In my last article, I laid out some strategic principles you can use to find the right kind of position player depth in Ottoneu points leagues. In particular, I looked at how injury risk, platoon splits, and young talent can work to your advantage. In this article, I’ll apply those principles in order to identify a few players that fall into each of these categories and offer some tips for building your roster accordingly. Rather than ranking top hitters or finding individual sleeper candidates, this article will be an exercise in roster construction. That way, when your auction draft comes, you can think about how to adjust your strategy depending on how your league and team shape up. Think about it as target practice.
Exercise 1: Injury-Prone Stars
The general rule here is that star-caliber position players with extensive injury histories are a good opportunity to find production at a discount. But taking advantage of the discount requires rostering the right kind of depth.
Byron Buxton is the obvious name here. Buxton has suffered from a panoply of unrelated injuries with such regularity that his “injury-prone” status is probably warranted. Moreover, Buxton consistently posts high wOBAs, the primary stat you should be using to gauge player value. He makes a perfect candidate for our first exercise: pairing an injury-prone star with fitting bench bats.
The key will be to find players within a low salary range who will put up at least replacement level numbers while getting significant amounts of playing time. I submit for your consideration Pavin Smith, Trevor Larnach, and Mike Yastrzemski.
Pavin Smith is a 26-year-old who played his first full major league season in 2021. The Diamondbacks took Smith in the first round of the 2017 draft, seventh overall, but since then he hasn’t wowed prospect evaluators. Why, then, am I suggesting Smith as a roster target? A few reasons — Smith has a decent wOBA floor, his playing time is all but guaranteed, he bats left-handed, and his average salary in first-year auctions across all Ottoneu formats is $1.
Smith is projected by every major projection system to post ~.318 wOBA, built on well-above-average Whiff% and Chase%. That profile makes Smith good enough for around 4.9 points per game and ~870 combined points across the season if Buxton manages to play just 60 games. What’s more, Smith hits the ball fairly hard. In 2021, his max EV was 110.8 and he put up a well-above-average Hard Hit/PA%. If Smith were to elevate the ball more consistently, his middling wOBA could get significantly higher. Until then, he’s a more than serviceable depth piece for your Ottoneu roster and a great player to pair with Buxton.
Larnach was the 20th overall pick in the 2018 draft, but he received much higher marks than Smith from evaluators. Projection systems are lower on Larnach than they are on Smith. THE BAT projects Larnach to post a mere .308 wOBA in 2022. But, like Smith, Larnach has a good enough approach at the plate (10.3 BB% in 2021) that he should have a decent floor, so long as his K% doesn’t inflate any more than it did last year. Also like Smith, Larnarch bats left-handed, which gives him the platoon advantage more often than not.
What makes Larnach especially interesting in Ottoneu is his future potential. Larnach’s max EV last year was a remarkable 116. His Barrel/BBE% was 9.5. Larnach is entering his age-25 season with only 301 major-league plate appearances to his name. With a $2.75 average salary in first-year leagues, he’s a replacement level bat with breakout potential down the road.
Unlike Larnach and Smith, Yaz isn’t a young, post-hype prospect. He’s a well-known, 31-year-old veteran with three major-league seasons under his belt. Yaz enters the 2022 season after a down year at the plate. From 2019 to 2020, he had a .350 wOBA, but in 2021, he sat at .326. The projection systems suggest that going forward, this is likely who Yaz is. Even still, what makes Yastrzemski attractive as a bench player in Ottoneu points leagues is his high floor, his left-handed bat, and his starting role in the Giants lineup.
In first-year leagues, Yaz has averaged a $5.33 average salary. With a ~.330 wOBA and ~10 BB%, he represents a solid bat that can make your lineup on days where he has the platoon advantage or fills in for Buxton if/when he goes on the IL. The price is slightly higher than Smith and Larnach, but the floor is worth the price if you’ve got unproven talent elsewhere on your roster.
Exercise 2: Platoon Bats
By now you’ve noticed a trend: I am placing an almost extreme emphasis on targeting LHH. My emphasis in this second exercise is no different. We’ll look at a handful of players who may be undervalued in your league, especially if your league has daily lineups because they have the strong-side platoon bats. A solid strong-side platoon bat can offer significant value when paired with the right depth, just like an injury-prone star can. In the first exercise above, I focused on the depth side of the equation, identifying bats to pair with Buxton. In this exercise, I’ll focus on the starting-level side, identifying players who excel against RHP.
Alex Verdugo is only 25, but he’s already played in five major-league seasons. During that span, he’s hit for a .337 wOBA and 110 wRC+. That makes Verdugo a viable, but not stellar starting OF in Ottoneu points leagues. This is reflected in Verdugo’s $11.25 average salary in first-year leagues. But Verdugo offers something that could make him more valuable to your team than the market would suggest: he crushes RHP.
