What could two-way Japanese great Shohei Ohtani mean for Fantasy Baseball owners?
Shohei Ohtani is expected to sign with a major-league club this offseason, but whether he'll pitch or hit or both remains to be seen. Scott White considers the possibilities.
We're working with hypotheticals here.
Nobody knows where Shohei Ohtani, the 23-year-old known as the Japanese Babe Ruth, will land this offseason. Because of the MLB, the earning potential for a player his age is severely limited, which puts all 30 teams in the hunt. And until he signs with a team, any thoughts as to his role are merely speculative.recently introduced by
But here's what isn't: By opting to leave Japan at the age he did rather than waiting a couple more years, Ohtani has removed the influence of money from his negotiations. No, he's looking for something else.
Baseball is known for being slow to evolve, and so the idea of having a premier player both pitch and hit with regularity is one many in the game would outright reject. But see, Ohtani is in the unique position of being able to counter-reject, instead dictating his own terms of usage and seeing which organizations go along with it. And while Ohtani says it's not just about what he wants to do, he has also made his preference clear.
The two-way player might actually happen.
It would be revolutionary for the game and of course for Fantasy Baseball, and because it may well be on the horizon, we should probably reflect on what it would mean. Consider this your Shohei Ohtani primer.
Who is Shohei Ohtani?
Just so we're not leaving the uninitiated in the dust, let's walk it back to the beginning here. Ohtani is known as the Japanese Babe Ruth not because he's setting home run records but because he's succeeding as both a pitcher and a hitter. And by "succeeding," I don't mean he's pretty good at both. No, he was one of if not the best at both during the 2016 season, delivering numbers of this variety:
As a hitter: .322 BA, 22 HR, 1.044 OPS in 323 AB
As a pitcher: 1.86 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 11.2 K/9 in 140 IP
He was limited by ankle surgery in 2017 and, thus, made only five starts, but he still hit .332 with a .942 OPS in 65 games. He would have no shortage of suitors as either a pitcher or hitter, but the fact he does both has some evaluators theorizing that, without the restrictions, he might get a contract in the $200-million range.
How will his skills translate to the majors?
This is the great unknown for any player coming from any other part of the world, where the competition is presumed to be inferior. So many variables come into play with the jump from one league to another that simply scaling back the numbers doesn't work.
Generally speaking, though, the best of the best from Japan have also fared quite well here. That's especially true for pitchers. The only major successes among hitters are Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, but Ohtani obviously has more in common with those two than, say, Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Kenji Johjima. Plus, he's 23, barely a man, still growing into his power and perhaps only scratching the surface of his potential. He's expected to perform right away, sure, but how good could he be? I'd say the sky's the limit.
According to Clay Davenport, a co-founder of Baseball Prospectus and one of the foremost experts on international play, Ohtani's 2016 numbers would translate to a .306 batting average, 14 home runs and .879 OPS in 324 at-bats here and a 3.01 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 9.2 strikeouts per nine in 137 1/3 innings. It's as good of an estimate as any.
Will he actually get the chance to do both?
Based on some of the conversations I've had with my colleagues, the general consensus is that no, he won't. But they're not the ones who'll actually be making that call, and they're jaded by the idea that nothing in this crusty old sport ever changes. But things are already changing. Versatility is becoming a must even for top-of-the-line players as teams endeavor to make better use of their 25 roster spots. The natural extension of that is a player who both pitches and hits.
But the even bigger development -- another to transpire just over the last five years -- is the realization that not every starting pitcher is going to throw 180 innings, much less 200. And I'm not even referring to the practice of gradually building up young pitchers. Certain pitchers are just better off sticking to 140 innings or so. It maximizes their effectiveness and prevents injury.
Of course, it also creates the need for more than five starting pitchers, which, as Dodgers fans know, syncs nicely with the new 10-day DL. Even if a team never has a true six-man rotation at any point, it has at least six pitchers taking semi-regular turns.
And that's what Ohtani was used to in Japan, where every pitcher starts once a week. He didn't get to hit every day in between, but he developed a routine that allowed him to make the maximum impact while holding up over a full season.
"If you are signing Ohtani, you are going to a six-man rotation," one interested GM told the New York Post. "You are adapting to him and what he needs to be successful."
By and large, the people calling the shots are open to the idea of having Ohtani do both, with Rangers manager Jeff Banister calling him a "pioneer."
Some other reactions:
"This is an entertainment business," Mets GM Sandy Alderson said. "To see someone with that kind of talent potentially do what others have not been able to do, that'll be an exciting experience for the team involved as well as the rest of baseball."
"You know, I could play Ohtani every day," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Oh, I'd put him out there. Trust me."
"I would say that it's possible," Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. "Most players aren't that talented to continue to do it, but if you had somebody that was talented enough, why not?"
"We definitely think that it's doable for someone who's talented enough to do both," said Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, himself something of a pioneer in terms of the way teams use players. "It takes being a little creative and trying to figure out the schedule and figure out recovery days. But we definitely think it's doable, and if we were ever to sign a player who's talented enough to do both, we'd look forward to the challenge of being creative to figure that out."
So a good mix of old- and new-school types all say the same thing. Maybe it's just for PR purposes. Maybe it's just so they don't scare Ohtani away before delivering their big sales pitch. But again, he's the one with all the leverage here.
It'd be a shame if he didn't take advantage.
How will CBS Sports accommodate such a player?
Remember Multiplicity, that movie with the four Michael Keatons, each with its own predominant trait? I think it was meant to be a cautionary tale. I can't say for sure since it was the sort of movie I'd watch bleary-eyed late at night on TBS, before streaming became a thing, but I think. Anyway, instead of trying to hide it from Andie MacDowell, we're just putting out there:
There will be two Shohei Ohtanis in your league.
Probably. I've been told our team is still testing different scenarios -- some of which will be available as options in the commissioner game -- but the default setting is expected to be two Ohtanis in the player pool, one a pitcher and one a hitter, which means the same player could technically be split between two owners.
It's a less-than-perfect solution, but there isn't a perfect one that wouldn't break all the established safeguards, especially since we don't know if playing both ways is Ohtani's long-term reality. And if the sharing of a player just isn't something your commissioner can abide, again, there will be options.
Where should you draft him in Fantasy?
Depends which one, right? Again, pitcher success has historically translated better than hitter success, and a triple-digit fastball would translate anywhere. Plus, if Ohtani isn't in the lineup every day between starts, it lessens his impact as a hitter, to the point he may not be startable in standard Head-to-Head leagues, with their smaller lineups, even if he delivers on all of his potential.
Of course, if he is in fact a two-way player and pitching no more than every sixth game, as has been speculated, he'll be lacking in innings as well. It wouldn't be as damning as a lack of at-bats since he'd still be taking a regular turn and would presumably be allowed to pitch six-plus innings at a time, but he'd rarely make two starts in a given week and might have a cap of 160 innings for the season.
To me, it's a similar outlook to Rich Hill, who again impressed with a 3.32 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings in 2017 but was limited to just 135 2/3 innings because of injuries. I'd rank the pitcher version of Ohtani ahead of Hill because he's younger and presumably more durable, but both would be just inside my top 40 starting pitchers, worth taking in Round 9 or 10 of a 12-team league. If Ohtani becomes exclusively a pitcher, he moves up from there.
As for the hitter version, he'd be more of a late-rounder in mixed leagues, perhaps going a little higher in Rotisserie formats where consistent playing time isn't as critical. If Ohtani becomes a full-time hitter, the hitter version moves way up the rankings, but it's worth noting that if he does commit to only one role, pitcher would be the more likely one.
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