Shohei Ohtani, attempting to be the first two-way superstar baseball has seen since Babe Ruth, signed with the Los Angeles Angels on Friday. The 23-year-old Japanese sensation will attempt to become a trend-setting, groundbreaking player, making starts once a week for the Angels as a pitcher while also occasionally starring in a loaded lineup alongside Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Justin Upton.
What’s even more complicated than how the Angels will use Ohtani next season is how fantasy baseball platforms will adapt to a player who will have a significant impact on hitting and pitching. Awful Announcing spoke with product developers from the top fantasy sites, including Yahoo, ESPN, and CBS, to see how they’re going to adjust their games to Ohtani.
“Our game was not built to support a player who can earn both batting and pitching stats,” said Guy Lake, the product director at Yahoo Fantasy.
Lake sees four different options in how Yahoo will deal with Ohtani. The easiest way to integrate Ohtani would be to assign him a primary position, most likely as a starting pitcher.
“This would be fine if Ohtani hit only occasionally, but would be disastrous if he became a full-time hitter at any point during the season,” Lake said, making this seem like an unlikely solution with Ohtani expected to be slotted in as the designated hitter fairly often with L.A. “Ohtani switching from pitching to batting is not that likely but then so was a player like Ohtani ever showing up.”
The next, and most intriguing, potential solution, Lake said, would be splitting Ohtani into two draftable players, “Ohtani pitcher” and “Ohtani hitter.”
So if you think Ohtani would be much more valuable as a pitcher in his rookie season, then you draft Ohtani strictly as a pitcher and slot him in as you would any normal pitcher. Same for Ohtani hitter, though it’s yet to be seen what position he’d be eligible in, likely just as a utility, or DH spot.
Lake told Awful Announcing that this would be the most likely option for the site and that their “Two Ohtanis” plan will almost certainly be the “final call” this week.
“This means a league could potentially see an Ohtani for Ohtani trade,” Lake said, “though he is likely to be far more valuable as a pitcher.”
The third option for Yahoo is having Ohtani as one draftable player, like everyone else, but fantasy owners would have to decide where to insert Ohtani in their lineups. If they want to use him as a pitcher, slot him in as a pitcher and only his pitching stats would count for that day (in leagues where lineups are set every day) or week (for weekly locking leagues), and vice versa.
“If Ohtani is in a starting pitcher roster spot, he would earn all his pitching stats for that day but no batting statistics,” Lake said.
The most difficult, and game-changing, option Yahoo is considering is counting all hitting stats for pitchers, including their hitting numbers. So you could draft Ohtani as a pitcher and slot him in like any normal starting pitcher, but his batting numbers would count as well. As Lake mentioned to AA, this would mean that Madison Bumgarner would be a much more valuable fantasy player, “but many NL starting pitchers lose value vs AL starters because they bat (badly) more often.”
Chris Jason, the senior director of product management at ESPN who’s essentially in charge of product development for its fantasy baseball platform, knows its users are excited about Ohtani and it’s working on a solution for the season.
“There are many factors that go into determining how best to reconcile his unique talent within the game,” Jason said. “The fantasy league scoring system being used (rotisserie vs. points vs. stat categories), and whether a user is in a daily or weekly locking league, to name a few.”
As for CBS, they’re still deciding between the Two Ohtanis plan and one where he’d start as a pitcher and would gain eligibility as a hitter as soon as he reached a certain number of games as a designated hitter or outfielder, according to Brian Huss, CBS’ senior director of product development for fantasy. He said that CBS would decide by the time its 2018 baseball product launches at the end of January.
“He just fundamentally challenges the game model that we have,” Huss said. “Hitters hit, pitchers pitch and that’s the way we’ve operated in the 35, 40 years fantasy baseball has been around.”
Huss also suggested a workaround to the Two Ohtanis plan if leagues wanted to keep him as one individual player.
“If the commissioner wants to, it’s pretty simple to award, say, the hitter version to the team that drafts the pitcher version,” Huss said. “So it lets you kind of have that super-player aspect, if you want.”
In CBS’ plan where Ohtani is just one player, fantasy owners would have to decide at the beginning of the scoring period, depending if it’s a daily or weekly league, where to put him in their lineup.
“That’s going to make him a lot more valuable for daily leagues, where you could put him back and forth,” Huss said, and guessed that the vast majority of Ohtani owners in weekly leagues would use him as a pitcher.
“It’s a really interesting product and engineering challenge, but just as a baseball fan it’s so fun!” Huss added.
RotoWire has 75 different fantasy syndication partners and is trying to monitor them to see what solutions they’ll come up with in terms of Ohtani, said Ken Crites, RotoWire’s vice president of business development.
“I think it’s great for fantasy baseball,” he said, “but clearly fantasy players better review their league rules before drafts and auctions.”
If you thought the only impact Ohtani would make was on the field, you’d be sorely mistaken. It seems like he’s going to be the first player in fantasy baseball history to be split into two in a major platform like Yahoo’s.
“You have to go back to Babe Ruth in 1919 to find a player who had fantasy impact as a batter and pitcher in the same season, some 60 years before Daniel Okrent and his pals invented rotisserie fantasy baseball,” Lake said. “Ohtani really is quite unique.”