Evaluating 2020 Ottoneu Arbitration

A close look at Ottoneu's 2020 arbitration results.

Ottoneu arbitration ended on Nov. 14. While it is important to evaluate the arbitration dollars allocated to your team and in your league, perhaps looking at the overall numbers in the entire Ottoneu universe can provide some insights into off-season strategy.

The inspiration for my approach in this article comes from The Ottobot Podcast. At the 45:30 mark in Episode 21, Chad Young speculates that players who had better results in August than in September (first vs second half) took a larger hit in arbitration dollars.

I have been lucky enough to get access to all the allocation arbitration results, and have put together a Google Sheet that breaks down the following:

  1. Allocation arbitration overall
  2. Allocation arbitration of each league format
  3. Season stats (all FanGraphs categories) for each format
  4. First-half stats (all FG categories) for each format
  5. Second-half stats (all FG categories) for each format
  6. First-half wRC+, wOBA, and FIP
  7. Second-half wRC+, wOBA, and FIP

Please feel free to visit the Google Sheet and investigate. It could, of course, be improved, but it does provide some decent data, despite my lackluster spreadsheet skills.

 

Methodology

 

The way I evaluated first and second half production for hitters was to use wRC+. I also included wOBA in the spreadsheet for reference. For pitchers, I used FIP.

In this article, I am focusing on just the hitters.

Since it was such an unusual season, I had to provide a date for the first/second half split. Since most teams crossed over the midpoint of the season around Aug. 25, I used that as the date for the first and second half split. Obviously, this is not entirely accurate, since this date was not the midpoint mark for all teams. Teams like Miami and St. Louis were well under the 50% games-played mark, thanks to COVID-19 outbreaks, but instead of creating stats for all teams, it was easier to just use this date. For what it’s worth, here are the games played by each team as of Aug. 25.

Games Played by Team as of Aug. 25, 2020

I used a hitter’s first-half wRC+ and subtracted their second-half wRC+. This allowed me to easily show the hitters who had the best first-half production.

Let’s look at the overall numbers.

Of the top-30 hitters, 19 had a better first-half than second-half. Two of those players (Randy Arozarena and Yordan Álvarez) did not have a complete data-set because they did not play in either the first or second half. The remaining nine players in the top-30 allocation had a better second half of the season.

For pitchers, of the top-30 allocations, 19 had a better first half, 10 had a better second half, and one pitched only in the second half.

Of all the pitchers who received allocation arbitration (230), 90 had a better first half, 79 had a better second half, and 61 either didn’t pitch in one or both of the halves. Of the hitters (301), 133 had a better first half, 104 had a better second half, two had the same, and 62 didn’t play in either (or both) half.

So, Chad Young’s off-hand hypothesis looks to be true: Players who had a better first half of the season accrued more allocation dollars than those players who had better second-half production.

Obviously, there are so many reasons why a player might receive more allocation arbitration than another (age, current salary, overall performance, prospective playing time, individual league dynamics, etc.). There isn’t any overarching way that we can look at arbitration dollars and attribute a hard-and-fast conclusion. However, by looking at some of the disparity in allocation for each half, we can draw out some intriguing players.

 

Hitter Analysis

 

Let’s first look at the players who were above-average (wRC+ > 100) in the first half and improved in the second half:

Players with a >100 wRC+ First Half and a Second Half wRC+ Gain

José Ramírez had the highest second-half wRC+ in baseball (qualified). He slashed .353/.445/.804 with 12 home runs and two stolen bases, combining for 50 runs plus RBI. Despite this, he was the 29th-most allocated player. His average salary is $38.44. Let’s draw a comparison here:

2020 Season Stats

Trevor Story and Mookie Betts each performed better in August than they did in September, and each received more total arbitration dollars than Ramírez. While all three are the same age, Betts’ average Ottoneu salary ($57.96) is significantly higher. Ramírez is paid, on average, more than Story, but the difference is small ($38.44 vs. $35.02).

José Ramírez, when compared to Story and Betts, appears to be a tremendous bargain. Though each plays a different position, Ramírez plays the most shallow of the three. There aren’t many third-base eligible players who provide Ramírez’ power-speed production, and Ramírez is the clear standout at the position as the top 3B off the board in 2021 NFBC drafts.

