Shohei Otani

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Shohei Otani
Fighters ohtani 11.jpg
Otani with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters – No. 11
Pitcher and Outfielder
Born: (1994-07-05) July 5, 1994 (age 22)
Ōshū, Iwate, Japan
Bats: Left Throws: Right
NPB debut
March 29, 2013, for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
NPB statistics
(through 2015)
Win–loss record 29-9
Earned run average 2.72
Strikeouts 421
Batting average .245
Home runs 18
Hits 125
Runs batted in 68
Teams
Career highlights and awards

NPB

  • NPB All-Star (2013-2015)
  • Pacific League Best Nine (2015)
  • Pacific League ERA leader (2015)
  • Pacific League Battery Award, with Shota Ono (2015)
Medal record
Men's baseball
Representing  Japan
2015 WBSC Premier12
Bronze medal – third place 2015 Tokyo Team

Shohei Otani (大谷 翔平 Ōtani Shōhei?, born July 5, 1994) is a Japanese baseball pitcher, outfielder, and designated hitter who plays for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. He was the first pick of the Fighters in the 2012 draft. He officially recorded the fastest pitch by a Japanese pitcher, and is now tied with Marc Kroon for top velocity 162 km/h (101 mph) for all NPB pitchers.

Early career[edit]

Listed at 193 cm (6 ft 4 in) and 86 kg (190 lb), the high school pitcher has a fastball that has been clocked as high as 160 km/h (99 mph). He set a new Japanese record for the fastest pitch thrown during the Prefecture Tournament in Summer Koshien,[1] even though his team lost in the semi-final. He mainly throws a solid slider in addition to the fastball.

Otani has received interest from numerous teams including the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.[1][2][3][4] On October 21, 2012 Otani announced that he would pursue a career in Major League Baseball rather than turn professional in Japan.[5][6] The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters decided to draft him anyway, knowing that there was a high likelihood he would turn down the draft. After a month-long negotiation between him and the Fighters, Otani announced that he will accept the draft and spend his early career in Japan before a possible MLB move. He was assigned the jersey number 11, previously worn by Yu Darvish. The official press conference was held on December 25.

He is often rivaled with Shintaro Fujinami, a fellow 20-year-old pitching prodigy currently playing for the Hanshin Tigers. The two once locked horns in the second leg of the 2012 Summer Koshien, but Fujinami (from Osaka Toin High School) took away the win.

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters[edit]

2013

Otani made his debut at age 18 in the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters' season-opening game on March 29, 2013, playing as right outfielder. He was voted as an all-star in the 2013 All-Star Game. He finished the season with a 3-0 record in 11 starts.

2014

Otani batting in 2013 for the Fighters

Throughout the entire season, Otani performed double-duty as pitcher and outfielder to utilize his strong throwing arm as well as his unusually impressive batting skills. As a hitter, he batted .274, with 28 extra-base hits (including 10 home runs), 31 RBIs and a .842 on-base plus slugging percentage in 212 at-bats. As a pitcher, he was 11-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 24 starts and struck out 179 (third in NPB) in 155.1 innings. His 10.4 K/9 was best in the league and opponents hit .223 against him.

In a September 7 game against the Orix Buffaloes, he homered to straightaway center at Kyocera Dome to become the first Japanese player to reach double digits in both home runs and wins.[7][8] His feat of notching double-digit wins and HRs conjures up memories of the legendary Babe Ruth, who had 13 wins and 11 home runs for the 1918 Boston Red Sox in MLB.[8] He tossed a 1-0 shutout against Orix on September 13, and became the first pitcher out of high school in franchise history to record a 1-0 shutout victory within his first two years in the NPB since Toshiaki Moriyasu in 1967 (September 23). He also became the first pitcher out of high school to notch two shutout victories within his first two years in the NPB since Yu Darvish.[9]

During the July 2014 Mazda All-Star Game, he pitched a career-high 162 km/h (101 mph) in the bottom of the 1st inning, again setting a new record for the fastest official pitch thrown by a Japanese pitcher, beating the record set by the Yakult Swallows’ Yoshinori Sato in 2010 (161 km/h (100 mph)).[10] The jersey he wore during the game sold for 1,752,000 yen, making it the top-seller at the All-Star 2014 Charity Auction, and the proceeds were donated to three Tohoku earthquake children's relief funds.[11]

On October 5 against the Eagles, Otani officially recorded the fastest pitch by a Japanese pitcher in an official game, tyingMarc Kroon's record for top velocity for all NPB pitchers. The pitch came against lead-off hitter Akiminai Ginji in the 1st inning. With the count 0-1, Otani threw a fastball that ticked 162 km/h (101 mph) on the stadium radar gun and shattered Ginji's bat in half. He also hit 162 km/h twice against the second hitter, Aoi Enomoto. Of the fifteen pitches he threw in the 1st inning, eight were in the 160's.[12]

During postseason, Otani was chosen to become a member of the national team, dubbed Samurai Japan, and participated in the Suzuki All-Star Series,[13] a five-game friendly competition with a squad of US major leaguers. In game 1, he pitched one shutout inning in relief, retiring 3 consecutive batters. He started game 5 in Sapporo Dome, and although his team ultimately lost (3-1), he wasn’t charged with an earned run (he gave up two unearned), and of the 12 outs he recorded in four innings, he got seven via strikeout. He threw mostly fastballs, even clocked one at 160 km/h (99 mph), occasional curveballs, and a few forkballs in the mid-140s, including one he threw perfectly in the second inning to strike out Tampa Bay Rays star Ben Zobrist. And although he occasionally struggled to locate his pitches, he proved to the MLB players, coaches and scouts at Sapporo Dome that he definitely has great stuff in his arsenal.[14]

In December, he became the 2nd player out of high school in NPB history to reach 100M yen in salary in his third year, next to Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2001. His new contract more than tripled his previous salary estimated at ¥30 million.[15]

2015

2015 marked Otani's third professional season (and second full season). Though his offensive production declined somewhat, his performance on the mound was among the best in the league, earning him the starter role in the 2015 All-Star Game and the pitching spot in the end-of-year Pacific League Best Nine awards. Otani placed third in MVP voting (first among pitchers) and was one of three candidates considered for the 2015 Sawamura Award, given annually to the top pitcher in either league.[16]

Otani led the league in wins and winning percentage with a 15-5 record in just 22 starts, and his 2.24 ERA, 5 complete games, and 3 shutouts were also best in the league. All these stats were career bests, as were his 196 strikeouts, .909 WHIP, and 11 strikeouts per nine innings.

2016

On the 5th of June 2016, against the Yomiuri Giants, Otani recorded the fastest pitch in NPB history with a 163 kilometres per hour (101 mph) fastball against Luis Cruz who fouled the ball off.

Playing style[edit]

Otani is a 6 ft 4 in, 200 lb right-handed starting pitcher. With an overhand delivery, he throws a four-seam fastball at 94-97 mph (tops out at 101 mph), a forkball at 86-87 mph, an occasional curveball, and a solid slider at 82-83 mph. Although he has great raw stuff, there is still room for improvement in his command (career 3.2 BB/9 in NPB).

Otani also plays the outfield for the Fighters in NPB.

References[edit]