Rankings-Based Planning: Preparing for Year 2+ in ottoneu

Last week, I talked about the “no-plan plan”, the approach I use for new ottoneu leagues. But that plan isn’t nearly as effective for most players moving into year two or beyond. Some teams are rebuilding, starting almost from scratch, entering the auction with 30 open roster spots and $350 to spend, and for them, last week’s plan is a-ok.

But what about the majority who have 10-15 spots to fill and specific needs? I try to use my rankings to establish the holes in my team, assign dollars to fill those holes, and pick targets who I think can be nabbed for those dollars.

I’ll use the FanGraphs Experts League as an example. You can see my roster for that league here.

Now, it is one thing to say I have three MI and seven outfielders and so those spots are filled. But you don’t REALLY have five equivalent OF slots – you have an OF1, OF2, OF3, OF4, and OF5. And so using my updated rankings (which have not been published yet – I am working on it, I promise), let’s line up these players by their real position: the spots where I am actually comfortable using them.

Position Player
C1 Wilin Rosario
MI Howie Kendrick
3B Mike Moustakas
OF3 Allen Craig
OF4 Starling Marte
OF5 Nick Markakis
Util Ike Davis
Bench (2B) Dustin Ackley
Bench (SS)  
Bench (OF) Carlos Gomez
Bench (OF) Nick Swisher
Bench Dee Gordon
Bench Brandon Moss
Bench Matt Joyce
SP1 Jered Weaver
SP2 Mat Latos
SP3 Jordan Zimmermann
SP4 Shaun Marcum
SP5 Edwin Jackson
SP6 Corey Luebke
SP7 Chris Tillman
SP8 Julio Teheran
CL Joe Nathan
CL Ryan Madson
CL Casey Janssen
RP/CL Sergio Santos

First off, this list assumes that my prospects are not going to provide much value. I’m assuming that I won’t get much value from Jurickson Profar or Jedd Gyorko at MI, for example. Obviously there is a chance that I will, but I don’t want to count on that.

Next, you will notice that I have seven OF, but as far as I am concerned, I need an OF1 and an OF2. I actually think I have four starting OF (the three I have in the 3-5 slots and at least one of the other 4), because I think Swish and Gomez are above average #5 OF, but I don’t feel great about counting on any of those guys as a number two, let alone a number one.

Similarly, I have only one MI player in my lineup, with two others on the bench (plus my prospects). Again, I think I am a bit better off than the rankings state (I expect a bounce back from Kendrick and I think Ackley can be a solid MI option this year), but based on my rankings, I don’t have a top 12 2B.

Luckily, I am quite happy with my rotation. I think Zimmermann could be a number two in fantasy, and I think Marcum and Jackson are more 3/4 than 4/5. And I am very high on Luebke – I think he becomes a #3 quality pitcher when he returns. And while I need another RP, I am not too concerned about my pen right now.

With this roster, I have $116 to spend and nine spots to fill. The problem is, the guys I need are in short supply. If I want a true OF1, Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun are my only options. Next in line would be Justin Upyon, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, and then guys who have question marks or concerns and are clearly not sure-fire top dogs – Nelson Cruz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andre Ethier, Hunter Pence, Dexter Fowler.

At MI, Hanley Ramirez is an option, but the next best SS are Alexei Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, and Danny Espinosa. Brandon Phillips and Neil Walker are the best 2B options.

At 1B, Pujols is out there, but then you are looking at the previously mentioned Gonzo, and Paul Konerko, Mark Teixeira and Eric Hosmer.

So what is a fella to do? Well, first, I think I basically have to get one of Pujols, Braun, Kemp, or Hanley. And I think I’ll likely focus on the OF. I think Davis could potentially play his way into a legit 1B option, and Profar or Gyorko could still help my MI situation. But let’s assume I set aside the $55-$60 (or more) it will take to get Braun or Kemp. What’s next?

I could drop $10-$15 or so on a non-Hanley SS and hope that free agent can join Kendrick and Ackley in a sustainable MI. I could use $20-$25 on one of those 1B options (not named Albert) to fill my 1B/Util slots with Davis. I’d still have $10 or so to grab a 5th RP (hopefully another closer), and then be left with $6-$21 to fill my final five roster slots, which would likely have to include a C, another SS, a backup 3B, maybe another bat, and a prospect or two.

The biggest risk is that with such a limited set of targets, I may have to be overly aggressive early to make sure I get one of those targets. My best case scenario is probably something like this:

$65 for Braun, $25 for Teixeira, $10 for Espinosa, and a handful of $1 flyers. Or perhaps it’s a $50 Pujols, $40 Upton, and a $10 MI.

The point of all of this, is that you need to know not only who you have, but what roles they fill. I “need” only one OF, but the OF I need is my top OF, not just any OF. And what I really need are three bats – an elite bat, a near or potentially elite bat, and a decent bat. And I need them to fit OF, Util, and SS.

The lessons here, I’d say, are as follows:

1) Take some time before your auctions to look at your roster this way and figure out who your targets should be.
2) Realize that an OF is not an OF and a 2B is not a 2B – you have to think about which position you feel your players can comfortably fill.
3) Don’t get too focused on position, but on talent. Yes, I need an OF and 1B, but if I get a premier 1B and a solid OF, that isn’t all that different from a premier OF and a solid 1B.
4) Pay close attention to who is available and where there is depth. I am torn between the second-tier OF and second-tier 1B, but deciding which set I like more will go a long way towards deciding how willing I am to open the wallet for Braun or Pujols or Kemp.