George Springer, Marcell Ozuna, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. were third, fourth, and fifth in their second-half wRC+ improvement. Each had stark differences in their production and arbitration allocation:

2020 Season Stats

Ozuna put up a massive season (1.067 OPS) and, unsurprisingly, had the largest allocation ($747) of the three. Springer was dramatically better in his second half of the season (+81 wRC+) but received the lowest total allocation ($179). This was, probably, due to his age, his free-agent status, and his reputation for missing time due to injury. It also could be that he has the highest average salary ($36.28) of the three players. Many Ottoneu managers hesitate to allocate arbitration dollars to players whose salaries are high, for fear that the manager might drop them and waste the allocation.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is a very interesting player to consider here. While he doesn’t have Ozuna’s power, he was fairly comparable to Springer in most hitting categories (OBP, SLG, HR, RBI) and outperformed him in batting average and stolen bases. Gurriel and Springer had similar first halves (101 and 103 wRC+) and each made nice improvements in the second half (172 and 184 wRC+). Despite the similar results, Gurriel received a larger average allocation ($224 vs. $179), but Gurriel’s $9.34 average salary is massively lower than Springer’s $36.28.

If we consider players who had a positive and lower-than-average (100) wRC+ in the first half, we have a large group of intriguing players.

Players with a <100 wRC+ First Half and a Second Half wRC+ Gain

Somehow, Ozzie Albies skated through arbitration with a shockingly low $289 in total allocation. His average salary is just $22.53 despite being the 30th overall pick in current NFBC drafts (50 drafts) and he is the second 2B-eligible player off the board for 2021. Here is how his season shook out:

Ozzie Albies Stats by Half

Albies started the season but missed much of August with a wrist injury. When he returned from the IL, he was excellent, boosting his wRC+ from 21 in the first half to 152 in the second. When we consider that José Altuve‘s average salary is $35.67, Albies is a tremendous bargain and seems like he should have been a much more aggressively targeted player for arbitration.

Justin Upton had a good second half? The 33-year-old outfielder went from a 6 wRC+ in 78 first-half plate appearances to a 175 wRC+ in his final 88 plate appearances. In September, he slashed .303/.398/.605, banging six home runs, scoring 16 runs and knocking in 15. We aren’t going to get excited about Upton, but it is important to note that he was much improved and was arbed just once for a total of $1 and could be an inexpensive late-auction value if he can stay on the field.

Alex Dickerson is one of those hitters who might be unknown to shallow-league managers. He might also be unknown to non-Giants fans; it’s easy to ignore hitters in Oracle Park. The difference in his first and second halves was stark:

Alex Dickerson Stats by Half

A couple of caveats: Three of his second-half home runs came in one game at Coors Field (September 1st) and Dickerson was only given 12 plate appearances versus left-handed pitching in 2020. If any format of fantasy is best-suited to a platoon player, it’s Ottoneu. Deep rosters and daily transactions reduce the sting of a LHB who only hits against RHP.

When we think about Dickerson, it’s hard not to think about another platoon hitter, Joc Pederson. Pederson had an 88 wRC+ with a .190/.285/.397 line with seven home runs and 37 runs plus RBI. His average Ottoneu salary is $10.60 versus Dickerson’s $4.14.

Toronto first baseman Rowdy Tellez mustered just 127 plate appearances in 2020 thanks to a knee injury and a time-share with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He put up an excellent season and looked very comfortable at the plate all year, slashing .283/.346/.540 for the season.

Tellez’s jump in wRC+ from 91 to 197 is misleading, however. He had just 57 plate appearances in the second half after a knee strain ended his season on September 8th. It is a real shame that we didn’t get to see a full second half; Tellez roared out to four home runs, 11 runs, 10 RBI in his 14 second-half games.

Tellez received just $5 in total arbitration and his $4.07 average salary looks like it could be a bargain if he is able to maintain his approach at the plate, get and stay healthy, and secure regular playing time. A tall order, perhaps, but it won’t cost Ottoneu managers much to find out.

Now let’s tease out some names from those players who had a negative first-half wRC+ and a positive second-half.

