Continuing to rewrite modern baseball history with his pitching and hitting, Shohei Ohtani (29, Los Angeles Angels) finished fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting last year. It seemed like a fitting honor for a pitcher who went 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA and 219 strikeouts in 166 innings pitched in 28 games.
The expectation was that he would be even more dominant as a pitcher this year. Based on his April performance, he did. In six starts through April, Ohtani went 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 34 innings pitched. His batting average was just 0.102 during that stretch. No one was able to hit Ohtani’s pitches easily, and many batters struck out. It was a start to remember.
Ohtani’s success was due in large part to an old pitch called the sweeper. It used to be called a slider because it had a lot of lateral movement, but in recent years, it has been renamed a sweeper because of its grip and trajectory tracking. Ohtani’s sweeper has become an iconic Major League Baseball pitch because of its tremendous side-to-side flight. The trajectory, which disappears just outside the right-field fence, is awe-inspiring.
However, Ohtani has struggled a bit on the mound since May. In seven starts since May, he has thrown 42 innings and is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA. His FIP is also not good, at 4.82. His BABIP is 0.221 during this stretch, which isn’t bad, but his on-base percentage is 0.310 and his FIP is 0.726. Meanwhile, Ohtani’s ERA, which was 1.85 at the end of the April schedule, went up to 3.32.
So what’s the problem? He still strikes out a lot, but his walks have increased significantly. In 2021, Ohtani’s walk rate was 8.3%, and last year it was 6.7%. Gradually, his pitches seemed to settle down, but this year, the rate has jumped to 11.1%. His strikeout rate is in the bottom 19%, a blemish on his record.
With those walks, his long ball rate has also increased with runners on base. Through April, Ohtani had a .185 batting average in 34 innings pitched. He gave up just two home runs. For a while, he was known for being really bad at hitting home runs. However, after May, his BABIP jumped to .416 and he became more normalized. That’s nine home runs in 42 innings. Something’s not right.
Paradoxically, the sweeper is the problem. The sweeper is Ohtani’s best weapon for striking out batters. He’s having so much fun with it that he’s increased his sweepers to 40.1% of his pitches this year. That’s a near doubling in two years, considering he had a 21.9% rate in 2021. That’s all well and good, but while he’s struck out 51 batters this year with his sweeper, he’s also hit seven home runs with it.
A sweeper is a pitch that curves in a line instead of moving in dots like a curve. When it’s on point, it can deflect hitters’ bats. However, if it’s off-center, it’s a trajectory that many hitters will catch at some point. Especially up the middle, the potential for long balls is very high. It doesn’t have a lot of velocity, which makes it easy for hitters to get an upper swing on it.
Ohtani has a .161 BABIP and a 37.9% swinging strike rate on sweepers this year, both of which are excellent, but he also has a .381 BABIP against them, which is much higher than his four-seam (.167). Ohtani has admitted that he’s had some struggles with his sweeper in recent outings.
Sweepers are also a high-trajectory pitch, so there’s a natural tendency for a bad throw to result in a wild pitch. Ohtani has 10 blown pitches this year. As of Aug. 12, he is the only player in the league with double-digit walks. He’s also allowed nine hard-hit balls this year, many of them on sweepers.
Last year, Ohtani had 14 walks and only two batted balls in the entire season. While the sweeper is very effective at generating weak contact and swinging strikes, it’s also difficult to throw for strikes due to its large trajectory, and of course, it’s not easy to control. As a result, local media have pointed out that this year’s high strikeout rate and high number of balls and balls in play are not unrelated to the increased use of the sweeper.스포츠토토
In fact, Ohtani has a powerful fastball that averages 97 mph, a fastball with a slight curve (cutter), and sometimes a sinker. At one point, he even threw one of the best splitters in the league. There are a lot of different pitches I can throw. That’s why some people don’t understand why he throws so many sweepers. That’s why, in his last start against Seattle on Nov. 11, Ohtani lowered the percentage of sweepers to 19% and increased the percentage of four-seamers (39%) and cutters (32%).
In any case, the Cy Young Award has been slipping away since May. In Tom Tango’s Cy Young prediction model, Ohtani has just 25.2 points, which puts him outside the top 20 in the majors. American League leader Shane McClanahan (Tampa Bay) has already accumulated 40.5 points. This is not a gap that can be closed overnight. It will be interesting to see how Ohtani pitches in the future.