The Ohtani Rule

The Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani is finally coming to MLB (and more specifically to the Angels), and in doing so will become the trailblazer that sets a new expectation for the future of the (possible) “two-way” player.¬† Because salaries and injuries continue to escalate in the game, a true double threat major leaguer is still hard to imagine in baseball, but if the 23 year old Ohtani does become the first player since Babe Ruth to make a regular impact on both sides of the ball, he will change the landscape of fantasy baseball, too.

Several weeks ago I posted my¬†Top 100 fantasy prospects list for 2018.¬† The 6’3″ Ohtani wasn’t eligible for the list at the time, but now that he’s officially signed, Ohtani would rank #1 on a revised version. ¬†With apologies to Ronald Acuna, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Shohei Ohtani is now the best prospect in baseball.

Acuna is an elite prospect (as are Eloy Jimenez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., both of which have a case to be best overall), but the big difference for Ohtani is his readiness.¬† Acuna had a terrific season in the minors in 2017 but Ohtani is tailor-made to step on the field and contribute in a meaningful way in April for the Angels…as a starting pitcher.

Last week Paul Sporer ranked Ohtani just outside his top 30 starting pitchers, slotting him between Lance McCullers and Jose Berrios.¬† Two key points stand out for me in Paul’s write up:

He should bring at least two plus pitches right out the gate with his fastball and splitter while the slider has also gotten plus grades, but might ‚Äúonly‚ÄĚ be more of a 50-55 grade pitch, same with his curveball. He doesn‚Äôt have a true changeup in his arsenal, but the splitter acts as one without a doubt.

An ankle injury limited him to just 25.3 innings last year, but he has peaked at 160.7 innings (2015) so I’d use that as a high end for his potential 2018 output and work from there. If the team that signs him gives him a real go at hitting that might also limit his workload on the mound, especially if the signing team institutes a de facto 6-man rotation.

The first quote should confirm what you already know: Shohei Ohtani is a very talented, experienced pitcher with elite stuff that should translate successfully to MLB immediately.¬† It’s the second quote that is more important as Paul rightly suggests that valuing Ohtani for 2018 must factor in a smaller-than-ace-like workload of somewhere between 140 – 160 innings. ¬†The Angels have already stated they will help him acclimate by potentially deploying a six-man rotation next season.

I agree with Paul’s early ranking of Ohtani, and believe McCullers is an excellent expectation for what we should see from Ohtani in 2018.¬† Looking at Steamer, McCullers is projected for the following season:

148 IP, 3.68 ERA, 158 K, 9.58 K/9, 2.72 K/BB, 0.91 HR/9, 11 Wins

Per Justin Vibber’s 2018 Ottoneu Surplus Calculator, McCullers’ Steamer projection is worth roughly $20 next season. ¬†My guess is $20 sounds too low for Ohtani to most of you, so let’s look forward now by looking back to Justin’s 2017 end-of-season Ottoneu values¬†for a few select pitchers that might be similar:

James Paxton ($31 value): 136 IP, 2.98 ERA, 156 K, 10.32 K/9, 4.22 K/BB, 0.60 HR/9, 12 Wins

Zack Godley ($24): 155 IP, 3.37 ERA, 165 K, 9.58 K/9, 3.11 K/BB, 0.87 HR/9, 8 Wins

Aaron Nola ($24): 168 IP, 3.54 ERA, 184 K, 9.86 K/9, 3.76 K/BB, 0.96 HR/9, 12 Wins

Charlie Morton ($20): 147 IP, 3.62 ERA, 163 K, 10.00 K/9, 3.26 K/BB, 0.86 HR/9, 14 Wins

Making some assumptions about how Ohtani’s “stuff” will translate to MLB, these four 2017 seasons represent high strikeout pitchers that landed in that 140 – 160 IP zone. ¬†Paxton’s value stands out for his superior control and elite ability to limit the long ball, and both Godley and Nola get the slight benefit of being in the NL. That leaves Morton’s 147 inning breakthrough season as my favorite approximation for what Ohtani could be expected to achieve this year…which is eerily similar to that Steamer projection for McCullers.

Here are early Shohei Ohtani ZiPS projections.

So Ohtani is probably a $20 – $25 starting pitcher for Ottoneu in 2018. ¬†But shouldn’t he gain value as a hitter, too?

That is the million dollar question, of course.

Before we can answer what kind of added value the next Babe Ruth should receive from his bat, we have to figure out how he’ll actually be used by fantasy providers.

The interview article by Awful Announcing does a nice job of detailing the difficulty some sites are having in coding Ohtani as both hitter and pitcher for fantasy in 2018. In summary, here are the primary options:

  • Ohtani is draftable¬†only as a starting pitcher.
  • Ohtani is two draftable players: one pitcher, and one separate hitter.
  • Ohtani is one draftable player, but must be designated (per day or per week) as either hitter or pitcher, to accrue points.
  • Ohtani is one draftable player, and owners receive all his pitching and all his hitting points.