Players with a Negative First Half wRC+ and a Positive Second Half wRC+

Jared Walsh is a very interesting case. He played in just seven games in the first half, going 0-for-10. He was sent to the alternate training site on Aug. 3. When he was recalled on Aug. 28, Walsh slashed .326/.357/.719 with nine home runs and 42 runs plus RBI in 98 plate appearances! That was a transformation in wRC+ from -100 to 182 and made Walsh the largest gainer in all those players who received allocation arbitration.

While we may have very legitimate concerns about Walsh’s 98 plate appearances of absolute brilliance, we know that there is a playing time opportunity at first base for the Angels. For more insight into his breakout, Pitcher List’s Cole Bailey looked into the legitimacy of Walsh’s scorching second half.

Walsh was arbed eight times for a total of $8. Ranking him 292nd of total arbitration dollars added. It pushed his average salary to $6.29. Walsh is rostered in 68.63% of Ottoneu leagues. With Albert Pujols‘ career coming to a close, Walsh should be atop the first base depth chart to start the season.

Miguel Andújar spent last off-season recovering from labrum surgery and spent most of the first half of 2020 struggling for playing time. He bounced to and from the Yankees’ alternate camp depending on the health of their regulars. In 22 first-half plate appearances, Andujar sputtered to a .095/.136/.095 line, with a -40 wRC+. His second-half line was much better, .317/.349/.488, but he continued to move in and out of the lineup depending on the health of the regulars.

His 128 wRC+ in the second half isn’t spectacular, but shows that he might be feeling better and could carve out some more regular playing time, especially if the Yankees continue to be beset by injuries. The sample size of 22 first-half and 43 second-half plate appearances is just too small to draw any conclusions, but if you believed in his breakout 2018 season (.297/.328/.527, 27 HR, 83 R, 92 RBI) there may be hope that he has fully recovered from surgery and could be a contributor in 2021.

There were nine hitters who played in just the first half: Yordan Álvarez, Christian Pache, Andrew Benintendi, Lorenzo Cain, Starlin Castro, Yoenis Céspedes, Keibert Ruiz, Mallex Smith, and C.J. Cron.

Thirteen hitters played in just the second half: Randy Arozarena, Gavin Lux, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bobby Dalbec, Jazz Chisholm, Nate Lowe, Luis Campusano, Willians Astudillo, Alejandro Kirk, Sherten Apostel, Mickey Moniak, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Brent Rooker.

Randy Arozarena, of course, topped the list with $788 allocated. His performance during the playoffs was extraordinary. Compare his results in the second half, however, to Ke’Bryan Hayes, who Ottoneu managers may have overlooked:

2020 Season Stats

While 554 managers assigned salary to Arozarena, Ke’Bryan Hayes’ first 95 plate appearances were less impactful to allocation. Hayes is the top prospect in the Pirates’ system and FanGraphs ranks him as the 15th overall prospect, with Arozarena coming in as their 42nd overall prospect.

It seems that in Hayes’ case, managers may not have noticed the numbers he put up in his debut. It seems, also, that other players from this list may have been equally ignored:

2020 Season Stats

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that Bobby Dalbec, Alejandro Kirk, and Brent Rooker are must-add players. 2020 was a lesson in small sample size, and 92, 25, and 21 plate appearances can’t give us a real picture of a player, but each hitter was significantly above average in the second half of the season and each has a low Ottoneu salary. Especially when we consider some of the players who had poor second halves.

Looking at players who had a drop in performance in the second half, it is easy to spot hitters who were ravaged by injuries. Nick Senzel, Bo Bichette, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Chapman all lost time in the second half. What is more interesting are the players who had poor second-half performances, and yet, still received high arbitration.

