Shohei Ohtani, Fantasy Baseball’s X-Factor
When the Los Angeles Angels signed Shohei Ohtani in December 2017 after he was posted by the Nippon-Ham Fighters, he was the most interesting baseball player in the world at that time. The two-way Japanese phenom had excelled in his final two seasons in the NPB, both on the mound and at the plate. When you combine his last two seasons, Ohtani hit .326 with 30 home runs, 98 RBI, 89 runs, and seven steals in 525 at-bats. He was even more dominant on the mound, posting a 1.86 ERA in 2016 before making only five starts due to injury in 2017.
To say that the intrigue and buzz were astronomical when he came stateside is an enormous understatement. There hadn’t been this much buzz for a Japanese player since Ichiro came over nearly two decades ago. Why? Because he was a two-way player with a legit chance to excel in both areas. And that’s exactly what he did during his rookie season in 2018 before needing to undergo Tommy John surgery.
After strictly hitting in 2019, Ohtani will return to his two-way player status in 2020 and is one of the most difficult players to value due to his two-way status and how that changes his value depending on what type of league you play in. I’m here to try and break it all down as best I can to give you a good sense of how you should value Ohtani in each league type, whether that means Ohtani is split into hitter-Ohtani and pitcher-Ohtani, or as one player with dual eligibility. Let’s dig in.
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Shohei Ohtani 2020 Fantasy Value
As A Two-Way Player (The Fantrax Way)
This is the proper way for Shohei Ohtani to be incorporated into a fantasy player pool. He’s one person, not two like some fantasy platforms have him as. But that’s a story for another day. If you play on Fantrax, you have the luxury of being able to move Shohei Ohtani around where you want him. During each scoring period, you can slot him at either Utility or Pitcher and get those specific stats for that period. Now, his value in Fantrax leagues greatly depends on whether you have weekly lineup changes or daily. I’ll get more in-depth about his pitching and hitting skills further down in the article.
Let’s start with daily. And to make it simple, I’m going to break it down into points scoring. In 2018, Ohtani made ten total starts. Nine of those came before he was shut down with elbow soreness. He was able to make it back for one start in early September but clearly wasn’t the same Ohtani after a nearly three-month layoff. He just didn’t look right, and sure enough, eventually needed Tommy John surgery.
So for his 2018 pitching scoring, I’m not including that one start. In Ohtani’s nine other starts, he averaged 15.9 PPG according to Fantrax scoring. You can never predict how a pitcher will return from a surgery like this, but pitchers have been coming back stronger than ever over the last several seasons. Thanks Dr. James Andrews! So, with that being said, I don’t think it’s too crazy to project similar levels of production on the mound in 2020. Or at least, something close to it.
Recently, it was reported by Alden Gonzalez of ESPN that Ohtani was cleared to resume throwing and will return to the mound in 2020, making him a two-way player once again. As for how often he’ll hit and pitch, the forecast wasn’t overly clear.
“The assumption is that Ohtani, 25, will start once a week rather than every five games, which would prompt the occasional need for a sixth starter. An innings limit might be implemented. Ohtani can DH on the days he doesn’t start, though new manager Joe Maddon floated the possibility during the winter meetings of Ohtani also hitting on his start days.”
Joe Maddon always likes to buck the trend and do the unconventional, but let’s run with this. Let’s say Ohtani starts once per week. That would be around 25 starts or so. An “innings limit might be implemented” is hard to project, but let’s say Ohtani averages five innings over his 25 starts. That’s 125 total innings and close to his 5.48 innings per start in his nine pre-injury starts. Again, that final start excluded.
For the sake of this conversation, let’s drop Ohtani down to 15 PPG as a pitcher in 2020. That feels fair to me with the uncertainty and potential innings limit. Multiply 25 starts by 15 points per start and you get 375 fantasy points.
As a hitter in 2019, Ohtani averaged 3.45 PPG across 106 starts for 365.7 points. If you skip down to the hitter-only section further down, you’ll see that I believe what Ohtani has done at the plate in his two seasons is for real. It also sounds like he should get in another 105 or so games at the plate in 2020, and potentially even more. Let’s stick with that 105 number which would Ohtani 362.25 points as a hitter in 2020.
— MLB (@MLB) June 12, 2019
Time for more math. Stop your groaning, I’m doing it all for you. Add 375 (pitching) to 362.25 (hitting) and you have a grand total of 737.25 projected fantasy points for Ohtani this season. Do you know who the number one point scorer was on Fantrax in 2019 and how much he scored? It was the newest Yankee ace, Gerrit Cole, at 732.33 points.
But wait, that’s around five points less than the projection for Ohtani! Good catch reader, it sure is. Now, I’m not saying that Ohtani is going to be the #1 overall player on Fantrax in 2020, but in leagues in daily lineup changes, he certainly has a shot. That’s the major key to all this though. Leagues where you can adjust your roster daily are where Ohtani has the most value. You can start him at pitcher on the days he starts and then move him to a utility spot in between starts where he should start around 75% of those games. For that reason, Ohtani needs to be considered in the first round of these leagues.
