Tuesday’s World Baseball Classic championship game ended just the way every baseball fan hoped it would—with Mike Trout facing his Angels teammate Shohei Ohtani.
After Ohtani walked leadoff hitter Jeff McNeil and got Mookie Betts to ground into a double play, Trout came to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning and the United States trailing Japan, 3–2. What Ohtani did next will be talked about for years.
His first pitch, a slider, missed low. Then he threw a 100 mph fastball in the bottom of the zone that Trout swung right through. After Ohtani missed outside for ball two, Trout whiffed on another 100 mph fastball in the heart of the zone. A pitch in the dirt brought the count to 3–2. Then, Ohtani pulled the string on a nasty slider on the outside corner that Trout had no hope of making contact with. (Seriously. It was off the charts on the traditional 20–80 scouting scale.)
Given the stakes and their personal connection, it was as entertaining as a single at-bat can be. The strikeout pitch was a reminder that there really aren’t any holes in Ohtani’s game, but the whole sequence was more impressive than was immediately evident. According to pitching analytics service Codify (which many MLB pitchers rely on for scouting reports), Ohtani did what hardly any MLB pitcher has been able to make Trout do: swing and miss at three pitches in a single plate appearance.
In 6,174 plate appearances, only 24 times has Trout swung and missed at three pitches. That’s 0.39% of his plate appearances.
Trout has struck out more often in recent years. His strikeout rate increased from 20.4% in 2018 and 20.0% in ’19 to 28.1% in ’21 and 27.9% in ’22. His whiff rate has also jumped from 19.2% in ’19 and 19.5% in ’20 to 27.5% in ’21 and 30.2% in ’22. But still, getting one of the best hitters in MLB history to swing and miss at three pitches—two of them fastballs down the middle—with the game on the line is just another reminder that Ohtani is unlike any player we’ve seen before.