A revolution is happening around Major League Baseball, not only with the pitch timer and how it’s forcing both hitters and pitchers to acclimate to the pace, but a new pitch, the sweeper, is taking over the league. Fortunately for the Los Angeles Angels, Shohei Ohtani has one of the best in the game.
The sweeper has been around MLB for a few years, but it was until late in the 2021 season that they began to pop up with more frequency. Unlike a traditional slider which appears as a fastball but uses a sharp break to fool hitters, the sweeper uses immense horizontal movement, just like a Frisbee.
Sliders generally sit in the mid-80 mph range, with some dipping into the low 90s, but sweepers lull batters to sleep because of their velocity and slow developing break. When Ohtani takes the mound for the Angels, his opponents can expect a steady dose top tier sweepers, via David Adler of MLB.com:
Ohtani is averaging 18 inches of horizontal break on his sweeper this season. And remember, home plate is only 17 inches wide.
Ohtani’s sweeper movement is four inches greater than it was last season (when it was already moving plenty). It’s also four inches more than similar sweepers thrown by other MLB pitchers, giving Ohtani top-five “sweep” in the league.
The Angels ace has upped his sweeper usage to 50.8%, which is by far the most in MLB. In comparison, New York Yankees starter Clarke Schmidt uses his sweeper at a 31% clip, second most in the league.
Ohtani is currently 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 27 punchouts. His blazing start has much to do with the success of his sweeper, because of the 166 he’s thrown entering play on April 20, it has yielded a .050 batting average with a 32.1% whiff rate:
Add all those up, and Ohtani’s sweeper has been worth 29 runs prevented for the Angels since the start of the 2022 season. It’s been the most valuable sweeper in baseball by a mile. In fact, the only pitch in all of baseball worth more is Dylan Cease’s slider.
Since the start of 2022, Ohtani’s sweeper is responsible for worth 33 runs prevented. It was the same pitch that induced a strikeout of teammate Mike Trout to secure the 2023 World Baseball Classic title and a precursor to exactly what the big right-hander has shown in the early stages of the regular season.
Shohei Ohtani isn’t concerned with walk rate
Through four starts with the Angels, Ohtani grades in the 10th percentile in walk rate, which is uncharacteristic for the former Cy Young winner. However, his peripheral metrics are so good that his blemish is something he’s able to work around.
Through 21 innings pitched he’s stranded 90.9% of runners who reach base, the sixth-best mark in MLB.
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