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Fantasy

Shohei Ohtani is (at Least Temporarily) Revolutionizing Fantasy Baseball

By: STATS LLC

Shohei Ohtani’s recruitment marked the beginning of a shift from the MLB norm of baseball purists backing NL lineups including weak-hitting pitchers, and AL supporters calling for league-wide expansion of the designated hitter rule introduced 45 years ago.

Never before has a player of Ohtani’s two-way potential entered MLB with such hype and mystery, and the anticipation for both his first pitch thrown and his first pitch taken in a Los Angeles Angels uniform has caused quite a stir. And not just among casual observers.

Ohtani’s multiple talents have presented more problems for the fantasy baseball industry than excitement. A normally straightforward game separating hitters and pitchers must undergo changes to accommodate Ohtani’s unique abilities, causing some confusion, extra behind-the-scenes work and a major difference between at least two major outlets popular for hosting season-long fantasy games.

STATS took a deep dive in Ohtani’s advanced statistics accumulated during his career in Japan, including video breakdown of his most efficient pitches thrown and smooth power swing at the plate. It’s no wonder these fantasy hosts had trouble creating a solution. Ohtani hits 100 mph throwing right-handed and can crush 400-foot homers hitting left-handed. Whether or not he can transfer one or both of those skills over to MLB is still uncertain, but all of his talents must be considered with fantasy baseball drafts approaching.

Yahoo! Sports settled on creating two different versions of Ohtani, one as strictly a position player and the other as a pitcher. Ohtani the pitcher would not get credit for hitting stats – much like the current game when pitchers’ performance at the plate is moot because of the rare instances they get on base – and Ohtani the hitter would not gather pitching stats at any point.

CBS went a different route, creating only a single draftable Ohtani and allowing owners to toggle between him being a pitcher and hitter, with only one set of statistics counting depending on the slot chosen for that day or week. However, league commissioners will be granted the ability to edit statistics on the backend, and if they choose can give credit for performances at the plate or on the mound when Ohtani is slotted in the opposite.

That difference could cause fantasy players to gravitate to a certain website to host their league, or at the very least cause discussion of how to treat Ohtani. It’s safe to say the fantasy guidelines of one specific player have never caused so much uproar. Could there wind up being midseason changes in the rules?

You can likely expect daily fantasy sites like DraftKings and FanDuel operating business as usual. Corey Schwartz, a predictive analyst for STATS who specializes in player projections for DFS games, doesn’t believe the industry will see much change with Ohtani involved, but the changes can be made easily if so inclined.

“I think in DFS it’s nice they’ll have the flexibility to make it up as they go along,” Schwartz said, “but I’d be surprised if they ever count his hitting and pitching stats on the same day. Too many people would make a fuss about that being a change, and there’s too much money involved to do anything revolutionary.”

The decision to either change or remain standard for any outlet could wind up setting a precedent, though. The Tampa Bay Rays used the fourth overall pick of the 2017 draft to select Louisville two-way star Brendan McKay, who won the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top player, and the Rays have made it clear McKay will see time both at the plate and on the mound. In Single-A ball last year, McKay hit .232 with four homers, 22 RBIs, 33 strikeouts and 21 walks in 36 games for Hudson Valley. He also went 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 20 innings over six starts.

McKay hasn’t yet attracted as much attention as Ohtani, but it’s possible that Ohtani’s success or failure as a two-way MLB player could end up influencing the decision of how to use McKay and any similar players who might come along. It’s way too early to say Ohtani is about to change the game for good, but he’s at least temporarily revolutionizing the fantasy baseball industry.