While everyone debates about the Most Valuable Players and Cy Young Award winners in the United States, the most fascinating season in baseball is happening half a world away in Japan.
Shohei Otani threw the fastest pitch in Nippon Professional Baseball history on Tuesday as he was clocked at 164 kph (101.9 mph) on a third-inning fastball to Orix right fielder Yoshio Ito. Impressively, Ito turned on the inside pitch and lined it to right field for a single. Three major league pitchers have thrown a pitch of 102 or faster this year–Aroldis Chapman (179 pitches of 102+), Mauricio Cabrera (61 pitches of 102+) and Arquimedes Caminero (1 pitch of 102+).
Otani was breaking his own NPB record, as he’d been clocked multiple times at 163 kph (101.2 mph) in the past. Otani has been forced to focus on hitting for most of the past two months as a blister on his pitching hand had limited him to one relief appearance since July 10—and yet he still ranks fourth in the Pacific League with 142 strikeouts in 118 innings.
Thanks to Kazuto Yamazaki, who reported Otani’s pitch on Twitter.
In his return to starting, Otani allowed two runs in five innings on four hits while walking one and striking out nine.
For most pitchers, a blister would effectively sideline them from being a contributor. For Otani, it’s meant he’s had to focus on being one of Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ top hitters. He has continued to serve as the team’s designated hitter while waiting for his blister to heal. He’s hitting .326/.425/.611 for Nippon Ham with 22 home runs and 61 RBIs.
Although he’s well short of the needed plate appearances to qualify for a batting title, Otani ranks in the top 10 in the Pacific League in home runs. He’s drawn 50 walks and struck out 85 times in 341 plate appearances. As a pitcher, he’s 8-4, 2.12 in 123 innings. He’s allowed 84 hits and 41 walks while striking out 151 batters.
Nippon Ham currently leads the Pacific League with 14 games left in their regular season.