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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

7 Responses to “Rankings-Based Planning: Preparing for Year 2+ in ottoneu”

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  1. byron says:

    I’m normally a huge fan, but this is totally backwards. You absolutely do not need to grab players of certain tiers at certain positions, and you even sorta acknowledge this when you say that your pitchers are overqualified for their spots. A HR (above replacement) from a 2B is the same as a HR (above replacement) from an OF, so why would you pay more at certain lineup spots? Maybe you can get your top options at ever position but OF, then grab two or three of those second guys? Why are you assuming that you’d rather start an OF1, OF2, 2B3, SS3, 1B3 than 2B1, SS1, 1B2, OF3, OF3 without actually mathing up the projections and seeing how much players actually end up going for?

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    • Chad Young says:

      I appreciate the feedback, Byron, and I think I may not have explained myself well, re-reading this.

      My point was more that to be competitive a team needs to fill all those needs…having 5 OF and 3 MI doesn’t mean you have a lineup that can win – you need the right ones. Prior to the auction, I try to identify where I have holes and how I can fill them. In this case, I am missing a #1 OF, a #2 OF, and a solid set of MI, as well as needing a 1B. However, I could fill 1B with Davis and MI with

      Ackley/prospects if I can fill the production I want/need by signing top OF. Or I could move up the OF I have if I can fill my production needs at MI.

      I guess the way I see it is as a matrix. I need an OF, a SS, and a 1B (among other needs) and I need at least 1, ideally 2, elite or near elite level bats. Those bats can come fill any of the positions I need. As I said towards the end, this could be Braun-Teixeira-Walker or Pujols-Upton-Walker or other combos (Hanley-Gonzalez-Ethier could work, for example).

      The point is to use the hard slotting of your lineup to identify your needs and the openings you can use to fill those needs, then to find the right target list of players with the understanding that Braun can be replaced by Ethier or Upton or Fowler (an OF) or by Pujols or Hanley (an elite bat) depending on how the dollars play out at auction.

      Does that make more sense? I feel like I might need to re-do this article to make it more clear.

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      • byron says:

        Thanks for the thoughtful response. I just don’t think you’re stepping back far enough:

        You have a certain amount of money to add the most value to your team. You have some positions that are completely empty, so any value you add there is all plus. You have other positions that aren’t empty, so any value you add there is marginal, so you’ll note the spots with particularly low current values. Once you’ve determined what value there is available (projections, z-scores, etc.), you need to increase the amount of it you’ll be starting by as much as possible.

        That might be going all-in on a top bat, or it might be finding values on a bunch of second- and third-tier players. The ideal strategy will heavily depend on your team’s situation, what other owners need, other owners’ spending patterns, and your personal valuations of players, so you’re going to have to do some reading on-the-fly during the auction, and you’ll never get it exactly perfect. You just have to have your values ready and as good of an understanding of the league landscape as you can so that you can predict and adapt during the auction.

        This doesn’t even get into post-auction trading, which rewards flexibility even more.

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      • Chad Young says:

        I think you and I generally are on the same page – I am just recommending flexibility within a framework. Imagine a 3×3 matrix – OF, SS, 1B across the top, $60+, $30+, $10+ down the side. I can populate that with players (Braun in 60+ OF, Konerko in $30+ 1B, etc.) depending on where I think they fit. And my goal should be to maximize the value I can get within that matrix. The key though is knowing that barring something silly, I cannot get all my top row guys (Braun, Hanley, Pujols) and that I have to make trade-offs. I want to be flexible, but if my attempts to be flexible leave me without filling those needs or without getting a top row guy (or at least 2-3 middle row guys) I am in trouble.

        The thing is while I can go after marginal value over guys I have in place, the ROI is much lower. I could grab a top tier catcher (Posey) and a mid-tier OF (Ethier) instead of Braun and a replacement level catcher, but that doesn’t help me nearly as much, I don’t think. It all depends how the auction plays out, but having that framework in place is crucial…otherwise you risk missing out on what you need and entering the season with (in my case) 3 MI none of who should start at 2B or SS, and 5 OF who are #4 or better, but none who are a #1 or #2. That CAN work…but it is not ideal.

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      • byron says:

        For the marginal improvements, I meant over someone like Ackley, who you’d consigned to the bench, but I would have as my starting 2B with a note that he’s close to replacement level and might be a good target to replace in the auction. There are absolute zeros, where you have no one to plug in there (like a second catcher for you), and almost zeros, where you really want to replace who you have in there (like 2B and SS for you).

        I’m fine with the top of your matrix, but the side of it is too inflexible. Maybe it should be 60-30-10, or maybe it should be 50-30-20, or 70-15-15, or 35-35-30. You definitely want to spend most of your money (though entering an ottoneu season with some extra cash is hardly a disaster), and that’s one place where flexibility can lead you into trouble if you don’t predict how the auction’s going to go. But if you want to get the most bang for your buck, you need to do some work to see where your money is best spent, not just decide it’s on one elite hitter.

        Position surpluses before the season aren’t a problem, as you just need to find someone who’s hurting at that position. There aren’t so many good 2B that you could end up with three and have no one else need one.

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  2. Brandon says:

    Chad – what I think Byron is saying is that it may be more useful to check out aggregate projections for a wide variety of possibilities. I do this with my auction league, testing whether or not I can get the best aggregate value with different combinations of players using whatever projection system I prefer. So, Braun + 2-Tier 1B + 3-Tier MI may not get you as much as 2-Tier OF, 2-Tier 1B, 1-Tier MI. I’ve found this to be the case with my auction keeper league – I’m much better off using a bunch of players I’d consider middle-of-the-pack starter-quality.

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  3. Andrew says:

    To also follow up with (my interpretation) of Byron’s comments, you don’t need an ace to have a great pitching staff – 5 #2/3s makes a great staff. Don’t get obsessed about ‘tiers’, get obsessed about maximizing value out of the roster. This is what we spent two weeks bashing the Royals about, the idea that you NEED to have a certain tier of player at a certain position to do well.

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