Shohei Ohtani Projection and Comparables

A few days ago, Travis Sawchik ask me to help find some comps for the Shohei Ohtani using a 2016 Davenport translation. The list of potential hitters with similar 2018 Steamer projections was impressive (Charlie Blackmon, George Springer, Mookie Betts, Carlos Correa, Yasiel Puig, and Aaron Judge). Additionally, I found pitchers who had similar 2018 projections to his 2016 translation but the list wasn’t as impressive (Jimmy Nelson, James Paxton, Jon Gray, Luis Castillo, Luke Weaver). Thanks to Dan “The Man” Szymborski, a 2018 projection now exists and results will be a little disappointing.

First, from what I heard from most fantasy websites, Ohtani’s will be two separate draftable players. Ohtani the pitcher and Ohtani the hitter. No site, that I know of, has yet to combine the two. If they did, they will likely have to count all the hitting stats accumulated by all pitchers. I hope this doesn’t ever happen.

I’ll start with the pitching projection since pitching is his reported strength. The first part of his projection is an attempt at estimating playing time. Pitchers in Japan only throw once a week, so he may have problems holding up over a full major league season I went back and looked at how many innings Japanese starters threw in their first major league seasons.

Inning Thrown by Japanese Pitcher In Debut Season
Name IP ERA Season Age
Daisuke Matsuzaka 204 4.40 2007 26.0
Hideo Nomo 191 2.54 1995 26.0
Yu Darvish 191 3.90 2012 25.0
Hiroki Kuroda 183 3.73 2008 33.0
Kenta Maeda 175 3.48 2016 28.0
Kenshin Kawakami 156 3.86 2009 34.0
Masahiro Tanaka 136 2.77 2014 25.0
Hisashi Iwakuma 125 3.16 2012 31.0
Tsuyoshi Wada 69 3.25 2014 33.0
Kei Igawa 67 6.25 2007 27.0
Koji Uehara 66 4.05 2009 34.0
Junichi Tazawa 25 7.46 2009 23.0
Median 146 3.79 27.5
Average 132 4.07 28.8

The 23-years-old has a decent chance of reaching at least 150 innings with several of the other top imports reaching at least 175 innings. With youth and talent (won’t get demoted) on his side, I have no problems going with a 175-inning projection.

As for his talent level, here is Dan’s projection.

Ohtani’s 2018 ZIPS Pitching Projection
2018 23 3.55 139 122 161 61 16 10.4 3.9 1.0

First, Dan is projecting a few fewer innings which in line with the historic values projected above. To find some comps, queried starters with similar 2018 projections to his K/9 and BB/9. Using just +/- 0.4 for both, I just got Dinelson Lamet and Alex Reyes as comps. If I expanded out the criteria to +/- 0.6 on both, Tyler Glasnow and Luiz Gohara got added.

Comparable Pitchers to Ohtani’s 2018 Projection
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA
Dinelson Lamet 130 10.1 4.3 1.2 4.19
Alex Reyes 92 10.5 4.4 1.0 3.80
Luiz Gohara 157 9.8 4.0 1.0 3.76
Tyler Glasnow 86 10.5 4.6 1.0 3.95

The current hype isn’t putting Ohtani close to the above pitchers. The biggest issue with finding comps is Ohtani’s projected high walk rate. The one comp which may provide an anchoring point is Gohara. Using a basic a 15-team league setting on our auction calculator, Gohara gets ranked as the 34th starter throwing 157 innings. That’s a fairly close comparison.

Of the initial comps I found for Travis, Luke Weaver is projected at 27th and Jon Gray at 30th. No way Ohtani, especially after he signs, goes after any of these names.

It only takes one owner per draft to believe in him and push him to be a top-12 pitcher. I’m not going to be that guy. I’ll probably have him around the 25th overall pitcher which is probably going to be too low to own him.

Now for the hitting side. Don’t expect him to be a full-time hitter next season. Teams are going to sign him to start but in deeper leagues, some owners may take a chance on him hitting. As for the plate appearances, I don’t see him getting over 200. Without going into the details, go and read both of Travis’s recent articles on the Ohtani hitting. I think 200 plate appearances is likely on the high side.

In a limited number of plate appearances, here is how Dan expects him to perform.

Ohtani’s 2018 ZIPS Hitting Projection
2018 23 0.266 0.328 0.466

Just looking at the triple slash line, here are the hitters with similar projections (+/- .010 with each state) with too early ADP added in.

Comparable Hitters to Ohtani’s 2018 ZIPS Projection
Matt Kemp 554 0.269 0.321 0.471 24 201
Evan Longoria 635 0.264 0.322 0.458 25 138
Maikel Franco 491 0.263 0.318 0.474 23 247
Trey Mancini 611 0.274 0.325 0.457 23 190

Good but not great hitters who are projected for a full season of plate appearances. Ohtani is probably looking at only a third of their total. He’s just not going to put of the counting stats to be relevant.

I expect more information to become available once the league decides how to handle his posting, he signs, and how his new team decided to utilize him. I expect more projections to eventually become available to clear up potential uncertainty. Until then, I will view him as about the 25th overall starting pitcher and will adjust my estimate up or down as more information becomes available.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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6 years ago

Not sure about Otani specifically, but Fantrax has players listed at both pitching and hitting positions, and you can freely swap them around as you wish. Chris Gimenez had catcher and relief pitcher eligibility by the end of 2016, for example, and you could plug him into either spot. It’s probably better suited for daily leagues than weekly.

The idea of one player actually being two separate players for fantasy sounds absurd.

EDIT: Also — and this applies to daily leagues — why do hitting stats need to count for Otani on days he pitches, but not for any other pitcher? It seems so simple. If he starts as a pitcher, you get his pitching stats and not his hitting stats. If he starts as a hitter, you get his hitting stats. Easy. Again, leagues with weekly lineups complicate matters, but the solution for daily leagues should be pretty straightforward.

Justin Vibbermember
6 years ago
Reply to  abailey

What you describe in your edit is exactly how Ohtani will be handled in ottoneu, which is predominantly a daily format.

CC AFCmember
6 years ago
Reply to  abailey

Yeah, I don’t understand the difficulty. You can have one player and if you put him in a pitching spot in your lineup, you only get his pitching statistics and if you put him in a hitting spot, you only get his hitting statistics (subject to you switching his positions on a daily or weekly basis depending on your league rules). My current pitchers’ hitting stats don’t count nor do my current hitters’ pitching stats count if they happen to throw an inning in a blowout…

CarMars Favoritemember
6 years ago
Reply to  abailey

I really hope there’s at least the option to keep Ohtani as one player. I advocate allowing owners to simply decide where they want to start him. In Yahoo! why couldn’t he just have “OF, P” eligibility? Then you’d just get to decide where to start him everyday. Getting two good players for the price of one IS THE WHOLE POINT OF OHTANI.

Magnus Olsson
6 years ago
Reply to  abailey

From a programming standpoint, I’m pretty sure sites like ESPN are simply not setup to handle a player moving between pitching and hitting. It could potentially involve a complete revamp of the system to get that working.

6 years ago
Reply to  Magnus Olsson

Easy answer. Have 2 of him in the system. 1 for pitching, 1 for hitting. If you say, well, that team will have 1 extra player, have a bench or a reserve.

6 years ago
Reply to  abailey

One player being two is crazy, but I’ve read that fantasy hockey Gretzky and divided Gretzky’s goals into one player and assists into another.

6 years ago
Reply to  ds31