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Deep Dive: What's Wrong With Shohei Ohtani (The Hitter)

Shohei Ohtani is over a year removed from Tommy John surgery and on a short year, he may have pushed a bit hard to be ready to rock and roll. This has caused another injury and now he has been relegated to an everyday role as a hitter. This will be a deep dive into the struggles of his hitting. The pitching sample was too small and there were obvious issues returning from injury so it can be chalked up to that.

Regardless, we all expected Ohtani to be a solid, five-category fantasy baseball producer as a full-time hitter. That has not been the case. In fact, he has struggled mightily. He does have five home runs and two stolen bases but he is dragging your batting average through the mud. The triple slash as a whole is a lowly .175/.250/.391.

This is not what we expected when Ohtani returned to a full-time hitting role. It is worth exploring what is going on. Let's dive in.

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Advanced Stats

The walk rate (9.4%) and strikeout rate (26%) are pretty much in line with expectations. The walk rate is up from 2019 but, again, nothing really stands out about it. The ISO is the same as last year. The ISO is deceiving because although it is the same, the batting average and slugging percentage are way down but it's a reminder the power is still playing up all things considered.

Shohei Ohtani's wOBA of .275 is by far the worst mark of his career. It is down 77 points from 2019. Yikes! More concern is in the wRC+ sitting at 74. The average is 100 and Ohtani's wRC+ was 123 in 2019 for reference. One notable rate due for positive regression is the .175 BABIP. His career-mark is sitting at .355 so you can expect this to improve.

 

Batted Ball Data

The batted ball data is beginning to show the issues. The ground-ball rate is the starting point, as it is up to 51.6%. Ohtani had a high ground-ball rate in 2019 as well, but it is worse thus far. The ground-ball rate issues can usually be offset to a point by having plus speed which Ohtani does have with his sprint speed in the 94th percentile. It is actually a career-best 28.7 ft/sec and is good enough to be 22nd in MLB.

We have also seen a steep decline in line drive rate. With the line drive down 11.4%, this is a big factor behind the BABIP and batting average being down. The increase in fly balls is worth noting as well. It has jumped up 9.4% from 2019 to 33.9% in 2020. This would not be an issue if it weren't for it all coming from the line drive rate rather than the ground-ball rate.

With all the changes in the LD%, GB%, and FB%, we see an increase of in-field fly balls (up from 2.9% to 4.8%) and a decrease in HR/FB (down from 26.5% to 23.8%). These rates are moving the opposite direction of where we want them to move.

More notable changes are the pull and center rates. He has been more of an all-fields hitter in the past but this year he has been pull-heavy and has career-high marks in pull% (43.5%) and cent% (also 43.5%) with a career-low oppo% of 12.9%. In contrast, he had at least 30% to all fields last season. This could suggest he is pressing as he tries to figure things out.

This approach has caused his topped% to increase to 41.7% and his under% to increase to 20%. This would explain the added ground balls and pop-ups.

 

Plate Discipline

We mentioned the strikeouts have not increased much and it is surprising given what is going on because the contact rates are down across the board and the swing strike rate (or SwStr%) is up to a career-worst 16%. This is 3.1% higher than any previous SwStr%. The whiff rate is also worrisome and has increased to a career-worst 33.2%.

Contact rates:

  • O-Contact%: 58.8% - down 7.3% from 2019
  • Z-Contact%: 73.0% - down 8% from 2019
  • Contact%: 67.9% - down 7,.1% from 2019

This is a huge reason for the struggles. Ohtani just is not making contact. This is with roughly the same swing rate as 2019 that currently sits at 49.7%. So he is swinging the same amount as last season but less in the zone while sustaining the same amount of swings outside of the zone. This is not ideal.

Ohtani is seeing the most pitches in the zone than ever before to this point with a zone rate of 45%.

As you can see, they are also attacking the top of the zone and the outside of the zone more in 2020. Meanwhile, in 2019, pitchers attacked the outside of the zone more and challenged him less in the zone.

Ultimately, pitchers are attacking the zone more and Ohtani is swinging in the zone less. That can partly be attributed to the drop of his first pitch swing rate to 31.5% this year compared to the 37.4% last season. There is just a lot of things not going Ohtani's way right now.

 

Splits

Seeing how the pitchers are attacking the zone on Ohtani, it is worth noting he is 0-1 more than any count this season (46 AB and 48 PA), which further suggests he falls behind early and often. What is more concerning is that teams have started shifting more on Ohtani and it is working.

So far in 2020, Ohtani has had five games with no shift. This was a 13 at-bat sample size and he has hit .308/.308/.385 with a 90 wRC+. Nothing special but solid. However, verse a shift it has been terrible. Verse all shifts, Ohtani is hitting .136/.136/.205 with a -15 wRC+. That is just plain bad. Meanwhile, they shifted Ohtani a ton last year and he actually hit better against shifts.

Pitchers have also attacked Shohei a bit differently as well in 2020. In 2019, he crushed fastballs and breaking pitches but did somewhat struggle against off-speed offerings. Pitchers took notice and you can see the change in the attack in the pitches he is seeing.

  • Fastballs: 2019 - 56.1%/ 2020 - 52.1% = 4% less fastballs
  • Breaking: 2019 - 27.4%/ 2020 - 25.9% = 1.5% less breaking
  • Offspeed: 2019 - 16.5%/ 2020 - 22% = 3.5% more off-speed

Although he is expected to hit better against fastballs (xBA 0f .307) and breaking pitches (xBA .210 which is still not fantastic), the pitch mix change and attacking the zone more has given Ohtani trouble and he has yet to adjust it seems.

 

Statcast Data and Rest of Season Outlook

Considering the struggles, the Statcast data is not all that bad. The barrel rate of 12.9% is actually up from last season. Unfortunately, the sweet spot% did not follow and sits at 27.4%. Down 4.3% from last season. The Launch angle is also up from 6.8 degrees to 9.4 degrees. This would explain the increase in fly balls. Although the average exit velocity is down 89.8 MPH (down 3 MPH from last season), the average exit velocity on fly balls is actually up this year from 95.2 MPH to 97.2 MPH.

Between hitting more fly balls and pulling the ball more, he could be pressing and selling out for power. With his change of launch angle, the sd(LA) also became wider. Essentially the swing isn't as tight and isn't being repeated as often. The sd(LA) increased from 23 degrees in 2019 to 30.7 degrees so far in 2020.

Long term, there is zero concern with Shohei Othani. In the short term, with so many things not in his favor and pitchers adapting to him, the confidence in the bounce back is lacking. You might be able to take advantage and buy him in keeper and dynasty leagues at a reduced price.

This season is unlike any other and in a typical season, the bounce-back would not be second-guessed. We are running low on time and unless you are desperate for steals, he is someone to bench for the time being. I would not feel confident in buying low unless you had spare parts and the room on the bench to stash him. I am not ready to say drop him yet. Regardless, the best of Ohtani is yet to come but 2020 could be a lost season.



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