Leagues with weekly roster changes are a whole different animal when it comes to Ohtani though. Obviously, you don’t have some of the same luxuries that you have in daily lineup leagues. At the beginning of each week, you have to decide whether you want him as a pitcher or a hitter for that week. That’s likely going to be a tough decision and require some in-depth analysis each week.
With it looking like Ohtani will make one pitching start and roughly four hitting starts per week, that puts his projected point total for each right around 15 points for the week. That means you’ll need to pay close attention to what team he’s facing as a pitcher and find out what caliber pitchers he’ll be facing at the plate. Whichever foe(s) look to be an easier matchup, that’s likely the direction you’ll go. But you also have to factor in the rest of your fantasy roster, the strength of your opponent’s roster (for H2H leagues), and your gameplan for what stats you want to really make progress in that week.
It seems like a lot, but with a little research each week, you can succeed with Ohtani in weekly leagues. But with all that said, he’s not nearly a first-round caliber fantasy asset in weekly leagues due to the lesser flexibility and fantasy impact. In weekly leagues, I’d put Ohtani as more of a 5th round talent, which is closer to his current Fantrax ADP of 81.2.
In his one season as a pitcher, Shohei Ohtani posted a 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 3.8 BB/9, and 11.0 K/9 across 10 starts spanning 51.2 innings. If you take out that 10th abbreviated start I mentioned above, his ERA would be 3.10. Even with the tough transition from Japan to the Major Leagues, Ohtani was/is the type of arm that could make the transition seamless. Nobody was surprised at the numbers he posted, even if his debut season did end by way of surgery.
While that 125 inning number I mentioned above isn’t necessarily ideal, we’ve seen starting pitchers have plenty of fantasy value at lower innings. If Ohtani can pitch at close to his 2018 level, which I believe he can, he’s worth rostering in standard mixed leagues and could even push for top-30 status. Nothing about his 2018 pitching performance was fluky either. Both his FIP and xFIP were a tad higher than his 3.31 ERA, but still solid at 3.57 and 3.53 respectively.
ICYMI: Shohei Ohtani has been cleared to throw off a mound.
Here is a reminder of what he can do. 👀 pic.twitter.com/hvNRWe2DgD
— MLB (@MLB) December 3, 2019
Ohtani boasts an electric fastball that averaged 96.7 mph in 2018 along with a beautiful trio of secondaries. His slider is considered a plus offering with sharp two-plane break in the low-80s and the mid to upper-80’s splitter is a lethal offering, bordering on double-plus. Rounding things out is a mid-70’s curveball that is at least an average fourth offering.
While Ohtani’s 3.8 BB/9 wasn’t anything to write home about, that’s not too bad for a pitcher getting his first taste of professional ball in the United States. It’s hard to know how one’s command and control will look following Tommy John surgery, but I don’t expect this to be an issue for Ohtani moving forward.
For 2020, I wouldn’t draft Ohtani as one of my first two starting pitchers, and maybe not even my third. However, if you have 2-3 starters already that you feel confident in, Ohtani makes for a nice high-upside SP4 in fantasy that has SP2 potential when he’s on the mound. Yes, albeit with some risk.
This is where it gets a little murky. In his first two Major League seasons, Shohei Ohtani has played in 104 and 106 games respectively as a hitter, for an average of 105 per season. His numbers in those limited games have been impressive, averaging 20 home runs, 61.5 RBI, 55 runs, and 11 steals with a .286 average. Extrapolate that out to 155 games and you have 30 home runs, 91 RBI, 84 runs, and 16 steals.
A .286/84/30/91/16 line would make Ohtani an early-round selection, but the problem is, he’ll likely never reach those numbers. As I mentioned above, it sounds like Ohtani will likely end up around the 105ish games played mark yet again in 2020. So even with a repeat in production, it’s hard to own him in anything shallower than a 15-team mixed league in 2020.
If you are in a deeper league or have the ability to use a bench spot on Ohtani on the days he’s pitching or simply not in the lineup, go for it. As a hitter, Ohtani is legit. Out of all hitters with 400-plus plate appearances, his 49.6% hard contact rate ranked 7th, right ahead of Cody Bellinger. He also had the lowest soft contact rate at 8.6% as one of three hitters (Aaron Judge and Miguel Sano) with a sub-10% mark. Not bad for a pitcher, am I right?
His contact metrics are all middle of the pack (140th of 207 in contact%), but you can still maintain an average in the .280 range by pounding the snot out of the ball with regularity as Ohtani has so far in his career. Basically, what I’m saying is that the numbers he’s put up in his two seasons as a hitter are legit. There are no smoke and mirrors here. So if this type of production is what you’re looking for and can deal with him playing 105 games or so, by all means, draft him. I still wouldn’t recommend him in shallower leagues though.
Media Credit: John Cordes/Icon Sportswire, Baseball Savant, Alden Gonzalez/ESPN, MLB
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