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Baseball Draft Kit: The Ohtani Rules

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Director of Media for RotoWire.com, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire's shows on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210).

With a fastball that can touch 102 mph, along with an excellent forkball and slider, Shohei Ohtani is an exciting prospect capable of changing the rotation of an MLB team for years to come.

At 23 years old, Ohtani is younger than other great Japanese pitchers that have made the move to North America over the past 25 years, and his arrival in 2018 comes with a level of excitement that is unmatched by the hype generated with the arrival of Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish and the other arms in between.

Thanks to the aforementioned arsenal, Ohtani immediately joins the conversation as a possible top-10 starting pitcher in Year 1, and that talent alone would have put him on track for a nine-figure contract if he were a completely unrestricted free agent.

In addition racking up 624 strikeouts and posting a 2.52 ERA along with a 1.08 WHIP in 543 innings over the last five seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters, Ohtani has hit .286/.358/.500 with 48 homers in 1,170 plate appearances. Heís hit at least .300 in each of the last two seasons, while carrying an OBP above .400 and a slugging percentage above .500. He also runs very well, furthering his appeal as a two-way player.

As a hitter, Ohtaniís early career development resembles that of Hideki Matsui, who was excellent at an early age soon after he debuted in Japan as a 19-year-old in 1993. Matsui went on to hit at least 34 home runs in seven straight seasons in Japan from 1996-2002 before posting and signing with the Yankees prior to 2003.

As a pitcher, Ohtani appears to be the most gifted in Nippon Professional Baseball history. Not surprisingly, heís been dubbed ďJapanís Babe Ruth.Ē

Thanks to the current posting agreement between NPB and MLB, and the restrictions MLB teams face when signing international free agents, Ohtani was available on what amounted to a fairly level playing field once he officially posted in December. Seven of the leagueís 30 teams made the final cut in Ohtaniís selection process, which started with a request that each team fill out a survey and make a pitch for their organization explaining why they were the best fit for his unique skill set. On Dec. 8, 2017, it was revealed that Ohtani was signing with the Angels.

The possibility of a two-way player capable of making an impact in as many as nine out of the 10 typical rotisserie categories has started a conversation about how fantasy leagues should handle Ohtani, and any players who might follow in his footsteps down the road such as Brendan McKay, the Raysí 2017 first-round pick.

The National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) acted quickly and declared that Ohtani will only be eligible as a pitcher for their contests in 2018. Going this route provided immediate clarity for their draft season, and affords them a full season to see what Ohtaniís workload actually looks like during Year 1 in MLB.

League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) Commissioner Steve Gardner announced in late November that Ohtani will be eligible as a pitcher and as a utility player, affording any team that rosters him the option of collecting his pitching stats or his hitting stats for each lineup period. Since LABR allows lineup changes weekly on Mondays, it seems likely that heíll be used more often as a pitcher than as a hitter in those leagues.

The Angels are believed to be considering a six-man rotation, which would allow Ohtani to train on a schedule similar to his routine in Japan, while also giving him five days off between starts. In that scenario, he could rest on the day after he pitches, as well as the day before he pitches, leaving as many as three games each time through the rotation where he might be available to hit. It was announced soon after he signed that Ohtani will not play the outfield for the Angels in 2018. With that, his opportunities to hit will require Albert Pujols to play first base, or to take a day off.

If the Angels utilize a six-man rotation, it would be a move that benefits the entire pitching staff as expected rotation members Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs and Matt Shoemaker have dealt with significant arm injuries in recent seasons, raising questions about their ability to withstand a heavy workload.

The LABR ruling on Ohtani, which is an eligibility option on RTsports.com where those particular industry leagues are hosted, becomes more intriguing in formats that allow lineup changes to be made on a daily basis. With the flexibility of daily lineup changes, an Ohtani owner could simply reserve him on days that heís not pitching or hitting, replace him on his days off, and collect as much of his playing time as possible.

A third option will likely be available on some sites, which will make Ohtani two draftable players -- a hitter version, and a pitcher version. In this scenario, itís hard to imagine that his value as a hitter will be enough to make him useful in shallow (8-12 team) mixed league formats because the playing time volume might be very light -- no more than two or three starts per week.

While this is an unconventional solution to a unique problem, turning Ohtani into two separate fantasy players should largely quell any push for positive hitting stats from other pitchers to count, as we should not want to count the stats of a career .185/.232/.322 or .175/.204/.279 hitter anyway (Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta, respectively).

However your league handles him, be sure to use a league provider that can support your choice, and communicate the Ohtani rules to the members of your league as soon as possible.

2018 RotoWire Projections
26 starts | 171 IP | 11 Wins | 2.89 ERA | 1.12 WHIP | 175:62 K:BB
227 AB | .282 AVG | 10 HR | 37 RBI | 32 R | 3 SB

This article appears in the 2018 RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide. You can order a copy here.