While this shouldn’t have any real impact on his awards odds or his status as having arguably the best season in history, it does raise a valid question as to why he’s been slumping so hard these past few months.
It can be easy to simply chalk this up to fatigue, which has no doubt played some role in Ohtani’s regression, but that alone isn’t responsible for the nearly 300 point drop in his OPS (1.062 to .792) has taken in the second half.
No, the real culprit is unfortunately something not even Shohei Ohtani can control. Without much of a supporting cast around him, opposing pitchers just don’t have to pitch to Ohtani.
A lack of lineup protection is forcing pitchers to simply ignore Shohei Ohtani at the plate when playing the LA Angels.
The LA Angels’ depleted lineup has been a major issue for the entire second half of the season.
During the first few months of the year, guys like Jared Walsh, David Fletcher and Max Stassi all stepped up following the loss of Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon and became valuable offensive weapons.
With all of these guys undergoing several prolonged slumps of their own, however, Ohtani has been left as the lone offensive threat in the Angels’ lineup.
Without any lineup protection to speak of, opposing pitchers have become wise and realized that they can just pitch around Ohtani, mostly avoiding the strike zone at all costs, and go after the weaker hitters around him instead.
The consequences of this are that with fewer quality pitches to hit, Ohtani is not only walking more, but is also chasing more, resulting in more strikeouts and worse contact on balls he is hitting.
To understand just how great an impact this has had, let’s compare some of his current stats (as of September 23) with those from the first half of the season.
- 1st half (84 games): 38 walks, 5 intentional walks, 11.1% walk rate, 98 strikeouts, 28.6% strikeout rate, .39 BB/K
- 2nd half (61 games): 43 walks, 10 intentional walks, 17.1% walk rate, 82 strikeouts, 32.5% strikeout rate, .52 BB/K
Right off the bat, you can see that the increase in walks is substantial. Having five more walks in the second half despite playing 23 less games is truly astounding.
Thankfully, his strikeout rate hasn’t increased as much, but the rise is alarming, nonetheless.
If you want an even better idea of how crazy these numbers are, Ohtani’s walk rate through his first three seasons is only 9.5%, meaning that he is currently being walked almost two times more often.
This isn’t some league-wide phenomenon that’s affecting all sluggers either.
To understand how much of an outlier Ohtani is right now, according to Fangraphs he was only 31st in the league in walks and 34th in walk-rate at the All-Star break. Now he is 6th in walks and 10th in walk rate on the whole season.
In August alone, Ohtani walked 21 times. Unsurprisingly, this is the most he has ever walked in a single month in his entire Major League career.
Even in September, Ohtani has already walked 12 times in only 18 games. Compare this to May, where he only walked 13 times through 27 games. Getting on base may be good, but not when it’s at the expense of literally every other stat.
As mentioned before, it’s not just an increase in walks and strikeouts that are affecting Shohei right now. His batted ball stats have suffered greatly as well.
- 1st half: 35% GB rate, 22% LD rate, 43% FB rate, .81 GB/FB, 43.1% pull%, 31.9% center%, 25% opposite%
- 2nd half: 42.4% GB rate, 20% LD rate, 37.6% FB rate, 1.13 GB/FB, 54.8% pull%, 27.8% center%, 17.5% opposite%
By being forced to chase more balls out of the zone just to try and put them in play, Ohtani is effectively swinging at worse pitches he would have avoided earlier in the year, thus making worse contact overall.
Looking at his GB/FB ratio in particular, Ohtani is currently producing a 1.75 mark in September despite never going above .9 at any point this year. He’s simply not getting the ball in the air as much.
Ohtani’s over eagerness at the plate is also translating into new timing issues which, based on the sharp increase in pull%, is limiting his ability to drive the ball to all parts of the field.
With the short right field porch in Angel Stadium, this might not be too great an issue on its own, but when combined with the aforementioned decrease in fly ball rate, the outcome has been a major decline in home runs in the second half.
It’s a genuine shame that we will never know just how much better Ohtani could have been this year had the Angels built a better lineup around him.
Where once it seemed like a guarantee he would blow past 50 home runs and 30 doubles, neither total seems like a possibility now. None of this should take away from just how incredible this season has been for Shohei, but still, it’ll be hard not to imagine how things could have played out if pitchers would just pitch to him.