Ever since we were aware of the existence of Shohei Otani, there has been this question somewhere in our minds: how does his explosive fastball play in a short-inning relief role?
Well, we got to see the answer Sunday afternoon, in the ninth inning of game five of the Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage, in which his Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters defeated the Softbank Hawks to clinch a berth in the Japan Series.
First, please take a moment and watch the YouTube clip below. A video is worth a thousand words, so they say.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is Shohei Otani the closer spitting fire against the hopeless Hawks lineup.
In the inning he made history, Otani threw eight fastballs, four sliders, and three splitters. Of his eight heaters, none of them was below 163 km/h (101.3 MPH), with three of them lighting up the stadium gun at 165 km/h (102.5 MPH). The later figures are a new NPB record, one kilometer-per-hour faster than the old record set by Otani himself just over a month ago. According to Statcast, no big-league pitcher, aside from Aroldis Chapman and Mauricio Cabrera, threw a faster pitch during the 2016 regular season.
Additionally, one of his splitters checked in at 151 km/h, roughly 94 miles-per-hour. In 2016, only a handful of big-league hurlers reached the plateau with their splitters, per Statcast.
Oh, and this is the same guy who slashed .322/.416/.588 with twenty-two long balls as the Fighter’s primary DH. That was no exception on Sunday. Otani started in the three-hole in the Fighters lineup and went one-for-four before taking over the mound in the ninth.
Since Babe Ruth, no one has performed the game at this level from both sides. If there’s such thing as a proven monster, Otani is close to earning that status. Or he may have reached there already.