2022 Ottoneu Arbitration Player Data

Yesterday we looked at league and team data, today we turn our attention to player data. This is, arguably, the more interesting data. It has an immediate impact, since it tells us something about player valuations as we get ready for trade season. It also is an interesting signal outside the Ottoneu universe for the same reason – it’s a signal early in the off-season about how players are being valued. Arbitration data has, historically, influenced my rankings, keeper plans, and more. The wisdom of the crowds can be a powerful thing.

I teased this in yesterday’s article, but let’s start with the ten players who received the most arbitration dollars across all leagues:

Players Receiving the Most Arbitration Dollars
Player Total Dollars Leagues Allocated $/League
Julio Rodriguez $1,550 114 $13.60
Shohei Ohtani $1,296 112 $11.57
Yordan Alvarez $1,224 114 $10.74
Aaron Judge $1,068 111 $9.62
Sandy Alcantara $1,005 112 $8.97
Spencer Strider $1,001 114 $8.78
Austin Riley $977 113 $8.65
Dylan Cease $869 111 $7.83
Shane McClanahan $869 108 $8.05
Carlos Rodón $746 108 $6.91

Note that the sample being used here – all Ottoneu Prestige League-eligible leagues that had all 12 teams complete arbitration on time – is 114 leagues. A total of 438 players received $34,200 in allocations across these leagues. Rodriguez, Alvarez, and Strider were the only three players who received at least $1 in every single league.

The good news here is that the crowd was pretty wise. There are no particularly weird or surprising results here. Ohtani, Judge and Alvarez were both already stars, but clearly raised expectations. Rodriguez and Strider were super-rookies who came in cheap and needed a pay boost.

The most interesting name on here, to me, is Austin Riley. Riley, of course, broke out last year, not this year. That’s a bit of a simplification, but not much. In 2019-20, Riley 553.6 points over 131 games for 4.23 points per game. In 2021, he jumped to 1013.2 points over 160 games for 6.33 P/G; this year he increased that to 1033.3 points over 159 games, or 6.50 P/G.

If we had ended up 2021 assuming Riley would just repeat his performance in 2022, we could have hit him with up to $33 in arbitration per league, pushing his salary towards the $40s and he would have needed little to no arbitration this year. Instead, that is very clearly not what happened. In the 113 leagues where he received arbitration, Riley came into the arbitration period with a median salary of $18 and left with a median salary of $27.

I love seeing this because it suggests managers (wisely, in my view) hedged a bit on Riley last year. He looked like a star! He had pedigree and we all knew this breakout might happen! And yet his salary was pushed only to the mid-teens (remeber, that $18 pre-arb median was after the $2 increase at the end of the season).

You could put Carlos Rodon in the same boat – 2021 breakout that resulted in some arbitration but not a ton, leaving plenty of space to allocate more to him this year. His case is different though. He ended 2021 with injury concerns, then the White Sox didn’t extend a Qualifying Offer and we all (rightly, I think) questioned his long-term health.

Regardless, the path with Riley is the one I generally prefer. Push a breakout up, but not to his full value – you can always push him to his full value once he proves the breakout was real.

This gives me a little pause with Rodriguez and Strider. And I think it also helps to explain why they didn’t each get $20+ on average. Rodriguez has been a star in the making for years. Strider was less heralded, but his performance in 2021 was incredible and leaves little room to doubt how great he is.

However, I think holding back a bit on both is smart. The track records are short and even if they repeat what they just did, you can drive up the price further next year, just like we apparently all did to Riley.

I also noticed that more than half of the ten names on the list above are pitchers. Whether there are six pitchers out of 10 total names or five pitchers out of nine players that aren’t Ohtani, or however you want to treat Ohtani, that is kind of a lot of pitchers. Ottoneu lineups include 22 starters, and while 10 are pitchers, only five are starters and relievers rarely get much arbitration. On a typical 4o man roster, teams carry anywhere from 14 to 20 pitchers, but on average they make up less than half of the rostered player pool at any given time, and starters make up about a quarter of it.

A total of 187 pitchers received at least $1 in arbitration (42.7% of the 438 total players who received at least $1), and they received $15,234 total, accounting for 44.5% of total dollars allocated.

