Fantasy 101: How to Value 2-Way Players

In 2010, the NCAA first awarded the John Olerud Award—given annually since to the nation’s best two-way player—to Florida State outfielder/pitcher Mike McGee. McGee paired a 1.068 OPS and 17 home runs as a batter with a 2.96 ERA in 27 innings out of the bullpen. In 2011, he was drafted in the 15th round by the Seattle Mariners, and never appeared as a pitcher again. 

McGee is not the reason you and your leaguemates have been debating changing your rules about two-way players. Chances are, neither is three-time Olerud Award winner Brendan McKay, though he could play his way into that conversation going forward.

No; you’re considering what to do with Shohei Ohtani. And cracking his value is no simple case. Does being a “nine-category contributor” make him the most valuable player in fantasy? Does his less-than-full playing time place a cap on his value? Does all the extra work on roster management you’ll have to do mean he’s better off on your opponent’s team?

More so than any almost any other position, two-way players will swing wildly in value depending on your settings. We’ll do our best to cover the simplest cases first.

 

Yahoo Leagues

 

When the Angels acquired Ohtani in late 2017, the large fantasy providers had to scramble to accommodate a player worth playing both as a hitter and as a pitcher. While Zack Greinke has had two seasons with an OPS+ over 100 and Russell Martin has a lifetime 2.21 FIP, neither has had the volume to make starting them outside their full-time role viable. Ohtani’s impending dual-role as both the Angels’ best starting pitcher and their most-days designated hitter looked like a new frontier to explore in fantasy baseball. Fantrax and ESPN took this chance by making Ohtani one player with dual eligibility, but Yahoo opted to split these players into separate component parts.

After Yahoo Fantasy product manager Guy Lake’s announcement that Yahoo will continue this policy going forward, you should prepare for more of the disappointing same. This means drafting these players as if the other half does not exist, comparing Ohtani’s pitching work directly to his pitching peers and his hitting work directly to other hitters. Just be careful to draft the right one at the right time—you wouldn’t want to think you’ve just drafted your third starting pitcher when you’ve filled a utility spot instead.

While this solution does kill much of the fun of owning a two-way player, it is currently the only one that would neatly allow you to start a player as both an offensive player and a pitcher on the same day. Should the Diamondbacks let Madison Bumgarner pinch-hit regularly, the Reds give Michael Lorenzen regular at-bats, or the Rays turn McKay into a combination designated hitter-closer, Yahoo will be the only place where you could slot both halves into your lineup. We can hope that Yahoo to eventually changes its format to align with the rest of the industry, but regardless, things are unlikely to get less complicated.

 

Weekly-Lineups Leagues (Not Yahoo)

 

As constructed, ESPN and Fantrax will make you choose between using your two-way players as either hitters or pitchers in weekly lineups. This means you can’t get batting stats Tuesday and Wednesday, a pitching start on Thursday, and then more at-bats over the weekend. This decision might be a headache for some players, especially if the two halves are roughly equally valuable. But you shouldn’t see it that way: It’s also an opportunity to game both your player’s matchups and the opponent you’re facing to increase your chances of winning.

It’s easy to imagine a situation where a player usually starts as your designated hitter but sneaks into your pitching lineup in a two-start week. Likewise, a player you regularly use as a pitcher might get benched for their start at Coors and become an attractive hitting option that week. Going into draft day, my recommendation would be to take the base value of the player’s stronger position and to add a few extra dollars to account for this flexibility: a player whose better half is worth $8 on its own might be worth drafting for $10.

This scenario depends on both halves being worth either drafting or streaming occasionally. If you choose to bench McKay as a pitcher against the Yankees, start him as a batter only if you think he’ll be better than your other options—and draft him above his pitcher ADP only if you suspect you’ll ever start him as a hitter for a full week.

 

Daily Lineup Leagues (Not Yahoo)

 

Chances are, this is the reason you’re here. Grab a chair and stick around.

Angels GM Billy Eppler says Ohtani should bat four times per week and pitch just once per week, rather than being a part of a regular five-man rotation. There’s no guarantee that other teams will handle their two-way players the same, but chances are there’s a cap on the number of appearances you’ll get as a hitter from someone who is also a regular starting pitcher. This makes Ohtani the ultimate daily-moves player: You’ll be moving him in your lineup at least three, if not four times a week.

Annoying as it may be, moving him around is also the path to unlocking his true value. Normally, buying 25 pitching starts and 110 hitting starts means buying two players. But considering Ohtani only takes up one roster spot for two roles, we effectively gain a bench player—and we should give him the credit for any marginal, or extra, at-bats this bench player gives you. We’re not adding their total expected stats together because that bench player will sit quite often, but we should be able to find a rough total of the stats we earn when they do play. Maybe that’s only 50 additional starts; maybe it’s more. But they should count toward Ohtani’s value. We would not do this same calculation for most other batters on the market because he fills two starting spots on your roster. Even if a bench player might fill in the 15 to 20 some games a year when Marcell Ozuna does not play, he isn’t allowing you to place an entire extra bench player on your roster!