Fantasy providers rightly assume the first option is a non-starter because the minute Ohtani does become a bonafide offensive player (that’s the plan), there will be major outcry from customers frustrated with the inability to take advantage of his offense, which will be novel and could be significant (we’ll get to this soon).

I’m no developer, but as someone who has been playing fantasy baseball for 20 years, the second option strikes me as one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard. The fact that some fantasy platforms are actually considering creating two fake players out of one real one seems ludicrous, and when you consider that this could also make it theoretically possible for Ohtani to be traded for himself within leagues (the pitcher version traded for the hitter version), I’m at a total loss. ¬†This just doesn’t feel right.

The fourth option doesn’t feel quite right either. ¬†Maybe I’m in the minority, but I don’t really want Ohtani to set off a chain reaction for all starting pitchers to start receiving points for their almost worthless 75 PA’s per season. ¬†Sure, Madison Bumgarner homer highlights are fun the four times it happens per season, but is this a trail that anyone really wants to go down?

The right answer to this problem is option 3, which happens to be exactly what¬†Ottoneu creator Niv Shah has prepared his customers for: the choice to deploy one Ohtani as either hitter or pitcher, depending on what’s best for your team on a given day. ¬†Ironically, the real honor of setting this trend goes to Christian Bethancourt, who Niv had the foresight to use as his model a season ago in anticipation of what might happen with Ohtani.¬† As Niv states:

There will be one Shohei Ohtani, he will have eligibility at SP and UTIL (or wherever he earns it), and you will receive either hitting or pitching stats from him depending on where you play him in your lineup.

Now that we know how Ohtani should be used, how can we factor in his offensive value?

Again, let’s make some quick, easy assumptions:

  • Shohei Ohtani will bat in the back half of the lineup (the left-handed hitter does have speed, so this could be debated).
  • He’ll accrue ~4.0 PA’s per game started.
  • He’ll start three games per week in the active lineup, giving him ~300 PA’s over 75 games.
  • He’ll receive another ~30 PA’s from pinch-hitting appearances during the season (guesswork).

So maybe 330 PA’s next season? That feels very aggressive, and is significantly higher than the 200 PA’s Jeff Zimmerman projected in November.¬† But, since we still aren’t sure of LAA’s plan, let’s roll with it, as 330 represents the maximum for Ohtani.

Again, looking back at Vibber’s 2017 season-ending Ottoneu values, a few potential matches:

Jose Pirela ($10 value): 344 PA’s, .262 AVG, 10 HR, 0.837 OPS, .355 wOBA

Nick Williams ($8): 343 PA’s, .288 AVG, 12 HR, 0.811 OPS, .344 wOBA

Matt Chapman ($2): 326 PA’s, .234 AVG, 14 HR, 0.785 OPS, .332 wOBA

Rafael Devers ($6): 240 PA’s, .284 AVG, 10 HR, 0.819 OPS, .344 wOBA

If 330 PA’s is aggressive, Devers is probably the best match here.¬† The fact that it is almost certain that Ohtani won’t play 3B and maybe even unlikely he plays anywhere but DH should also nudge us to pull back the reigns a little too.

All in, I’d peg Ohtani’s projected Ottoneu value somewhere between $28 – $32 for 2018 if used regularly as both pitcher and hitter.

Early opinions from the community suggest that range is too low to be a buyer on Ohtani this spring, which isn’t a surprise considering the novelty value of his two-way potential and the hype of the unknown at this point in time.

Here are my Ohtani rules (and recommendations) for 2018:

  • As will be the case in Ottoneu, Ohtani should be a single,¬†draftable player, taking up one roster spot and giving owners the choice to place him in either their lineup or rotation (per day or per week).
  • 85% of Ohtani’s projected value should come from his ability as a pitcher, so bid accordingly.
  • Ohtani the SP will likely be capped around 150 innings in 2018.
  • Ohtani can hit, but be realistic about the value of his offense based on his limited PA’s (probably about $5 of value).
  • There’s a better than 50% chance Ohtani is only eligible as a hitter at UTIL.
  • The hype surrounding Ohtani, which will only increase during spring training, will drive his 2018 fantasy price higher than the value he will actually deliver to owners next season.
  • Ohtani isn’t invincible.
  • There will be novelty value (emotion) for many owners in rostering the first two-way player in our lifetime.

I’m excited about Shohei Ohtani.¬† The hard part is calculating the value of that excitement, which is what fantasy owners are tasked with over the next few months.



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Trey is a 20 year fantasy veteran and a five time Ottoneu champion, including the 2015 winner of the Ottoneu Champions League. He currently administers the Ottoneu community, a network of ~1,000 fantasy baseball and football fans. More resources here: http://community.ottoneu.com

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scott
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scott

Worth mentioning the UCL issue. Seems like there is some risk here. Who knows if the PRP injection relives the pain he felt prior.