We’re just over a week into the season and LA Angels pitcher/DH Shohei Ohtani has taken Major League Baseball by storm. After hitting a single in his first MLB game, Ohtani homered in his next three games.
Watching Ohtani hit brings to mind another Japanese hitter who stormed the big leagues his rookie season. Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki came onto the scene his rookie season in 2001. I’ll always remember watching Ichiro’s first display of his speed as he reached base on a throwing error that was forced by his speed on what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt.
Much like Ichiro, Ohtani announced his presence with authority in his first at-bat of the regular season by shooting a ground ball into right field for a single. He then went on to homer in his next three games in the batting lineup.
Not only does Ohtani remind me of Ichiro with his early success, but his body is very similar during his swing. It doesn’t take someone looking very closely to see that these two stars look nearly identical while hitting as their bodies appear to lean toward the first-base side of the batter’s box, but they definitely have different hitting styles. So what makes their approaches different?
The biggest difference is where they load. Ichiro’s right arm isn’t fully extended to the back of the box and his back arm is kept relatively tight to his body. This allows him to get his hands through the hitting zone quickly and keep the angle of the bat the way he wants it, which helps him aim his hits wherever he wants in the field.
Ohtani loads with his right arm almost fully extended with his hands and his back elbow up high. This load gives his arms and body more of an opportunity to gain power from momentum, like throwing a punch. Yes, Ichiro has power, but I’m sure if it came down to a home run derby between the two, Ohtani would hit more and farther.
Ichiro’s singles come from the plane of his swing. He comes down on top of the ball, which is incredibly hard in baseball given the trajectory of the pitch. The range for the potential point of contact is dramatically reduced, yet he still does an outstanding job making solid contact.
Ohtani has a more traditional plane in his swing, which lifts the ball rather than pound it into the ground. With a strong load and a quick, U-shaped swing, Ohtani has the swing of a perennial power hitter.
Ichiro has had a Hall of Fame career with his untraditional swing. I believe Ohtani can do the same with his more traditional approach. As Ohtani goes on his early tear, don’t expect him to fall off a cliff soon.
Photo by Brad Curnow