We still have to buy this bench player, though, so we’ll have to subtract that cost, which should be about $1. When you do that, the value left over should be the cost to buy a very similar batter. If Ohtani and the bonus at-bats give you a $20 player, then you should be able to buy a $19 player like Ozuna and the same $1 bench player to fill the same two roster spots—and you should be getting roughly the same batting contribution.

Obviously, the complicating factor is that the second starting spot Ohtani provides is as a pitcher, so buying two hitters can’t really replace what he brings. But because there are always pitchers who earn their way onto fantasy rosters despite limited starts and innings, this isn’t complicated—we’ll just add the draft value if he was only a pitcher. In this end, we’ll be comparing Ohtani and the bench batter to the starting hitter and the starting pitcher who would give roughly the same production. Ohtani will be worth the total value of the hitter and the pitcher together, minus the $1 or so to buy the bench player.

That leaves us with a rough two-way player value formula:

Two-way value = value of (batting stats + marginal bench batting stats) + value of pitching stats – (bench player purchase price)

Marginal is doing a lot of work in making this formula look easier than it is. For simplicity, we’ll explore rostering a permanent bench replacement for Ohtani, and examining different playing time situations using Pittsburg Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds. I chose him in this example because his ADP of 214 during our mock drafts makes him a bench player, and his 150 projected starts are on the high side among players in this range. To be clear: These values should not change much using other replacement level players—we’re just using his Steamer projections.

I would use Steamer’s hitting projections for Ohtani, but given what we know about his playing time, 130 games and 543 plate appearances will not be accurate, and I’m not sure how many of those games will be as a pinch hitter. I’m instead prorating his two-year averages per game over the 108 games he would play at four batting starts per week. To start, I’ll keep his pitching projections—19 games might be conservative, but it’s not unlikely. 

One last note: I used the calculations that I’ve laid out in our explainer on how to calculate your own auction values to arrive at my prices. These are based on Yahoo standard 12-team settings, even though Yahoo is not currently a place where this section applies. I’ve done this mostly because this is the most transparent dollar calculation method I can point to, and only partially because Yahoo Fantasy’s team deserves to know what it’s depriving us of. If you play in an ESPN standard league with five outfielders, a middle infielder, and a corner infielder, you’ll be looking at different dollar values because you have to buy more starters, but so long as you’re using the same categories, the rankings should be roughly the same. If you choose instead to look up the average auction values of the players I compare the combined batting stats to, you should probably arrive at a similar place anyway.

The first scenario to look at is a conservative estimate that just uses Reynolds to fill your utility spot’s 162-game appearance cap and does not use him at all beyond that. This would probably represent bad in-season management, but it also works as a nice floor.

Conservative Hitting Estimate: 162 Batter Games played

The estimated hitter earned value of $29.9 is about the same as Trevor Story‘s. While lagging in home runs and stolen bases, our pair makes up this gap with leads in runs and average.

Pitching Estimate: 19 Pitcher Games played

The estimated pitcher value of $10.90 is $2.00 more than Lance McCullers Jr.‘s. Both are coming off of Tommy John surgery and should be useful in lower start counts than many other pitchers in the same price range. Ohtani helps your ratios far more but lags behind in the counting stats.

After subtracting $1.90 to buy Reynolds, the total estimated value of $38.90 for Ohtani would be the eighth-most valuable player in fantasy, ahead of both Ronald Acuña Jr. and Walker Buehler. Steamer’s affinity for top-end starting pitching and pessimism toward Acuña aside, the benefits received from that additional roster spot turn Ohtani from a $9 batter into a $29 batter, a difference roughly equal to the projected gap between Ozuna and Avisail Garcia.

There’s a strong chance that Reynolds finds playing time in the outfield or at your other utility spot without reducing any other player’s time in your lineup. With the top 120 batters averaging a projected 142 games, that leaves at least 180 total games for your bench to cover. Configure your bench any way you want, but you can almost guarantee Reynolds will give you some additional games on days when Ohtani plays.

So what happens if you slot him in just 20 times without leaving anyone else who could be playing on the bench?

Average Hitting Estimate: 182 Batter Games played

The estimated hitter value of $37.60 is equal to Francisco Lindor and just ahead of Cody Bellinger. Our pair trades more RBI for slightly fewer home runs, runs and steals compared to Lindor. You could also trade stolen bases and runs for Bellinger’s home runs.

