I am currently the proud owner of two Ottoneu teams, both in their third year of existence. Of the 80 players between the two rosters, just six of them are prospects.
This is not, in my experience, the typical roster construction. Most teams in my leagues have been carrying anywhere from 5-10 prospects, with losing teams maybe carrying significantly more. Both of my teams are in their third seasons; one has been solid in both years (third in 2011, first in 2012), the other jumped from 10th in 2011 to second in 2012. In general, I’ll pick up a few prospects as the season goes on, but I particularly avoid prospects in the auction.
Questionable strategy? Perhaps. Prospects provide access to the cheapest talent money can buy in ottoneu. So here’s why I do it:
Prospects Come And Go
Prospects either lose their prospect status or graduate to the majors eventually. This is particularly true for top-100 lists — the information many ottoneu drafters go off, as we aren’t scouts — as a player’s proximity to the majors is typically a factor.
So thanks to turnover, there isn’t a major scarcity of prospects, and we see many breaking into relevance midseason. Additionally, the draft and international signing periods occur during the season, adding a number of viable prospects to the player pool who can be tapped in June or July.
In short, skipping out on prospects in the auction does not take you out of the prospect market. Going out of the player market in the auction does. Just 11 position players in the FanGraphs Staff points league who were picked up during the season managed over 600 fantasy points out of 131 total, and just three managed over 700 out of 91 total.
It’s Just A 12-team League
After a grueling eight-hour auction, it’s easy to think of Ottoneu as a deep league. But despite the 480-deep player pool, it’s the 264 starters who generally decide the league. Ottoneu has a much lower percentage of starting players than even most dynasty leagues, which typically employ a separate minor league system as opposed to using every roster spot for every type of player.
As such, replacement level is still pretty high. Position players need to be worth over a point per plate appearance (C/1B/OF) or 0.9 points per plate appearance (2B/3B/SS) depending on their position just to break replacement level.
So whereas a prospect can be successful in the majors if he merely makes the majors and becomes a second-division starter, to be useful in Ottoneu — particularly, to be a player worth the $5 or more a prospect usually costs by the time he reaches the majors — he has to not only pan out well enough to make the majors, but well enough to be in the top half or so of starters at his position.
Chris St. John recently posted a brilliant study at Beyond The Box Score covering the likelihood of breakout in Top-100 prospects (as rated by Baseball America. Just 14.8 percent of Top-100 prospects are 2 WAR players or better in their rookie years; another 14.8 percent hit the threshold in their sophomore seasons, 12.2 in their third seasons and 6.7 percent in their fourth (and it’s my general policy not to even bother trying to project any more than four years out; we’re bad enough at the first four).
A whopping 39.4 percent of top-100 hitting prospects never reach even the league average 2 WAR mark; only 29.6 percent do in their first two seasons after reaching the majors, much less their first two after appearing on a top-100 list. The results for pitchers were even more discouraging: 48.8 percent of pitchers never reach 2 WAR and only 28.0 percent reach it within their first two MLB seasons.
WAR isn’t fantasy value, but it’s a pretty decent proxy, particularly for an Ottoneu points league. The average player picked up 1.10 fantasy points per plate appearance in points leagues in 2011, only 10-15 percent higher than replacement levels calculated by Justin Merry (1.00-1.05 for C/1B/OF, 0.90-0.95 for 2B/3B/SS). 106 qualified players picked up over 1.0 fantasy points per plate appearances in 2012, the exact same number that posted at least 2.0 WAR in 2012.
If the threshold is All-Star level instead, the outlook is even bleaker. Just 10.6 percent of players reached All-Star level within two years of breaking into the majors and just 21.2 percent did so within four years (again, numbers are slightly lower for pitchers).
I am familiar with people who play in 20 or 30-team dynasties. In those leagues, prospects who turn into even 1 WAR-equivalent players can be very valuable. Ottoneu is not one of those formats, and as such the prospect’s bust potential and limited boom potential makes me hesitant to invest much of my $400 budget or 40 roster spots in them.
Roster Spots Are Valuable
The previous two points show why I believe prospects are less valuable than many of my leaguemates do. But there needs to be a reason to substitute prospects for other major leaguers, specifically the kind of major leaguers who tend to slip through the early cracks of the auction. That reason? Platooning.
As mentioned above, Ottoneu is an odd format in that a very low percentage of the roster actually starts (22 out of 40, 55 percent). The extra reserve spots give us an option rarely available to fantasy players: platoons. In most leagues, it’s difficult to compile enough innings pitched while using an extra roster spot for a platoon player. With 18 bench spots in Ottoneu, it’s no problem – assuming reserve spots aren’t being used to stash prospects.
Conveniently, fantasy platooning doesn’t mean one pair of opposite players to fill one starting spot. You could conceivably wring 810 games out of 8-10 left-handed batters against just right-handed starters if you were willing to check the lineups diligently every day. The payoff is there: only 32 hitters (minimum 300 PA) cracked 1.3 points per plate appearance overall, but 65 (same minimum) did against just right-handed starters (from Baseball-Reference’s Batting Split Finder in the Play Index). Lower the threshold to 1.2 points per plate appearance, and the trend continues: 53 against all starters, 92 against just right-handers.
And of course, some of these excellent platoon hitters will be cheap. Dexter Fowler posted 1.56 points per PA and averages under $12; Tyler Colvin posted 1.53 and averages under $4; Jason Kubel (1.51, $6.1), A.J. Pierzynksi (1.49, $3.97), Ryan Ludwick (1.48; $4.2), David Murphy (1.48; $4.3), Garrett Jones (1.40; $3.29), and Will Venable (1.32; $1.93) are just a few examples.
Three players posted between 1.50 and 1.55 points per plate appearance against all starters in 2012: Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre. All three would cost at least $30 in an auction, perhaps into the $40s.
Additionally, you’ll notice a pair of Rockies atop the list. Playing home-road splits with teams like Colorado or Arizona (or, for pitchers, Seattle or San Diego) is another option.
The important point, though, is that this strategy is only tenable because of the extra reserve spots in Ottoneu. Getting more points per plate appearance (or inning) won’t help in a points league unless you can match (or at least approach) the plate appearances of your opponents. And since most of these excellent platoon players do their damage in about half the plate appearances as an everyday player, it stands to reason you’ll need about two roster spots for every starting spot you want to platoon.
The only way to gain extra MLB roster spots in Ottoneu relative to your opponents is to use few roster spots on minor leaguers. It limits the potential for some great future discounts. But through platooning, I’ve found some great present discounts by playing otherwise weaker players in situations where they have an advantage.
Of course, there are negatives. Prospects are a great source of trade value as well as future value, and leaving prospects off my team will make it more difficult to improve it midseason. However, with generally solid teams heading into the auctions in both of my leagues, I think the value I get out of platoons will be enough to propel my squads to the top of the standings come October.
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