As Japanese star Shohei Ohtani continues to recover from Tommy John surgery, his leg kick at the plate is back, and the initial results aren’t great.
Shohei Ohtani is off to a dreadful start in Arizona. The two-way star is 2-14 in the batter’s box this spring, which is a small enough sample size to ignore, except when you consider his lack of contact. He has nine strikeouts in just 18 plate appearances.
It’s hard enough for a pitcher to return from Tommy John surgery, going through the process of rehabbing, building up arm strength, and re-learning proper mechanics; now imagine doing that while tinkering with a new approach as a major league hitter.
Shohei Ohtani says he is taking baby steps as he experiments with bringing back his leg kick to recover lost power in his swing. As Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com notes in a recent article, Ohtani hit only four home runs over his final 53 games last year.
Hitting is about rhythm and timing, and a proper leg kick can help a batter control both of those things. The challenge for Ohtani has been mimicking the mechanics he used in Japan against Major League pitching.
Should Angels fans be worried about Ohtani?
Ohtani has spent two Spring Trainings to experiment with his leg kick and both times he has struggled. Angel fans surely remember his first spring camp when he looked out of touch against MLB pitching (4-32 with 10 strikeouts).
Ohtani would ultimately ditch the leg kick in 2018 on his way to winning Rookie of the Year.
The left-handed hitter has always been aggressive at the plate. His 47.6% swing rate since 2018 ranks second among Angels players during that time. But over the past two seasons, he has seen his strikeout rate decline, despite swinging more often in his sophomore season.
Ohtani will probably always have a relatively high strikeout rate, but as with every hitter, he will need to manage his swing and misses relative to his desire to hit for more power.
While Ohtani struggled with his power late in the season, he still hit 18 home runs (compared to 22 in 2018), and his average exit velocity ranked 7th in all of baseball. Ohtani hit the ball harder and spread the ball all over the field last year, both fundamental factors for an effective hitter.
Should Angels fans worry about Ohtani? I wouldn’t. He is a professional hitter who likes to try different things to make him better. Spring Training is the best time to do that, so the process is more important than the results at this point in time.