How you can utilize Shohei Ohtani in ESPN Fantasy Baseball leagues

ByTristan H. Cockcroft ESPN logo
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

One of the most exciting prospects in some time has arrived in Major League Baseball. When the player in question comes touted as "Japan's Babe Ruth," he can't help but consume the fantasy baseball headlines, if not because of his potentially lofty impact, then certainly because of the unusualness of his anticipated role.

Shohei Ohtani, the 2016 Japanese Pacific League MVP who signed with the Los Angeles Angels in December, is a rare two-way player, bringing potentially high-quality hitting talent to go along with excellence as a pitcher. He's the first such player of his type -- one we genuinely want to use as both hitter and pitcher -- in the Rotisserie era.

So here's your answer to the winter's most pressing question: In ESPN leagues, Ohtani will serve as one player -- just as he will be for his Angels -- with the ability to be started as either a hitter or pitcher.

Mind that key word ("or"), as in either hitter or pitcher, but not both. Ohtani will begin the 2018 season with dual eligibility, as a designated hitter on the hitting side and starting pitcher on the pitching side, and in each individual scoring period in your league, you will need to make a decision as to on which side to use him.

This means that in leagues with daily transactions, as is the ESPN standard, on any given day Ohtani can serve as either your starting pitcher or your designated hitter/utility. He'll accrue statistics only for the role in which you choose, meaning that on days where you have him activated as a starting pitcher, he'll receive credit only for his pitching statistics, and on days where you have him activated as a DH/utility, he'll receive credit only for his hitting statistics.

In leagues with weekly transactions, the same decision will apply, but with weeklong implications. Ohtani would only receive credit for his hitting statistics for the week in question if you activate him as a DH/utility, and only for his pitching statistics if you activate him as a starting pitcher, regardless of how much he's used in either role within the week in question.

Ohtani would be subject to the same in-season position qualification rules as any other player, meaning that he could add additional field positions with 10 appearances at any one spot, or relief pitcher eligibility with five relief appearances. In either case, he'd still need to be slotted in either an active hitter or pitcher position in each scoring period.

In-season, Ohtani would occupy only one spot on your bench when not in your starting lineup, and he would count as only one player against your roster limit. He also will not count against any usage caps -- innings pitched, starts or games played, for example -- for time he accrues in the role in which he's not used in a given scoring period. For example, should you start Ohtani as your DH in a game where the Angels forfeit their DH to allow him to bat for himself in a game that he starts as a pitcher, his game started on the pitching side would not count against your games started or innings pitched cap.

One of the reasons for this either/or decision is for consistency in the treatment of all pitchers: Fantasy baseball traditionally does not credit a pitcher's hitting statistics in a game where he is slotted in as an active pitcher, because of how generally poor pitchers are with the bat. Those who wish to receive credit for pitchers' hitting numbers are usually cherry-picking only their successful games. Commissioners in custom leagues do, however, have the option to manually adjust scoring if they wish to credit only Ohtani -- or any pitcher, really -- for all of his contributions on both sides of the ball.

Ohtani's either/or decision also keeps the matter of precedent in mind, as his treatment could also apply to future such examples of two-way players. For example, Madison Bumgarner is a commonly cited pitcher with decent hitting skills, and his San Francisco Giants did forfeit their DH in order to allow him to hit for himself in an American League game against the Oakland Athletics on June 30, 2016. In the event that Bumgarner receives future appearances in the field, most likely at DH, he'd have the opportunity to earn hitter/pitcher eligibility, as Ohtani has, with 10 games there in-season. ESPN also has the discretion to award additional such eligibility to players with an appropriate amount of such appearances, such as a large number of pinch-hitting appearances, a pitcher batting for himself in an AL game or a pitcher shifting into a field position for a portion of a game as a strategic matter.

As for the Player Rater, Ohtani will become the first player to receive credit for his contributions both as hitter and pitcher. He'll receive the traditional Player Rater valuation for his pitching statistics -- the Rater normalizes stats against what you could reasonably expect from a replacement level player in your league -- but because any hitting contributions he provides you would be considered "bonus" contributions, each of those numbers would be rewarded incrementally. In other words, if Ohtani hit only one home run, he wouldn't be penalized, resulting in a negative score in the category, but rather would earn an amount equivalent to the difference between players who were one home run apart. His batting average would be the only potential negative category, if he hits so poorly that he's a detriment to your team.

One final note: Ohtani will not be available as part of the player pool in batters-only leagues, due to his primary position being starting pitcher.

Happy drafting, and let the Ohtani strategizing in fantasy baseball leagues begin!