Shohei Ohtani is the best pitcher in baseball. At least that's the story the numbers paint over his last 20 starts. Ohtani leads the majors in ERA (1.59) and FanGraphs' pitching WAR (5.0) in his last 20 starts, which coincides with the Angels using PitchCom to relay pitch selection to Ohtani, beginning on June 9 of last season.
He continued to raise the bar in his first start of 2023, opening the season with six scoreless innings pitched, zero runs allowed and 10 strikeouts against the Athletics in an eventual 2-1 loss. By far the most impressive part, he did it while calling his own pitches on PitchCom, according to a story by ESPN, instead of relying on the catcher. The kicker, he memorized the keypad to punch the numbers in, rather than wear it on his wrist or forearm like other pitchers.
It's the first time pitchers have been allowed to control PitchCom, which is a necessity for Ohtani based on the pitch clock and his vast repertoire of pitches. Now, he no longer needs to go through the song and dance of shaking off the catcher's call. With Ohtani now in complete control he can build off the aforementioned pristine numbers he's put up since the Angels initially started using PitchCom with him last June.
RELATED: PitchCom demo by MLB Network last year
In addition to leading the majors in ERA (1.59) and pitching fWAR (4.9) in his last 20 starts, he is also second in strikeouts (164) and third in opponent batting average (.184) in that span.
He hasn't just been arguably the best pitcher in baseball. It's one of the most dominant pitching runs in recent American League history. Five AL pitchers in the last 50 seasons have had an ERA that low (1.59) and that many strikeouts (164) in a 20-start span. Justin Verlander (2017-18), Corey Kluber (2017), Johan Santana (2004-05), Pedro Martínez (1999-00) and Roger Clemens (1997). All those pitchers won a Cy Young award during those runs except for Verlander, who won a World Series in that stretch. I'm sure Ohtani wouldn't mind either.
Since the PitchCom switch was made, Ohtani has been relying on his sweeper much more. He's throwing it 41 percent of the time in his last 20 starts, compared with 23 percent in his previous 44 starts. According to Statcast, it's the second-most valuable pitch in baseball (-22.2 run value) over his last 20 starts, behind Dylan Cease's slider. It's the same pitch he used to strike Mike Trout out to end the World Baseball Classic. And of course, it's set up by a triple-digit fastball and a nasty splitter that hitters must keep in the back of their minds.
Shohei Ohtani, Frisbee 85mph Sweeper. 🥏— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 31, 2023
22 inches of horizontal break 😯 pic.twitter.com/GZzJbn6mbq
And oh by the way, Ohtani has also hit 23 home runs over this span when he's been the best pitcher in baseball. His hitting fWAR (3.2) is 29th in baseball during that time. Just when you think Ohtani hit his ceiling, he found a way to ascend to another level, and if last Thursday's results are any indication, perhaps another leap is in store in 2023.
He will look to build on those numbers when he pitches against the Mariners on Wednesday afternoon in his second start of the season.