Shohei Ohtani is a unique baseball player with a skill-set unmatched in recent history … and he’s causing problems.
Ohtani should be fantastically entertaining, of course. But the Angels’ new pitcher/DH creates a dilemma for fantasy providers. Fantasy Baseball platforms were not generally built to accommodate two-way players who contribute across all pitching and batting categories. Here at Yahoo, the architecture of our game — the zillions of lines of code underpinning this complicated enterprise — does not support a combo pitcher-hitter. Our original game developers had not anticipated the arrival of a player like Ohtani.
After weighing multiple options, Yahoo’s product team has decided to introduce two distinct Ohtanis into our game for 2018. One will deliver only his hitting stats, and the other his pitching numbers. These two Ohtanis can be drafted and owned by two different fantasy owners. In private leagues, commissioners can use simple workarounds to ensure that a manager who drafts one version of Ohtani is assigned the other, if that’s the preference of your group.
Alternatives to our two-Shohei approach included a pair of ideas that nobody found satisfying. We could have treated him as if he were any other pitcher, disregarding his batting stats, or we could have introduced batting stats for all pitchers into the game. The first option, while simple, would have ignored key attributes of an exciting and talented young star. The second option would have been monumentally disruptive, changing the game at a fundamental level. Neither course of action was judged acceptable.
A third approach would have been the introduction of a single player with both SP and Util-eligibility. In that scenario, users would have to choose at the beginning of each transaction period (daily or weekly) whether to accept Ohtani’s batting or pitching stats. However, had we taken that route at Yahoo, our engineers would have needed to substantially rebuild the fantasy product. This would have been an enormous undertaking, disrupting other initiatives and delaying the game. And in the end, Ohtani’s owners still would not have received 100 percent of his stats.
Thus, we’re going with two Ohtanis in 2018. It’s our solution to a fun-but-thorny problem that has no precedent in modern baseball. Different fantasy platforms will no doubt take different approaches. The two most prominent industry leagues, LABR and Tout Wars, have already chosen different paths. LABR will use the SP/Util combo, requiring managers to designate Ohtani as either hitter or pitcher each week. Tout will allow Ohtani’s batting stats to be owned by one team and his pitching stats by another.
What’s all the Ohtani fuss about anyway?
Some of you, at this point, might reasonably be asking why this is such a big deal. Ohtani, after all, is simply an unproven 23-year-old. We just learned that he has some rough mileage on his pitching arm, and his role as a batter is still undetermined. It’s widely believed that Ohtani will be more valuable as a pitcher, although he clearly has serious skill in all areas. His numbers in Japan were absurd. Two seasons ago, Ohtani went 10-4 with 174 Ks in 140.0 innings, delivering a 1.86 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. That same year, he also hit 22 home runs, stealing seven bags and slashing .322/.416/.588. Ohtani was basically Yu Darvish on the mound and Tuffy Rhodes at the plate.
It’s extremely rare to see players with Ohtani’s every-tool ability produce as both pitcher and hitter at any professional level. But he has a legit chance, right away, to reach double-digit wins while hitting double-digit homers in the big leagues.
Here’s the full list of every pitcher since 1871 who won 10 games and hit 10 home runs in the same season, via Baseball Reference:
Babe Ruth, 1918 – 13 W, 11 HR
That’s it, people. The full list is Babe Ruth, one time.
If we expand our search to pitchers with at least eight wins and eight homers in a single season, this is what we get:
Bob Caruthers, 1887 – 29 W, 8 HR
Jack Stivetts, 1894 – 26 W, 8 HR
Babe Ruth, 1918 – 13 W, 11 HR
Babe Ruth, 1919 – 9 W, 29 HR
Wes Ferrell, 1931 – 22 W, 9 HR
So it’s fair to say that there are almost no players comparable to Ohtani in living memory. Martin Dihigo and Bullet Rogan were both notable two-way stars in the Negro Leagues, but we haven’t seen that sort of versatility in the majors in a century. During the fantasy era, Mike Hampton and Carlos Zambrano are the only pitchers to reach six wins and six home runs in the same year. Fantasy owners weren’t exactly screaming to get Big Z’s batting stats in the game.
Ohtani has a shot to be a one-man revolution in MLB and he’s already changed the fantasy version of baseball. Hopefully you can understand why developers didn’t foresee this particular fantasy challenge. He should be endless fun. If you want the full Ohtani experience, draft him twice.