Of the players whose wRC+ dropped more than 100 points in the second half we have:

Players with an > 80-point drop in wRC+

We can ignore Bichette (knee), Judge (calf), Chapman (hip), and Senzel (undisclosed illness) since their downturn in production can be linked to their time on the IL. Kyle Lewis, however, had a 123-point drop in wRC+ without an injury (or at least one that was disclosed). The AL Rookie of the Year award winner’s season split as follows:

Kyle Lewis 2020 Season Stats

Sure, the caché of the ROY award probably sidled Lewis’ managers with more arbitration, but the shape of his season was drastically front-loaded, while a player like Ozzie Albies ($289), Byron Buxton ($28), and Josh Donaldson ($18) all had back-loaded production and received significantly less in allocation. Granted, each of those players have a higher average salary than Lewis, and managers may be trying to boost Lewis’ cost to his manager, but the drop-off in Lewis’ second half is concerning considering the rising cap hit that Lewis now brings.

Similarly, Luis Robert also took a massive total salary increase. He was arbed 906 times for a total of $1411. Robert had an excellent first half (142 wRC+) but struggled in the second half (82 wRC+):

Luis Robert 2020 Season Stats

While his counting stats were similar in each half, his ratios were drastically different. What is strange about his second-half slump is that while his average, OBP, and slugging all dropped, his walk-rate rose from 7.2% to 10.3% and his K% dropped from 36 to 28.40%. His BABIP, unsurprisingly, dropped from .400 to .215, hurting his ratios.

In the second half, Robert did a better job spreading the ball around the field, upping his Oppo% from 16.1% to 39.1%, but his Hard Hit% dropped from 37.1% to 23.2%. With his soft and medium hit percentages both rising, it is surprising that his Swing% dropped (60.7 to 54.3) and his Z-Contact rose (71.2 to 77.2). His O-Contact also increased from 41.9% to 53.1%, which might explain his weaker contact, lower BABIP, and lower production in the ratio stats.

The question, of course, becomes, “which Luis Robert is the one we can expect in 2021 and beyond?” If Ottoneu managers are any indication, they seem to believe that his first half is more representative of his future production, making him the sixth-higher player in total allocation.

 

Next Steps

 

I can’t recommend this highly enough, but head over to the Google document I created, make a copy, and then make it your own. Use the allocation arbitration numbers for your particular league format because they can vary widely.  Use the differences in wRC+, if you wish, or sort by differences in wOBA. If you are inclined, you can sort by any stat you wish since the entire list of FanGraphs stats are available by each half and the entire season, for both hitters and pitchers.

Also, I have focused exclusively on hitters in this article, but the same can be done for pitchers. I have created columns in each tab for pitchers based on their FIP from the first and second halves. The easiest thing to do is to sort the column titled “Total First V Second FIP” from largest to smallest and then scroll down past the “#N/A” cells (hitters and the pitchers who did not pitch in one or both halves). That will give the biggest improvements in second half FIP.

For example, in H2H FanGraphs Points leagues, Alex Reyes‘ FIP improved 5.56 (from 7.58 to 2.02) and Joe Musgrove was second with a 5.48 improvement (from 6.87 to 1.39). Interesting, considering that, in that format, Reyes received just $1 in arbitration and Musgrove received $2.

In addition to exploring the data, there are numerous things that Ottoneu managers ought to be doing in the off-season.

Allocation arbitration is an excellent way to get the pulse of how players are perceived (or misperceived) in your league. While it is useful to see how players are seen in all leagues, I suggest looking at the managers who allocated to your players and feel them out for a potential trade. If they dinged one of your players with more salary, then they may see them as a keepable, underpriced player.

As we have seen, it is possible to find some real bargains and we should be targeting players whose salaries are lower than they ought to be. We should also consider swapping expensive salaries for players with comparable projected skills with lower salaries.

We need to seriously evaluate the players we have rostered and consider dropping them. With luck, a player who provides similar (or better) stats can be won in the auction for a much lower salary.

Finally, start trading! Ottoneu leagues are open for deals right now until the keeper deadline (January 31, 2021). Ottoneu managers should always be looking for ways to improve their team, so look to move the players that you were going to drop for pieces that will help your team. We might as well, if we can, trade away the players that we were going to drop. This means scouring all the league’s rosters looking for players that will help your team. Reach out to other managers to see if a deal can be found.

Images by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Mark McElroy

When I am not watching baseball or writing about fantasy baseball, I can usually be found cycling in and around Victoria, BC. I contribute at Pitcher List and Creative Sports and can be found on Twitter @markmcelroybb.

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