Should Shohei Ohtani's Playing Time Be an Issue for Fantasy Owners?
There is no doubt that the hype that preceeded Shohei Ohtani's arrival to the Major Leagues was legitimate. Through the first month and a half of the 2018 season, everyone has seen what the kid can do.
He came billed as baseball's first true dual-threat player at the big league level, a lights-out ace starter with incredible stuff combined with a power bat that can change the game with one swing. And so far, Ohtani has proven to be just that.
Ohtani has also avoided the injuries that have plagued him in recent seasons in Japan. But one of the worries some had about Ohtani coming into the season was his playing time.
How much would he pitch? Would the Los Angeles Angels go with a six-man rotation? And, for those drafting him in fantasy baseball, would he get enough at-bats (between starts) to make him worth owning?
We're now six weeks into the baseball season, which is a good time to ask whether Ohtani's playing time and performance makes him a keeper for this season, or a sell-high candidate. Let's explore.
There's no doubt that when Ohtani has been on the mound for the Angels, he's been as dominant as any starting pitcher in baseball this year.
In his start this week against the Seattle Mariners, Ohtani went six innings and gave up two runs on six hits and two walks with six strikeouts. On the season, he has made five starts (26.1 innings) and has a 4.10 ERA, 4.07 FIP and a 3.70 xFIP. He's striking out 10.94 batters per nine with a strikeout-rate of 29.9%, and his opponents are hitting just .211 against him. However, he's been susceptible to the long-ball, averaging 1.37 home runs per nine innings to date.
Aside from the ERA and FIP, Ohtani has been terrific for fantasy owners. The big question is whether he's pitching often enough to satisfy fantasy owners.
Ohtani's 26.1 innings pitched this year ranks tied for 131st among big league starters, and the L.A. ace didn't make a start between April 24 and May 6. He also had a small gap of starts earlier in April, from the 8th of the month to the 17th.
It's obvious the Angels are taking it slow and easing in the 23-year-old -- and that's the smart move. But it's fair to wonder if that will dissipate, and how many starts and innings Ohtani will provide the rest of the year.
On Thursday night, Ohtani continued to show his impressive power and skill as a hitter.
We knew coming into the season that the phenom wasn't going to play in the field every day, but the question was, would he be good enough when he does play to warrant being on the roster as an offensive player alone? So far, the answer is probably yes.
In 24 games (70 plate appearances), Ohtani is batting .354/.400/.677 with 5 homers, 16 RBIs and 11 runs scored. Among players with at least 70 PAs this season, his wOBA of .451 is 4th-best in baseball, behind only Mookie Betts, Mike Trout and Matt Adams.
He isn't walking much -- just 7.7% of the time -- but his strikeout-rate is a reasonable 21.4%, and he's hitting the ball hard virtually every at-bat, with a soft-hit percentage of just 6.0% and an average exit velocity of 94.1 mph (13th-best in baseball).
The problem is he has roughly half the plate appearances as most players on the MLB leaderboards, and he acts as a designated hitter only three-to-four times a week. He also holds no other positional flexibility as he's locked into the designated hitter.
Which brings us to the next question.
Does Site Matter?
A complicating factor with Ohtani are the different rules and positional eligibilities used by different fantasy sites.
In ESPN leagues, he comes as one single player, eligible at both hitter and pitcher. However, on Yahoo sites, fantasy owners use him as a hitter or a pitcher. So in Yahoo! leagues, Ohtani exists as two separate entities, owned by two separate owners in many cases.
On ESPN, Ohtani cannot be used as both a pitcher and a hitter on the same day, and if you play in a league where rosters lock in at the beginning of the week, you have to decide if he's going to pitch or hit for the entire week. He can't do both.
Understandably, this eliminates one of the things that makes Ohtani so valuable in real life: his flexibility. Playing in an ESPN league that allows you to switch roster spots daily gives you the flexibility to pitch him on days he's starting and then move him to the DH spot on the days he's hitting. That's a bit easier to swallow.
Yahoo leagues are a simpler. Even if you lock in rosters at the start of the week, you're only depending on Ohtani to do one thing as it is. But even if you drafted him as a hitter or a pitcher, there's still a good chance you're going to get weeks where he only pitches once or not at all, and rarely will you get a week in which he pitches twice. As a hitter, you might only have him for two to four days a week, which could be a real hindrance to teams with small benches or injury issues.
According to our fantasy rankings, Ohtani is the 181st overall player, 60th among pitchers and 93rd among all position players. As you can see, his stats are great, but the volume is a real problem. ESPN owners able to make daily changes should probably hold on to Ohtani, but owners in all other leagues and formats should consider selling high on Ohtani now, especially if there are areas of weakness in which they could nab a player or two in the trade market.
The hype is real, but so are Ohtani's limitations as a fantasy asset. Take advantage of the former to avoid the latter down the stretch.