Throughout his career, Verdugo has hit for a .358 wOBA against RHP. Following the procedure I outlined in my last article, we can project Verdugo for 6.3 points in games started by RHP. As part of a deep roster containing other left-handed OF, Verdugo is the perfect candidate for platooning in daily leagues.
Another OF bat with a similar penchant for hitting against RHP. Ian Happ is a switch hitter with severe splits. In his career, he has hit LHP for a .301 wOBA and RHP for a .355. Most projection systems have Happ at ~.340 for 2022 which is supported by his consistently double-digit BB% and Barrel/BBE%.
Happ’s average salary in first-year leagues sits at $11, which makes him a reasonably priced, viable starter. Like Verdugo, however, he offers a strong-side platoon. He’s another good candidate for our platooning strategy and would make an excellent pairing with Verdugo himself. Both players project to average six or more points in games started by RHP (which make up the great majority).
It may come as a surprise that Moncada is on my list of targets for 2022. Moncada has had a very solid start to his career, but his ceiling was so high that even his well-above-average play is often considered a disappointment. That being said, Moncada checks every one of our platoon strategy boxes. He’s a switch-hitting third baseman who projects for ~340 wOBA. Over his career, he’s put up a .358 wOBA against RHP.
One way to see the value Moncada brings is by point of contrast. Consider Jeimer Candelario, another AL Central switch-hitting third baseman. Candelario projects for .330-.340 wOBA which makes him a comparable addition to your roster. Moreover, Moncada’s average salary in first-year leagues is just $10.80 while Candelario’s is just $6. With those projections and these prices, it would be reasonable to prefer Candelario. But unlike Moncada, Candelario’s splits favor LHP. In other words, Candelario has the platoon disadvantage in around 70% of his games.
Moncada could be an ideal platoon candidate for your team, especially when paired with another productive 3rd baseman. You could consider, for example, pairing him with Justin Turner or Josh Donaldson, two third baseman with elite bats who come at a discount (~$11) because of their frequent injuries. Although there is no CI in Ottoneu, the UTIL spot makes rotating ~$10 players a powerful component to any roster strategy.
Exercise 3: Unproven Talent
In this third and final exercise, I’ll look at unproven talent. As I outlined in my previous article, high-ceiling, unproven talent is an excellent way to balance your roster’s present and future while simultaneously adding the necessary depth.
First, let’s take a look at Brandon Marsh. Marsh played in 70 games in 2021 after only 24 games in AAA. Marsh put up just an 86 wRC+, but his pedigree suggests that there is another level to come. The batted-ball data corroborates this. In 2021, Marsh posted a 10.9 Barrel/BBE% and a 112.7 Max EV.
Projection systems have Marsh for .300-311 wOBA in 2022. We can project that Marsh will put up around 4.5 points in games played against right-handed starters. That’s not an incredibly impressive number, but it is also adequate production for a bench player. Since this floor is sufficient enough to be useful, it won’t hurt to roster Marsh. Play him as needed and wait to see how he develops. At just $3.67, he’s worth a stash.
In an extremely small 2021 sample (59 G), Alex Kirilloff hit for a .365 xwOBA with a 12.8 Barrel%, matching his 50/60 hit tool and 60/60 raw power. All projections have Kirilloff above league average in 2022 and THE BAT X projects him for a .338 wOBA. Using my platoon split method, we can project that Kirilloff will post .346 v. RHP and 5.7 P/G with right-handed starters.
Kirilloff comes at ~$9 price tag, but the combination of above-average projections and an excellent prospect pedigree suggest that he is just the type of bat you can use to fill out your roster with high-ceiling talent.
In fantasy circles, Oneil Cruz has been the talk of the offseason. For starters, he’s 23 years old and a 6’7″ shortstop. He also boasts an 80-grade raw power tool. Cruz played in just two games at the end of the 2021 season, but in one of those games, he hit a ball 118.2 mph. In a word: Stantonian.
Projections don’t know what to do with Cruz. Steamer has Cruz putting up a .354 wOBA, tied with Xander Bogaerts and Trea Turner for sixth-best among shortstops. THE BAT, which is for good reason skeptical of prospect performance, has him at .306. In my opinion, the variance speaks for itself: Cruz is not the kind of player you want to rely on for 2022, but he’s exactly the kind of player you should invest in early.
Cruz’s average salary sits at $11.80, which means he’s not quite a bargain, but considering that he’s an LHH at a premium position, he’d make a perfect fourth MI.
Preparing for the Auction
In this article, I’ve showcased nine different players to target, but the larger takeaway is methodological. As you prepare for auctions, you should be identifying bats that can fill out your roster once it begins to take a particular shape. As always, roster decisions are contextual. They depend on the choices you’ve made already and the choices your league-mates make as well. You might find that in your auction some of these players go at a much higher or a much lower price. You’ll have to adjust accordingly. Don’t fret, with enough target practice you can head into your auction ready for anything.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)