Ohtani (Plays Over the Ocean)

To date, the latest buzz in baseball, Shohei Ohtani, is still a member of the Hoikkado Nippon-Ham Fighters, a team in the Pacific Division of the Nippon Professional Baseball League.  But we anticipate Ohtani signing with an American team any day, traversing the Pacific to North America and a storied MLB career.

Of course the biggest aspect of the uber-talented Ohtani is that he can hit and he can pitch, as he has in Japan for the past three season in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Much of the current Ohtani energy surrounds the question: “How does my league deal with a pitcher who is a hitter, and  in the Madison Bumgarner sense, but exponentially?”

Brian Walton noted the complexities, asking if Ohtani should be a two-way player a few weeks back in a great and comprehensive piece, and I have dedicated a fair amount of time on The Tout Wars Hour  the past few shows on how to deal with this hybrid player. (Not like this is a total first, for that Babe Ruth was a pretty good pitcher and hitter.)

In his current piece on Mastersball,  “The Ohtani Dilemma,” Todd Zola not only discusses the potential rostering parameters around the future major leaguer.  Todd also uses his projections and equivalencies to break down numbers for Ohtani as both a hitter and pitcher in 2018 for a number of Major League clubs.

For example, Z suggests that were Ohtani a member of the Cubs, he would go roughly 125 innings and post a 9-5, 3.46 mark with a 1.30 WHIP as a hurler, while he would have a .244-10-36 line as a hitter over 270 at-bats. (Z also projects for the Giants, Dodgers, Mariners, Padres, Rangers, Twins, and Yankees in his fine piece, well worth the subscription.)

Those numbers might sound skeptical to many readers and maybe to some within the industry.  In the industry mocks I have done this year, Ohtani went as follows:

  • CBS H2H (12-team, 16-man roster): #144, Round 12, #1
  • Street & Smith Industry (12-team, 5X5): #74, Round 7, #2
  • Fantasy Baseball Guide (12-team, 5X5): #63, Round 6, #3

If we take Todd’s Cubs projections, for example, how much is a .244-10-36 batter with 270 at-bats worth? Certainly not a top-20 pick in today’s hitter happy player pool where Adam Duvall (who has averaged 32 homers and 101 RBI the past two seasons) went #177 (15.8) in the Fantasy Baseball Guide mock and #212 (18.8) for Street & Smith.

As for being a pitcher, the 9-4, 3.46 record would have gone higher than Ervin Santana (#258, #233 respectively) who scored a pretty good season (16-8, 3.28, 1.13 WHIP)?

OK, so Big Erv is a decade older than Shohei, but Ohtani is twice as intriguing as Duvall. But is his upside worth risking even a 12th round selection? A 7th, or 6th? How about a third, as I have heard mentioned were the mocks the real thing?  Or would you be willing to spend between $15-$25 such speculation may cost?

I think the best path is to let your league-mates drool and bid up Ohtani in all cases save a dynasty format where you can hide him for a year or two, and here is why.

Playing full time, performing both roles for the Ham-Fighters, Ohtani produced 140 IP to go with 323 at-bats his busiest season (2016), and though he produced some remarkable numbers, his presence were that of a platoon player, as Ron Shandler pointed out the other night. Either way, when the name of the game relies upon innings pitched and at-bats, the pending import’s contributions might not be so great.

Add in that most leagues who have spent time determining how to account for both Ohtani the hitter and Ohtani the pitcher are considering allowing either the hitter or the pitcher to be active over a given week, but not both. So in a league with weekly transactions, some of those innings and plate appearances would inevitably be lost.

Now, imagine the same 23-year-old, who has spent his whole life in a somewhat different culture, moves from Hoikkado to Los Angeles, advances from AAA to the Show, and performs well to start with a questionable role just clouds the whole affair. (And, also, remember changes that impact where we live, our relationship, and our job are the most stressful, and Ohtani is facing two of these issues at the same time.)

Not that I am saying Ohtani will be bad or a flop. I do think within a couple of years he either becomes a dedicated hitter or a pitcher. In such a role, after settling into the MLB groove, he makes an interesting gamble now. But that is the extent.

As for now, the safe bet is to let your league-mates take on the risk.

Remember to tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET.

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

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