This is a slightly surprising result. In reviewing 2021 arbitration from league one last month, I noted that 24 of 69 players who received at least $1 were pitchers. This year in league one, 60 players received allocations and 26 were pitchers. So for league one, we saw a pretty sizable increase in pitchers as a share of players receiving arbitration (34.8% to 43.3%) and the final number is very similar to the overall number (42.7% noted above). “Allocate to hitters” has also been a fairly typical strategy for Ottoneu managers, historically. So there is at least very anecdotal data to suggest that more pitchers were allocated to than in the past.

There could be a few reasons for this. First, I could just take full credit and note that I recommended more pitcher allocations in the article linked in the last paragraph. This is obviously the impact of my vast influence. More likely, the environment in the game changed. Offense was down, pitching was up. As a result, more pitchers and fewer hitters performed above their price, given prices were set by pre-season expectations. It’s also possible that this is cyclical – large allocations to pitchers this year mean that pitching surplus is lower through next season, resulting in more hitter surplus after 2023, and an increase in allocations to hitters a year from now.

The only one of the explanations I am confident in is the second – pitching was better this year so more pitchers had value above what we expected. That does suggest something we need to be cautious of – you are allocating dollars towards next year’s salary, and that means performance in next year’s environment. What will that be? I have no idea. All we can do, I think, is not overreact to the environment one year. If a pitcher was great this year and you believe it was because of the environment, it might be worth going easy in arbitration.

Also, while no prospects came close to sniffing the top 10 overall, there were 72 prospects (16.4% of 438) who received at least $1 and they received $1,199 total, or 3.5% of all allocated dollars. I’ll be honest, I think that number is a little higher than it should be, but it is probably low enough to be fine. There were some surprising prospects who received allocations, but nearly half those dollars ($529) went to Gunnar Henderson and Corbin Carroll, and I can’t argue with that too much.

Looking at player allocations in individual leagues, while Rodriguez received the most total arbitration, he was not the player to take the single biggest hit in one of these 114 leagues.

Largest Individual Player Arbitration Increases
Player Name Dollars Allocated League ID Team Name Team Place Previous Salary Current Salary
Shohei Ohtani 25 137 Big City Bears 4 38 63
Sandy Alcantara 24 663 ⚾️ Leather Daddy ⚾️ 2 14 38
Shohei Ohtani 23 907 JetertheGOAT 1 46 69
Julio Rodriguez 23 907 Welcome to Flavortown 2 10 33
Julio Rodriguez 23 791 Saratoga Greens 11 8 31
Julio Rodriguez 23 26 Detroit City Rockers 4 7 30
Sandy Alcantara 22 1040 Rio Grande Rustlers 8 10 32
Shohei Ohtani 22 513 Caught Stihling 1 34 56
Sandy Alcantara 21 1016 Arthurian Legends 2 13 34
Shohei Ohtani 21 207 Shohei me the way 1 32 53
Shohei Ohtani 21 375 Big Ozuna Burger 6 28 49
Julio Rodriguez 21 1360 Milton Bradley’s 7 14 35
Julio Rodriguez 21 530 SABRmagician✨ 10 10 31

This table shows the 13 cases on a specific player receiving more than $20 in allocations in a single league. No surprise that Rodriguez and Ohtani make up the majority of this list. Multiple leagues pushed Ohtani up by >$20 despite him already having a salary in the 30s!

The most questionable ones to me on this list are the Alcantara’s being pushed into the mid-to-upper-30s. Alcantara is excellent, no question. And projections are far from perfect. But the initial run of the 2023 values in the Surplus Calculator have Alcantara ranging from $20-$26, depending on league format. I can easily argue that the Steamer projection those are based on is too weak. I could see saying he is a $30 pitcher. But I am not sure I want to gamble that he is a $40 – nearly 2x the projection. I think it would have been wiser to let Alcantara sit closer to $20 total (rather than more than $20 in arbitration allocations) for 2023. As with Riley, you could always push him to $40 next year.

A long-time fantasy baseball veteran and one of the creators of ottoneu, Chad Young's writes for RotoGraphs and PitcherList, and can be heard on the ottobot podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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