The case for not drafting Shohei Ohtani in fantasy baseball

From ESPN - February 14, 2018

It's rare to see a player with zero major league experience generate as much buzz as Shohei Ohtani has received this offseason. That said, it's easy to see why there's so much excitement surrounding the 23-year-old, especially in fantasy circles. After all, there has not been a legit two-way player capable of winning double-digit games on the mound with a sub-2.50 ERA and hitting double-digit home runs with a .300 batting average since another 23-year-old did it a full century ago.

It's fun to imagine Ohtani performing at that Babe Ruth level and perhaps even changing the very nature of the sport in a way that would make Madison Bumgarner and his "power-hitting pitcher" ilk green with envy. If he is able to do that, then he's likely to be a clear-cut No. 1 overall pick for years to come. However, that fantasy is currently nowhere near reality.

Exactly how good can we truly expect Ohtani to be in 2018? It's really hard to even translate his 2017 Japanese League stats into an MLB equivalent because Ohtani was dealing with an injured ankle and ended up pitching in only five games and getting only 231 plate appearances for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

However, in a full 2016 season, he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and an 11.2 K/9 rate, which is not all that dissimilar to Yu Darvish's numbers in the years prior to his making the move to MLB. Ohtani also slashed .322/.416/.588 in 2016. At the same age, Ichiro Suzuki showed .342/.423/.544, though his arrival in Seattle, Rookie of the Year and MVP honors would not come for a few more seasons.

But to project Ohtani's stats in his debut season for the Los Angeles Angels, it's going to be a lot more than simply assuming you can combine the rookie seasons of Darvish and Ichiro and call it a day. After all, not every highly touted import makes a smooth transition to the United States.

Need I remind anyone about Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who in 2011 was coming off a .346 season with Chiba Lotte Marines, or Kei Igawa, who in 2006 received a $26 million posting fee after striking out a league-high 194 batters for Hanshin Tigers? Actually, I probably do need to remind you, as both players eventually returned to Japan after failing to become mainstays with the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees, respectively.

Let's be optimistic, though, and assume Ohtani's elbow is able to keep up with the expected workload and that he is indeed able to pitch around 140 innings this season. If we give him 10 wins, an ERA of around 3.25 and a K/9 rate of 9.5, I think that would be very fair -- and, on a per week basis, probably slots him in as a borderline top-25 SP. In fact, that's the neighborhood where both my colleagues Eric Karabell and Tristan H. Cockcroft have him ranked.


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