Pitching Estimate: 19 Pitcher Games played

We held pitching values equal here, so $37.70 in hitting plus $10.90 in pitching minus $1.90 to buy Reynolds give us a $46.60 total value. This not-crazy scenario places Ohtani behind only Mike Trout, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, and Max Scherzer.  Take Steamer’s aggressive projections for the top few pitchers or leave them; it seems more notable that these numbers would have Ohtani $6 ahead of Christian Yelich in total added value and that the $28.50 jump in hitting value is equal to the projected gap between Juan Soto and David Dahl. Obviously, healthy skepticism about projections isn’t out of line here, but it is hard to deny than any batter with nearly 220 combined runs and RBI, 50 combined home runs and steals, and a .286 average would be a first-round hitter.  Adding on the pitching value, which we still kept in line with Steamer’s lower projections, only pushes Ohtani higher up this list.

Finally, let’s dream a little. What happens if we find even more at-bats for Reynolds and prorate Ohtani to 25 starts, one per week with some rest still built-in, rather than just the 19 Steamer gives him?

Aggressive Hitting Estimate: 200 Batter Games played

The estimated hitter value of $44.60 is $1.60 higher than Yelich. The difference in RBI is the key—that would be highest in the league. Yelich almost closes the gap based on stolen bases and average but falls just short.

Aggressive Pitching Estimate: 25 Pitching Starts

The estimated pitcher value is $16.60, which is $0.60 more than Chris Paddack. In terms of value, the gap in ERA is slightly more than the gap in WHIP, and the extra win doesn’t make it up.

That’s independently the second-best hitter and the 24th-best starting pitcher in this scenario, and the jump in hitting value of $35.50 is bigger than the jump from Eric Hosmer to Bellinger. This $59.30 season blows both Cole’s $51.30 and Trout’s $48.30 out of the water. If Ohtani is fully healthy and stays that way, while just being most of how good he was in 2018 as a hitter, your league could be over early.

More than anything, this exercise should show that good in-season management practices, such as hitting your innings caps and filling out your batting lineup, can be just as important as identifying which pitchers and hitters are actually good at their jobs. That Ohtani checks all of these boxes could give him the highest ceiling in fantasy next year.

You won’t necessarily have to use your extra roster spot on an additional hitter, but chances are, that’s where you’ll have to opportunity to use a player. In leagues with caps on innings pitched or pitcher starts, you may be projected to reach your limits even if you draft Ohtani and his reduced workload. This makes slotting him in at DH part time, using your normal bench to fill his off days, and overloading on pitcher a low-value proposition. But, for the sake of argument, let’s look at what you’d get out of Ohtani and Tyler Duffey, whom you should be able to buy for cheap despite the fact that he is very likely to return a positive dollar output even with zero saves.

Pitching Estimate: Bonus Late-Round Reliever

The estimated pitcher value is $20.20, just ahead of Carlos Carrasco. With his batter value of $9.10 and Duffey’s $1.60 cost, the total value of $27.70 would be 26th overall, just behind Alex Bregman and Stephen Strasburg. Importantly, the added value provided from Ohtani’s dual-eligibility is only $10.70, lagging far behind the added value in several of the other situations.

I must admit that I am somewhat skeptical of this result, but mostly because I think Ohtani may have more value as hitter in all formats than linear calculators, such as the FanGraphs auction calculator or even the one I’ve described, are capable of estimating. Ohtani may start fewer games as a hitter than the league average, but any team that drafts him will almost certainly be able to cover some of those games with their bench. As we discussed above, the choices that players make with their bench in-season greatly affect how much value they can squeeze out of their players. I suspect that in practice, the smartest play may be to enter the season with your extra roster sport filled by a batter, fit that player into your lineup as many times as possible by taking advantage of multiple batter eligibilities (or just by streaming), and racing ahead of your start cap for hitters—only to shift gears halfway through the season and pick up a reliever. In other words: to take half of the benefits of the aggressive hitter estimate and half the benefits of an extra pitcher. As this is a best-case, we’ll also use the aggressive projection for Ohtani’s innings, but you should be able to piece together the math for less aggressive projections.

Aggressive Half-Season Hitting Estimate: 154 Batter Games played
The estimated hitter value is $26.80, which is $1.50 ahead of Rafael Devers‘ conservative projection from Steamer. This is almost directly a trade of stolen bases for average. Note that on the whole, this is the lowest batting projection, which means that even by working to get your bonus batter into the lineup as often as possible, you’re very unlikely to exceed any start limits if you only do this for a half-season.
Aggressive Pitching Estimate: 25 Pitching Starts
The estimated pitcher value is $21.40, which is $0.60 more than James Paxton. The extra save and better ERA make the difference, despite a slightly lower WHIP overall. In total, the value of $46.30 does not come close to the total for a full season of aggressive hitting, but it would still be fifth overall—and just ahead of the middle-ground estimate for hitting only and less lofty projections for Ohtani’s pitching. It seems that the optimal play is to use your bonus spot for a hitter.

