Living up to the hype was going to be near-impossible for Shohei Ohtani. The Japanese phenom’s arrival in Major League Baseball in 2018 sparked the imagination of every fan, and the feeding frenzy over his services was almost unparalleled. Now, after three seasons of solid play, Ohtani has exploded in 2021 and become the must-watch player in baseball.
On Monday night Ohtani hit his 13th home run of the season, a three run shot in the second which set up a 7-4 win over the Indians. It wasn’t just a home run, it was a rocket off a pitch high in the zone, with one of the most satisfying sounds you’ll hear.
Shohei Ohtani leads the majors in home runs.— MLB (@MLB) May 18, 2021
He also has a 2.10 ERA. pic.twitter.com/KW1eAHn2QN
That sound rings in another facet of Ohtani’s game that’s perhaps been lacking over his first three seasons: Confidence. Always a player of tremendous skill, this season a flip has been switched that’s added swagger to the 26-year-old’s game. It doesn’t matter where pitchers are throwing to him, Ohtani is ready to go yard at the drop of a hat. It’s made him terrifying.
the pitch location on two of Shohei Ohtani's most recent homers lmao pic.twitter.com/PWoCmpE3yv— joon 이준엽 (@joonlee) May 18, 2021
On pace for 55 home runs this season, Ohtani faces stiff competition for the home run crown from a handful of players including Aaron Judge, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Mitch Haniger — but hitting homers is only part of Ohtani’s story in 2021. Discussing his batting alone does a disservice to the season he’s having.
Pitching in five games so far this season, Ohtani is posting a career-best 2.1 ERA in five starts. Perhaps more impressive is that he’s only allowed 11 hits on the season, showcasing his 101 MPH fastball, and rivaling some of MLB’s best pitchers. His .126 opponent batting average tops baseball among pitchers who have thrown at least 25 innings. Granted, it’s a limited sample size, but if expanded further he would be a top 10 starting pitcher by ERA, lead the league in opposing batting average, and the home run leader. That has happened, well ... never.
Now people are taking notice of just how absurd Ohtani’s season is, and despite the hype surrounding him, it still doesn’t feel like enough — beautifully typified by J.J. Watt.
It feels like a lot of people are talking about Shohei Ohtani but still nowhere near enough people are talking about Shohei Ohtani.— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) May 18, 2021
What he’s doing in baseball is insane.
The Angels aren’t exactly the greatest team to watch on the field, struggling in the brutal AL West — but getting to see Ohtani is must-watch television. Whether he’s at the plate, or on the mound, we’ve finally hit the zenith of what people hoped he’d become since arriving from Japan. Questions will linger whether he can, or should keep hitting and pitching, but for now it’s all about enjoying this remarkable, unprecedented ride.