It’s finally official, our two-way star Shohei Ohtani is the American League Rookie of the Year for 2018. This prompted a lot of social media buzz about our favorite Japanese phenom, including a tweet from FOX Sports West’s account, showing an edited video of Shohei Ohtani hitting a home run off of himself. This got me thinking, in any given at bat, and if it was at all possible, how likely is it that Ohtani could homer off of himself in real life? Let’s take a look.
Where you naturally need to start, considering Ohtani is a right-handed pitcher, is how Ohtani dominated in the box against right-handers this year. In 257 plate appearances against right-handed pitching in 2018, Ohtani slashed .313/.387/.656 with a 1.043 OPS. In addition, 91% of his home runs this year came off of right-handed pitching. On the other side, when Ohtani was on the bump against left-handed hitters, he allowed .192/.304/.231. These stats are pretty skewed, considering Ohtani saw much more action as a hitter than as a pitcher this year, but I’ll always give the pitcher the advantage in matchups like this.
When you go a little deeper, the answer to this question does start to become more clear. For example, let’s look at both players after getting into a 1-0 count. When hitting, after going up 1-0 in the count, Ohtani hit .344/.457/.792, with 15 home runs. When Ohtani went down 1-0 in the count as a pitcher though, he allowed a .284/.379/.407 and two home runs. On the flip side, when Ohtani went down 0-1 in the count, he hit .202/.257/.307 with a whopping 76 strikeouts. As a pitcher, if he went ahead in the count 0-1, Ohtani only allowed .130/.216/.217 with 42 strikeouts. Why are these numbers important? Well, as a hitter, Ohtani faced an 0-1 count in 47.6% of his plate appearances this year, and as a pitcher, that number is almost exactly the same, at 48.3%. This bodes well for Ohtani the pitcher, since it’s pretty much 50/50 on how the count will end up after the first pitch and on the mound, he carries an advantage in both situations.
The last thing we will look at is how successful Ohtani would be against his own secondary pitches. We’re leaving fastballs out of the equation here, as that number isn’t really helpful. Ohtani’s best secondary pitch is largely considered to be his slider, which he utilized 26% of the time, with a .154 BAA over the course of the season. As a hitter, Ohtani’s best hit percentage among secondary pitches came against sliders. Ohtani used his splitter the second most, 18% of the time, with a (yes, this is real) .080 BAA on that pitch. Once again, though, Ohtani the hitter matches up well here, as his second highest hit percentage came on changeups this year. Again, I’d give the edge here to the pitcher, because even though Ohtani had his most hitting success against his two best secondary pitches, those numbers are only 15.9% and 15.1%. Basically, Ohtani had a tough time hitting secondary pitches this year, with more than 50% of his hits coming off of fastballs.
The conclusion here? While the video from FOX Sports West was good intentioned and meant for entertainment purposes only, I think that it is pretty unlikely that, in any given at-bat, that Ohtani could homer against himself, mostly because he just matches up poorly against himself based on this year’s statistics.
Sources: - https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.fcgi?id=ohtansh01&year=2018&t=b - http://www.brooksbaseball.net/outcome.php?player=660271&b_hand=-1&gFilt=&pFilt=FA|SI|FC|CU|SL|CS|KN|CH|FS|SB&time=month&minmax=ci&var=baa&s_type=2&startDate=03/30/2007&endDate=11/15/2018 - https://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=19755&position=DH#pitchtype