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Breaking down Shohei Ohtani, the pitcher

Angels star is facing the Dodgers as a pitcher for the first time on Wednesday

Los Angeles Angels v Texas Rangers Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

As if he wasn’t a good enough hitter, Ohtani is also one of the more explosive pitchers in the league. He has swing and miss stuff across the board, a lifetime ERA+ of 140 and averages 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. His 4.07 FIP this year does indicate some good luck, but he has the stuff to dominate the Dodgers lineup. Down below we are going to break down the arsenal of the right hander and what LA hitters should expect.

Pitch #1: Sweeper, 2023 usage rate - 39.2 percent

2023 stats - .176 xBA, .338 xSLG, .270 xwOBA

Average velo - 83.7 MPH - Spin rate - 2,517 RPM - vertical movement - 36.6 inches - horizontal movement - 17.0 inches

Depending on your metric of choice, Ohtani’s sweeper or four-seamer is his best pitch. The main intention of this pitch is to either get batters to leave the zone, whiff or in some cases both. The chase rate against it is 32.8 percent, the highest amongst his six most used pitches. In addition to that the whiff rate is 36.7 percent and the chase whiff rate is 71.3 percent. The sweeper is Ohtani’s go-to pitch to use when ahead in the count with a usage rate of 36.3 percent compared to 39.7 percent when he is behind in the count which is also the highest rate in those counts.

Pitch #2: Four-seam fastball, 2023 usage rate - 28.5 percent

2023 stats - .186 xBA, .293 xSLG, .296 xwOBA

Average velo - 97.2 MPH - Spin rate - 2,280 RPM - vertical movement - 14.6 inches - horizontal movement - 3.8 inches

Ohtani has done a fantastic job at limiting hard contact against him this season, although this is the pitch that has “struggled” the most in that criteria. The average exit velocity against is 88.1 MPH and the hard-hit rate is 41.9 percent, both of which are the highest amongst his pitches. Ohtani does not work batters in the air at a high rate as the fly ball percentage against it is just 18.6 percent, a relatively low number on a four-seam fastball. Like most pitchers, Ohtani does throw his four seamer in the zone the most amongst his pitches at 56.3 percent.

Pitch #3: Cutter, 2023 usage rate - 13.9 percent

2023 stats - .298 xBA, .511 xSLG, .418 xwOBA

Average velo - 89.6 MPH - Spin rate - 2,372 RPM - vertical movement - 29.2 inches - horizontal movement - 4.3 inches

In terms of the expected metrics, this is far and away Ohtani’s worst pitch in his arsenal. Despite a low average exit velocity at 86.3 MPH, hitters have crushed it with a barrel rate of 11.1 percent. Outside of the barrel rate, the main two reasons the expected metrics are likely so high are because he has a line drive rate of 25.9 percent against it and just four strikeouts on the season with it compared to 27 batted ball events. A ratio like that is almost always going to lend itself to poor metrics for the pitcher against the pitch. For comparison’s sake his four seam has 29 strikeouts to 43 batted ball events and his sweeper has a ratio of 53 to 70.

Pitch #4: Sinker, 2023 usage rate - 8.9 percent

2023 stats - .218 xBA, .362 xSLG, .310 xwOBA

Average velo - 94.7 MPH - Spin rate - 2,025 RPM - vertical movement - 24.9 inches - horizontal movement - 14.8 inches

Ohtani does a great job of working batters on the ground with his sinker as the average launch angle against it is negative 14 degrees and the ground ball rate is 72.2 percent. Additionally, they make terrible contact against it as the average exit velocity against is 77.3 MPH with a hard-hit rate of just 16.7 percent. Ohtani does lean on this pitch against righties a lot more than he does lefties. When facing same sided hitters, the usage rate on the pitch jumps up to 15.7 percent, the third highest rate amongst his pitches. However, against lefties it is sitting at just 1.7 percent on the season.

Pitch #5: Split finger, 2023 usage rate - 6.8 percent

2023 stats - .185 xBA, .215 xSLG, .213 xwOBA

Average velo - 89.1 MPH - Spin rate - 1,322 RPM - vertical movement - 31.6 inches - horizontal movement - 8.0 inches

Ohtani is relatively inconsistent with his usage rate on this pitch. He has six starts in which the usage rate on it this season is 5.2 percent or lower. However, he also has three where he uses it 11 percent of the time or more, so it is tough to gauge as to just how much he is going to use it against the Dodgers. Ohtani does rely on it a bit more against lefties where the usage rate jumps to 9.2 percent compared to 4.4 against righties. When Ohtani does throw it, like his sinker, he does a great job of generating ground balls with it as the GB rate against it 82.4 percent.

Did not include his curveball or slider which he has thrown a combined 36 times this season.


Key matchup: Will Smith

This is an interesting matchup to me for a few reasons. Ohtani excels at getting hitters to swing and miss, sitting in the 86th percentile whereas Smith is fantastic at not whiffing with a whiff rate that’s in the 84th percentile. Traditionally in those situations the advantage goes to the hitter. However, Ohtani has a key advantage in his favor with his four seamer. Smith’s xBA against them is .175 and his xwOBA is .339 with a whiff rate of 28.9 percent. With what we know about both players I’m going to predict Smith goes 1-3 with a single and zero swinging strikes.

Prediction - Ohtani throws six innings, allows three earned runs and strikes out eight.