Shohei Ohtani's 2021 MVP season was one of the greatest and most memorable in recent memory. Or in MLB history, for that matter.
We've seen two-way players before, but there's never been a player quite like Ohtani — capable of crushing 450-plus-foot homers and throwing 100 mph. We sped past the Babe Ruth and "Bullet Joe" Rogan comparisons by the end of April. It was clear that this was a season unlike any other.
Ohtani himself made an attempt at a comparison, citing his countryman Ichiro Suzuki as a player he looked up to. "Growing up, I watched Ichiro, and he won MVP, and it got me wanting to play in the big leagues someday," Ohtani told MLB.com through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "Hopefully, I can be that kind of figure to the kids watching me right now. And hopefully even one day I could play with one of those kids that are watching me, which would be very special."
Ohtani's exploits turned teammates and peers into fans once again. "Shohei's season was nothing short of electric," teammate Mike Trout said. "At times, I felt like I was back in Little League. To watch a player throw eight innings, hit a home run, steal a base and then go play right field was incredible. What impresses me the most about him, though, is the way he carries himself both on and off the field."
Here are some of the coolest, craziest Ohtani facts from the '21 season, a campaign that earned him unanimous AL MVP honors.
In his first pitching start of the season on April 4, Ohtani hit 100 mph on the radar gun in the top of the first inning, then crushed a 115.2-mph, 451-foot home run in the bottom of the first against the White Sox. He became the first American League starting pitcher to homer against an AL team since Roric Harrison on the final day of the 1972 season, before the DH was instituted. He also became the first player with a 110-plus mph batted ball and a 100-plus mph pitch in the same game tracked by Statcast (since 2015).
Speaking of exit velocities, entering the 2021 season, the hardest-hit batted ball under Statcast tracking by a pitcher was a 112.5 mph home run by Madison Bumgarner on Opening Day 2017. By early September, Ohtani had already claimed the top five spots on that list. And that's only in the games where he pitches.
Multiple times in '21, Ohtani entered a pitching start while leading MLB in home runs. Before him, nobody had done that since Babe Ruth on June 13, 1921.
It isn't just about pitching prowess and slugging for Ohtani, though. There's speed, too. He became the first player in MLB history to rack up at least 20 homers, steals and pitching appearances in a season. The next-most home runs for anyone with 20 steals and games pitched? That would be eight, by Bob Caruthers in 1887.
There are so many historic combinations of stats that demonstrate Ohtani's unique, never-before-done season that we can't possibly list them all. But one other combo worth noting is his 30-plus homers and 30-plus strikeouts on the mound. And again, Ohtani had 46 homers and 156 strikeouts — far exceeding those modest qualifiers. The previous record for most strikeouts in a 30-homer season was three, by Babe Ruth in 1930 (49 homers). The previous record for most homers in a 30-strikeout season was 29, by Ruth in '19, when he struck out exactly 30 batters.
Ohtani was one of four qualified players who were 90th percentile or better in both hard-hit rate and sprint speed in 2021, showcasing that elite power-speed combo. The others on that list were Ronald Acuña Jr., Fernando Tatís Jr. and Tyler O'Neill — three other great players, but none who also made 20-plus pitching starts.
Ohtani's All-Star week performance is well worth a revisit, too. Sure, he lost in the first round of the Home Run Derby, but not before crushing a 513-ft home run among many others. And what did he do the next day in the All-Star Game? Hurled a 100.2 mph pitch to Nolan Arenado, his maximum velocity in the outing. 500-plus feet and 100-plus mph, in a 24-hour span.
Ohtani finished the season with 46 homers, third most in MLB, and eight triples, which was tied for the most with Bryan Reynolds and David Peralta. He became the first player to finish top-three in both home runs and triples in a season, including ties, since Jim Rice in 1978.
His best pitch continues to be his splitter. That pitch had an .087 opponent batting average, the lowest for any pitcher on any pitch type (minimum 120 plate appearances ending on pitch type). And it's not just 2021. Ohtani's splitter has merited an .075 opponent average in his career, the second lowest by any pitcher on any pitch type in the pitch-tracking era, which is since 2008 (minimum 200 plate appearances). The only mark lower is against Dellin Betances' slider (.064).
On May 11, Ohtani started at the Astros, struck out 10 batters and then moved to right field to remain in the game to hit. He became the third player in the modern era (since 1900) to strike out 10 or more batters and play a non-pitcher position in a game. He joined Sam McDowell on July 6, 1970 (15 K's, played 2B), and Harvey Haddix on Sept. 28, 1958 (11 K's, played RF).
On May 12, Ohtani batted leadoff for the first time all season, and he did it the day after a pitching start. He became the first player to start a game on the mound, then bat leadoff in his team's next game since Ray Caldwell on July 25-26, 1916. Caldwell started for the Yankees, then batted leadoff, then played center field the next day.
On June 4, Ohtani had 10 strikeouts. On June 5, he homered for the Angels, becoming the second player with a 10-strikeout game and then a home run in back-to-back team games (in that order) since the mound was moved to its current distance in 1893. He joined the White Sox' Gary Peters, who struck out 10 on July 17, 1964, then hit a pinch-hit walk-off home run in the 13th inning in the team's next game on July 19. If we look at the opposite order, of homering and then striking out 10 in back-to-back team games, we get CC Sabathia in 2008 and Cy Seymour in 1898.
On June 29 at Yankee Stadium, Ohtani hit two homers. The next day, he started on the mound, becoming the fifth player to hit at least two homers in a game and then start the team's next game on the mound, joining Babe Ruth (1930), John Clarkson (1887), Bob Caruthers (1886) and Monte Ward (1883).
On Aug. 12, Ohtani started the game in the leadoff spot and got the pitching win. The only other player to do that since at least 1906 was Charlie Jamieson on Aug. 19, 1918.
(Source for some of this material: Elias Sports Bureau; pending the inclusion of Negro Leagues stats)
— Written by Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) for the Athlon Sports 2022 MLB Annual. At 224 pages, it's the largest on the newsstand and the most complete preview available today. Click here to get your copy.