Shohei Ohtani’s value in 2019 and beyond
Going into the 2018 season, one of the biggest stories in baseball was the arrival of two-way Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani. A 23-year-old, left-handed power hitter with speed, who took the mound throwing right-handed every six or seven days was not something the United States had seen since, maybe, ever. The situation was equally unprecedented in the fantasy community, where host websites were unsure whether to consider Ohtani one or two players and how to count his stats in weeks where he was both a pitcher and a hitter. After a stellar Rookie of the Year season concluded, his situation became even more cloudy when, after attempting to heal his elbow with a platelet-rich-plasma injection, Ohtani elected to have Tommy John surgery ruling him out for 2019. Well, ruling him out as a pitcher, anyway.
The question “Where would you value Shohei Ohtani in fantasy?” is rather complicated, and format dependent. Keaton DeRocher covered Ohtani’s dynasty value in this week’s Triple Play as well. There has arguably never been a player whose value varies more depending on the format. What website are you using? Are you in a re-draft or a dynasty league? If dynasty, are you competing this year or playing for next year? Most importantly, are your lineups set daily or weekly? For the sake of this piece, let’s treat Ohtani as one player who can be deployed either as a Utility or a Starting Pitcher, and investigate his value across these different formats.
Playing for 2019 – Redraft or Dynasty Weekly League: Buy with a Low offer
Ohtani is off to a slow start through 102 plate appearances, with a .225 batting average, 3 homers, 14 RBI, and a measly 75 wRC+ (as of start of day 6/4). He has not stolen a base, and one can argue he should be on waivers in 12-team leagues or fewer. There are a few things to consider here, however. Obviously, the return from Tommy John surgery, where he wasn’t able to swing a bat for months is a factor. Ohtani had a subpar spring training in 2018 as a hitter, 4-for-32 without an extra-base hit, causing concern that he had been overhyped and would barely crack the lineup. In 2019, rather than go on an extended spring training or a rehab assignment, he was inserted right into the lineup, arguably too early. Lastly, Ohtani has some Statcast data that shows he may be a bit unlucky so far. His average exit velocity is sixth in all of MLB at 93.4 MPH, and his hard-hit percentage (of balls hit at 95 MPH or more) is 33rd in the league. His xWOBA of .348 compared to a .281 wOBA is a differential of -.067, the fifth highest differential in all of baseball, if you remove defense from the equation. Keep in mind that last season, between September 4th and 30th, Ohtani was deployed at DH every game for the Angels and he hit .310 with 7 HRs, 18 RBI, 4 SBs, and a 1.003 OPS over 87 at bats. There is a hot streak coming. Specifically in redraft formats, Ohtani could be bought for pennies on the dollar, especially since he ties up the Utility position.
Playing for 2020 and beyond – Dynasty Weekly League: Sell at the first hot streak
Looking back at 2018 in weekly formats, Ohtani left something to be desired for his fantasy owners. Outside of the month of September, when he had been shut down from pitching, Ohtani could rarely be deployed as a hitter. He would sit the day before and after his pitching starts, totaling 82 appearances as a hitter, an average of 3 games per week. Additionally, he usually received 6 days of rest between starts to stay consistent with the approach in Japan, which did not line him up as a 2-start pitcher once all year. While I do think Ohtani has a bright future as a pitcher, with an electric fastball and a variety of off-speed stuff, I think he’ll be eased back into pitching next year with perhaps a 130 innings cap in 2020, and 150 innings long-term. If those innings are elite, he will certainly provide great value, but if I could get a top 40-50 dynasty player entering his prime, I’d take that for Ohtani in a weekly league.
Playing for 2019 – Dynasty Daily League: Not worth the buy; hold if you own.
A daily dynasty league is Ohtani’s most valuable format. The price will be too high if you want to buy for a half-a-year, which leads us to…
Playing for 2020 and beyond – Dynasty Daily League: Buy high
This is the sweet spot right here. Our preseason Top 500 rankings at Dynasty Guru are based on daily formats. Bret Sayre put Ohtani at #27, Tom Trudeau placed him at #34 for OBP leagues, and Jesse Roche had him as high as #19.
If playing for next year and beyond, I would be willing to send significant players to an Ohtani owner who may have their sights set on a title this year. I considered him a top 20 daily league dynasty asset in the preseason, and am not going to let 100 or so plate appearances sway my opinion, in which his Walk Rate (10.1% in 2019 to 9.8% in 2020) and Strikeout Rate (27.8% to 25.5%) have held firm. In this daily format, the owner can platoon another bat for four days with Ohtani at Utility for his 3 appearances each week, and flip him over to a pitcher spot for his one start each week. In 2018, Ohtani contributed a .285/.361/.564 slash line, 22 HRs, 61 RBI, 10 SBs, a 4-2 record, 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 11.0 K/9, in only 326 at-bats and 51 2/3 innings pitched with a torn UCL. If you set your lineup in time, not a given for many of us, you got every single one of those stats. An expectation of 250 at-bats, and 140 innings pitched is more reasonable in the long-term, but who else provides that combination?
In closing, If I was rebuilding and had any of the following players that could put a contending team over the top, I would send them for the 24-year-old Ohtani in a daily league: Chris Sale (30 years old), J.D. Martinez (32 in August), Freddie Freeman (30 in September), Max Scherzer (35 in July), Paul Goldschmidt (32 in September), and I’m sorry if this take is too hot, but even Bryce Harper (outlined here).
(Follow Bob on Twitter @BobOsgood15)