Shohei Ohtani has a fastball that he can pump up to 100 mph and dot on all four corners of the strike zone. He has a splitter that dives straight into hell and takes the souls of many batters with it. Those are two very good pitches. If you throw those two pitches exclusively, you’re basically late-era Roger Clemens with a bit more velocity. You can have a long, fruitful career as a starting pitcher by throwing those two pitches over and over and over again.
Ohtani has more than just those two pitches, and he’s starting to show off. If you watched Ohtani dissect the Twins’ lineup yesterday—11 strikeouts in 6.1 innings—you saw plenty of the fastball and the splitter from hell, but you also saw him using a slider and a curveball to toy with his opponents. The slider sits in the low 80s and has a big hump on it. The curve comes in at 72-77 mph and drops 12 to 6. He can use either as a get-ahead pitch early in counts, and both are good enough to get strike outs in 0-2 counts.
He has these two pitches in addition to one of the best splitters in the game, and what’s scarier is that he’s starting to show his ability to array them in such a way that opposing hitters have nothing to pray for but a quick death. When Ohtani nearly no-hit the A’s in the second start of his career, he threw 34 splitters while serving up just 15 combined curveballs and sliders. During his last start against the Mariners, he switched things up: 11 splitters, 11 curveballs, and 28 sliders. Yesterday’s start brought the same sort of variety, with the same sort of results:
Forget all the two-way player stuff for a second and just think about what it means for a 23-year-old rookie pitcher to be in possession of this menu of pitches and to have this kind of control over all of them. Max Scherzer is the best pitcher in baseball right now. Max Scherzer fucks people up. We all love Max Scherzer. When Max Scherzer was 24 years old and completing his first full season in the big leagues he was not throwing the ball like Shohei Ohtani is right now. He was throwing it hard, sure, but he was also just sort of winging it, firing pitches at hitters in that feral way young pitchers tend to.
So far, Ohtani is all shine and polish. He’s showing a mastery of his abilities that most pitchers—even the really good ones!—have to wait years to achieve. If he’s this good now, try to imagine what he’ll be like with a few hundred major-league innings in his log.