Right now, projection-based values are next to impossible to compute for McKay, as we have no idea how he’ll fit into their plans. Steamer does not have a hitting projection for him, and his pitching projection pencils him as a near-average fantasy starter, but only once he’s called up later in the year. He never hit full-time in the minors, but he did produce a WRC+ north of 100 as high as Triple-A, making him more someone to fit into your lineup if you can do it for free, but not one to build a strategy around. In the future, you might consider him more likely to be the bench player in the model above—think about how many extra at-bats he’ll add to another player, rather than as the starter in your utility spot.

 

Daily Points Leagues (Not Yahoo)

 

You can apply these same ideas to a daily points league even more easily. Roughly speaking, it looks like:

Two-way value = value of (hitting points over replacement + marginal hitting points) + value of pitching points over replacement – cost of additional hitter

Scoring settings will differ widely, but generally, you should be able to find these numbers fairly easily by finding out which players would be the last players drafted—remember, it matters who plays, not who doesn’t! All this might make Ohtani the highest-scoring player in your points league, just like he might be in rotisserie leagues. But if replacement-level at-bats aren’t worth anything in your league, then Ohtani may not offer much more surplus value than two players with his hitting and batting stats. The entire point of this exercise is to know your league. Make sure to do that!

 

Other Variables to Consider

 

Largely, I have tried to leave very particular league settings as far from the discussion as possible, but because the bonus you receive from that additional roster spot will depend on what you get for it, it’s worth considering what factors will inflate or deflate its value.

First and foremost, the number of bench spots you start with will affect your situation. The bonus at-bats will matter more if your bench is usually just one healthy batter.  ESPN standard leagues with just three bench spots and a one-player IL tend to give you more of a bonus in this regard than Yahoo leagues with five bench spots and a two-player IL.

Second, smaller starting lineups will also make your at-bats go farther. Yahoo standard has three fewer starting lineup spots than ESPN, which tends to mean that it takes fewer overall home runs to win the category, and makes bonus bench appearances far more important. Yahoo offsets this bonus with its larger benches, but if your league pairs a small bench to a small starting lineup, Ohtani’s value skyrockets.

The depth of your league is an obvious factor, but don’t be tempted to over-estimate how much your bench players are worth or go shopping for a more expensive one. Jean Segura is worth more to a player starting him every day than to someone starting him half the time, so don’t pay for value you won’t get! Shallower leagues tend to have better average players, too, making Ohtani less valuable by himself and leaving a larger gap for the bonus at-bats to make up for. One difference to consider is that deeper leagues tend to force you to roster platoon players, pushing down season-long appearances and making more room for a bonus bench player to get into a lineup. 

If there is a type of player to be targeting for that extra bench spot, it should be a player with multiple positional eligibilities. This holds true in general for bench players—they’ll fill in more often if they have more opportunities! The same logic should also point you toward players with regular starting jobs who may not necessarily have the highest upside. You won’t want to fill in your entire bench this way, especially at the beginning of the year when players who have changed their approach or just gotten healthy tend to break out. But if you’re getting a larger bench, rostering at least one player who regularly contributes may make it easier to hold on to the higher-upside players you can’t always start.

That leads to another consideration: streaming. As we saw above, trading in a reliable floor for an approach that tries to maximize at-bats can be a great way to get the most out of your extra spot. If your league does not have a cap on at-bats, starts, or any other batting stats, consider trying to get your bonus player into your lineup as often as you can. While almost every team plays every Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday, you may be able to get a streamed player into your lineup four or more times a week, once you’ve accounted for rest. If Ohtani is regularly pitching or just resting on those days, this strategy may become even more viable. I didn’t calculate 225 combined appearances between Ohtani and a streamer, but I’ll let you imagine.

Finally, you should give some thought to how and how much time you want to put into team management. A healthy Ohtani is going to embarrass a lot of pitchers, hitters, and fantasy writers this year. He can easily be worth his high draft price, but only if you’re willing to put in as much work as the Angels front office to use him correctly. He’ll undoubtedly be fun to watch at his best—just make sure he’s the best fit for you.

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Alexander Chase

Alexander Chase starting playing fantasy baseball in 2010 because he didn't have a real team to support. Since moving to Baltimore, he still hasn't found one, but he likes Camden Yards. Alexander tweets about sports at @chase_rate.

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Comments


David

Thank you, Alevander, for this thorough discourse. It is so well done. Just the reason I love PitcherList!

Dave Niehaus

Your insight into fantasy ball is excellent. The Babe offers a study in either/or that might end up applying for the Halos.
I remember first playing fantasy ball in the 80’s before the internet. We had Bill Mazeroski, Street and Smith and calculated the stats from the Sporting News Baseball Weekly. If I had been armed with your tools I might have won more often.

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