How Shohei Ohtani's move to Dodgers impacts his fantasy value

ByTristan H. Cockcroft ESPN logo
Saturday, December 9, 2023

Friday's social media play-by-play on Shohei Ohtani's whereabouts might have been entertaining, but in the end, he was home in Southern California all along, polishing off a record 10-year, $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Saturday's announced deal and terms are astounding, but they serve a reminder of the Dodgers' seemingly limitless resources, which ties to Ohtani's fantasy baseball future. He was always expected to sign for upwards of $500 million, but his supporting cast during the course of his contract matters, meaning he needed to land with a team with both the resources and willingness to exceed the Competitive Balance Tax thresholds during the life of his deal, rather than be hamstrung by his price tag.

The Dodgers have no such concerns, having been subject to the CBT in each of the three seasons since the COVID-shortened 2020, while additionally showing a willingness to spend freely in seasons prior. They should continue to stockpile elite talent in their lineup, not to mention add the requisite bullpen help behind Ohtani when he's again ready to pitch in future seasons, throughout the life of his deal. That a portion of the deal is reportedly deferred only helps matters.

Ohtani had already been the game's best player by many measures in each of the past three seasons, most notably scoring 183, 245 and 30 more actionable fantasy points than the No. 2 player in the league in 2021, 2022 and 2023 -- and by "actionable," that's only crediting him his pitching points on his pitching-assignment days and only his hitting on all other days (in other words, excluding his hitting points when he pitched). He is also the only player in history to hit at least 30 home runs while winning at least 10 games as a pitcher, and keep in mind that he actually averaged 41 home runs and 11 wins, not to mention 181 pitching strikeouts, during the past three seasons, two of which culminated in him winning American League MVP honors.

Of course, Ohtani succumbed to surgery on his pitching elbow at the conclusion of last season, an operation that lacked specifics but has been presumed to be Tommy John surgery or something similar, and is expected to keep him off a pitching mound for the entirety of 2024. Breaking down merely his hitting exploits, he was baseball's No. 7 overall player in rotisserie terms, and its 10th highest-scoring overall player in points leagues, only counting his hitting statistics from 2023. From 2021-23, his average finish on the Player Rater was 13.3, and he averaged 451.7 fantasy points as merely a hitter for a No. 27 overall ranking.

With the Dodgers, Ohtani won't experience much of a change in ballparks -- Angel Stadium was 13th in overall park factor and fourth in left-handed home run factor over the past three seasons, per Statcast, while Dodger Stadium was 19th and sixth in those categories -- but he'll be a member of a more consistently productive offense, at least addressing his hitting potential for 2024. That can be attributed not only to the team's aggressive spending, but also its tendency to exploit matchups at any positions that aren't filled by stars named Ohtani, Mookie Betts or Freddie Freeman. The Dodgers, incidentally, have finished among the majors' top five in runs scored in each of the past six seasons, and have been first or second in total plate appearances (think: times the lineup turns over, meaning more trips to the plate) in five of those six.

Keeper and dynasty managers can also rest easy knowing that Ohtani should be in about as favorable circumstances as we'd have a right to ask for once he's ready to resume pitching in 2025. The Dodgers' bullpen is annually strong, which should represent an improvement upon the relief support he received with the Angels. There's a good chance that future Ohtani seasons will result in more wins.

For 2024, Ohtani's landing with the Dodgers does persuade me to move him up in my rankings, from the late- to early-second round. He's not the clear building-block player to get as merely a hitter -- again, he has never led either the Player Rater nor the fantasy points leaderboard as a hitter in any of his six big-league seasons, nor come especially close to doing so -- but he's a plenty attractive pick after the game's very elite are gone.

Beyond next year, while I have doubts about Ohtani's ability to return to a consistent near-six-innings-per-start, 180-total-innings workload year over year, he should be able to at least meet or exceed the 143 innings he averaged from 2021-23 over the first half of the contract (2025-28 seasons, as a pitcher). We probably haven't seen the final year of him topping the fantasy points leaderboard.

From a team-wide perspective, as Ohtani will slide into free agent J.D. Martinez's vacated designated hitter spot, meaning no major cost in terms of playing time to a current Dodgers hitter, his presence as the DH will deprive the team of the "half-off-day" strategy it used during Martinez's 2023 injury absences. Will Smith (14), Max Muncy (10), Michael Busch (7), David Peralta (6) and Jason Heyward (5) had the next-most DH starts among Dodgers hitters, and it's the former two who could see a handful fewer full-season plate appearances as a result of Ohtani's arrival.

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