the Angels during the week.
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