The SECRET behind Shohei Ohtani's healthy and record-breaking season

Sep 26, 2021; Anaheim, California, USA; Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani (17)
Sep 26, 2021; Anaheim, California, USA; Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani (17) / Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Shohei Ohtani just put together what is considered by many as the greatest season in baseball history this year for the LA Angels.

To be able to play 155 games as an offensive player and start 23 games on the mound was already a feat in itself. To be elite in both aspects of the game put him over the top as the best and Most Valuable Player in the game this year.

Hitting .257/.372/.592 (.965 OPS) with 46 tanks, 103 R, 100 RBI, eight triples, and 26 stolen bases confirmed him to be arguably the best offensive player in baseball. Posting a 9-2 record (on an injury-ravaged team) and recording a 3.18 ERA and a 141 ERA+ on the bump made him superhuman.

Ohtani wouldn't have been able to achieve that level of excellence on the diamond if it wasn't for his seemingly perfect pregame routine. ShoTime used a Pocket Radar, along with Driveline plyocare balls (which are weighted balls) as a major part of his pregame pitching routine. Chad Romiti of Pocket Radar describes the Pocket Radar as "a hand held smart Doppler radar connected to an app to record video and velocity."

Ippei Mizuhara, Ohtani's translator, would use the radar to record Ohtani throwing with the plyocare balls before he would pitch. MLB and ESPN Pitching Contributing Analyst Rob Friedman (also known as "The Pitching Ninja") tweeted about Ohtani's routine back in early May:

This kept Shohei Ohtani in shape and able to play at an elite level all year for the LA Angels.

Shohei Ohtani was trying to get every bit of what he could out of his arm this year for the LA Angels. Friedman broke down what the Pocket Radar and plyocare ball routine is doing for Ohtani's arm:

""What he does, likely, is just to make sure he’s using the proper intent when he throws the balls. Because what it does is it shapes up your arm path. And it makes it more efficient because if you’re using a heavier ball, it’s very hard to have your arm move inefficiently. And with a lighter ball, it helps kind of feel like you’re accelerating your arm really fast and you can kind of blend that into your pitching motion.""

Rob Friedman (Pitching Ninja)

Friedman made it clear that this type of technology is becoming more and more popular among MLB players. Friedman cited many of the top arms in the game as to using weighted balls.

Some of the most notable names he mentioned were other LA stars in Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, as well as Lucas Giolito of the White Sox. Ohtani's in great company.

"What they use the Pocket Radar for is just ensuring consistency, probably, of effort," said Friedman.

Former Angels player and scout, Todd Blyleven, who is the owner of the Scout Hub, also works with Pocket Radar. He helps build training and educational programs for coaches to learn how to use radar velocity. He echoed Friedman's comments on using the Pocket Radar to establish consistency in pregame routines.

"There was always a consistent level (Ohtani) was trying to stay at," said Blyleven.

These types of technologies have come a long way when it comes to their relationship to the game. Blyleven is the son of Hall of Fame Angel Bert Blyleven, and Todd remembered hanging out around the team as a kid. He wasn't seeing these types of routines that Pocket Radar and Driveline have helped create.

"You would have never thought that you would ever use radar as a tool to help you prepare and stay consistent,” said Todd Blyleven.

As someone who still consults as a scout with Major League teams both in the Winter Meetings and during the MLB Draft, Todd Blyleven is still very connected to this league. He praises Ohtani's Pocket Radar/Driveline routine for developing that consistency.

“You see Ohtani being able to go out, pitch seven innings, or six innings, and then go finish the game in left field or right field, because he was just built on this routine-oriented program and he knew his body,” said Todd Blyleven.

Friedman sees this routine as something that can help him continue being able to take on the workload he did this year as both a hitter and a pitcher in the future.

"“That is my guess, that it will. Everybody’s going to have speed bumps when you’re throwing that hard. That’s just life. But it should help him with durability, as well as velocity. Think about strengthening all those little muscles in your arm. He can do this in the offseason with a little less effort, and still keep his arm in shape.”"

Rob Friedman, Pitching Ninja

Todd Blyleven sees Ohtani sustaining this success as well.

"“I think he really put a flag down on the ground this year, where he said ‘Hey, I’m not just here because I’m one of the best players in the world, but I’m here because I’ve got one of the best routines in the world that’s made me successful.’ And as long as he stays on that, we could see him do this not just next year, but the year after."

Todd Blyleven, ex-Angels player/scout

The best part about Driveline and Pocket Radar and their impacts on Ohtani is that they have multiple different benefits to Ohtani's development.

"“There are two things: One is, he was probably concerned that his arm path was putting extra strain on his elbow, and if you make your arm path more efficient, likely it takes strain off your elbow. So it could have something to do with that. Or he just realized he wanted to move more efficiently and have more consistent velocity, and by going to Driveline they could help him with that as well."

Rob Friedman, Pitching Ninja

The Driveline training center is over by Seattle. Here's some footage of Ohtani training there, searching for that consistency that Friedman and Todd continue to mention:

As Ohtani said towards the end of that video shared by Halo Hangout contributing writer Jacob Cisneros, this paid dividends in his performance in the second half. I'd certainly agree, as he posted a 2.84 ERA in the second half to go along with a 5-1 record in 10 starts post-All-Star Break.

It helped him sustain durability and success this year, and Blyleven saw it translating to how he worked to retire hitters.

""I mean, when you look at his approach to pitching, how he would work batters, and he would get the ball to manipulate, and his control command, and how he was able to take a step back--like a (Greg) Maddux did--and he knew when to throw a strike; that’s consistency. That’s understanding your overall body.""

Todd Blyleven, ex-Angels player/scout

This is going to be a crucial offseason for Ohtani, as he has a lot to recover from. He stepped up to the plate 639 times, threw 130.1 innings, and played in the outfield during seven games. Todd knows Ohtani can get through it, though.

"As long as he stays there, he’s got all the tools in the world," said Todd Blyleven. "He doesn’t have to be ‘better,’ he just needs to be consistent. And so that’s where I think those tools can really help him repeat year after year."

He's already accomplished what might be the most amazing feat in baseball history. It would be unwise to not bet on ShoTime moving forward.

"I mean, if you’re in the big leagues right now, and you weren’t the MVP, why wouldn’t you look at trying to do exactly what Ohtani did?" asked Todd Blyleven. "You’re stupid, if you don’t do it."