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Imagining Shohei Otani as a True Free Agent

We all know about Shohei Otani, but in case you are the one baseball fan who doesn’t, he is possibly the best baseball player in the world.  Otani turned 22 years old in 2016.  Although he did not have enough plate appearances to qualify, if he did, Otani’s 1.004 OPS would have led the country (of Japan).  In 382 plate appearances, he posted a slash line of .322/.416/.588, in addition to hitting 22 home runs.  That sounds like a very good player who would draw serious interest from MLB teams if posted.  However, that’s not all.  Otani also posted a 1.86 ERA in 140 IP with an 11.2 K/9.  He owns the NPB record for fastest pitch, at 165 km/h (102.53 mph).  The pitching stats alone would have every team in the MLB drooling.  Combine this with his hitting, and Otani might just be the best baseball player in the world.  And the best baseball player in the world is not going to paid like his title suggests.

The problem is that Otani will not yet be 25 after next season.  The new CBA keeps all international players under 25 from being exempt of the bonus pool system.  A tweet from Jim Allen reported that Otani still wishes to be posted after the 2017 season, when he will be 23 years old.  According to an excellent Dave Cameron article also on FanGraphs, the most money Otani could receive is $9.2 million.  This figure would be equivalent in 2016 to a player worth approximately 1.15 WAR.  Otani would surely be worth more wins than 1.15.

At first I wondered if this would make Otani the most underpaid player in the MLB.  Before that question could be answered, however, I had to answer a more important one: how much would Shohei Otani be worth in wins and, by extension, in dollars?  To make this more interesting, let’s make it a one-year deal, in which Otani would be paid the 2017 projected average price of $8.4 million per win above replacement.

The NPB has no available WAR figure, and no OPS+ or ERA+ was offered either.  Unfortunately, I could not find NPB league totals, so no calculating OPS+ or ERA+ on my own, at least not accurately.  I’ll use MLB league totals to find these numbers, but it is an obvious flaw in my research.  If anyone can find NPB totals for me, post the link in the comments, and I’ll gladly redo the study with those figures.

So, using the MLB totals, here are Otani’s numbers in 2016.  OPS+ 170.  ERA+ 225.

Those numbers look really good.  If these were for an MLB player, he would be by far the best player in the league.  How good were the numbers of other Japanese players before and after they were posted though? Let’s see, using three pitchers’ ERA+ and three hitters’ OPS+.  First the pitchers, including what Otani would hypothetically produce in 2017 by what the others produced.

Masahiro Tanaka:  2013 (NPB) 305; 2014 (MLB) 138

Yu Darvish:  2011 (NPB) 274; 2012 (MLB) 112

Hisashi Iwakuma:  2011 (NPB) 163; 2012 (MLB) 121

Shohei Otani:  2016 (NPB) 225; 2017 (MLB) 113

Now for innings pitched, another component required for the crude WAR I’ll project.

Tanaka:  212.0; 136.1

Darvish:  232.0; 191.1

Iwakuma:  119.0; 125.1

Otani:  140.0; 112.2

The raw numbers of IP and ERA+ can be converted into a metric (PV) that I can change into WAR.

Tanaka:  85.227 PV; 3.3 WAR

Darvish:  103.932; 3.9

Iwakuma:  73.552; 2.0

Otani:  63.911; 1.7

Pitching, Otani would be projected for a 1.7 WAR.  That is worth $14.28 million in real value.  Now for batting, which will be OPS+.

Ichiro Suzuki:  2000 (NPB) 157; 2001 (MLB) 126

Hideki Matsui:  2002 (NPB) 205; 2003 (MLB) 109

Kosuke Fukudome: 2007 (NPB) 155; 2008 (MLB) 89

Otani:  2016 (NPB) 170; 2017 (MLB) 107

That is the quality component of WAR.  Plate appearances now for quantity.  As a side note, because I’m not factoring in defense, oWAR is going to be used instead of WAR.

Ichiro:  459; 738

Matsui:  623; 695

Fukudome:  348; 590

Otani:  382; 540

Now for my metric to convert to oWAR.  I’ll call it OV.

Ichiro:  115.305 OV; 6.1 oWAR

Matsui:  93.179; 3.1

Fukudome:  63.012; 0.6

Otani:  68.180; 0.9

On offense Otani would have a 0.9 WAR.  This translates into $7.56 million.  For a one-year deal using real value, Otani should receive $21.84 million, while producing a 2.6 WAR.  But what about a long-term deal with market value instead of real value?  Using Bill James’ stat of projected years remaining to determine the length of the deal, it would be 10 years.  The first year would not have a salary of $21.84M, but $13.72M.  This year was easy.  Now for the next nine years.  First, we’ll examine his pitching value.  I won’t bore you with all the calculations.  This article is tedious enough without it.  Just the pitching WAR for each year.

2018 2.1; 2019 2.9; 2020 3.9; 2021 4.8; 2022 5.9; 2023 5.7; 2024 3.8; 2025 2.1; 2026 0.7

Now the oWAR for each of the seasons:

2018 1.6; 2019 2.3; 2020 3.0; 2021 3.8; 2022 4.5; 2023 5.3; 2024 4.7; 2025 3.1; 2026 1.7

The total WAR for the years are as follows:

2018 3.7; 2019 5.2; 2020 6.9; 2021 8.6; 2022 10.4; 2023 11.0; 2024 8.5; 2025 5.2; 2026 2.4

Over the course of the 10-year deal, Otani would have a total WAR of 64.5.  This is not what he would likely produce.  My projections are — ahem — optimistic.  These are the numbers he could produce if played as both a pitcher and a semi-regular hitter.  Using real value and these WAR figures, Otani would have a real value of $689.14M.  You can read that number again.  I had to do a double-take.  Go ahead and do one too; it’s still $689.14M.  That is real value — however, not market value.  The market value is the much more important, and interesting, number.  What the market value turns out to be, $249.01M, is still massive, but at least the $24.901M AAV is more reasonable in the market.  In fact, this is likely what he will receive when posted, if he is eligible for this kind of deal.  It will be a shorter deal than 10 years, but the AAV should be in line with what I projected.

However, Otani is a mind-boggling player, so no contract, no matter how mind-boggling it may seem, is out of the question for him.  Even $689.14M.