How Efficient Were 2017 Ottoneu Auctions?

Imagine it’s March of 2017 and you’re getting ready for your ottoneu auction in a first year league. Obviously with the benefit of hindsight we know you should target the breakouts of ’17 like Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Cody Bellinger, but is there a macro level strategy that you could have employed to take advantage of the inefficiencies of the auction market? In this post I’m going to examine the average auction values for 30 first year FanGraphs points leagues from ’17, compared to the real value those players provided (based on my retrospective ’17 dollar values).

Up first, let’s take a look at the most valuable players who were not drafted in a single one of those first year auctions (note- AAV is the average auction salary, Value is based on ’17 actual performance, and Delta is the difference between the two):

Top Undrafted Players
Pos Player AAV Value Delta
OF Tommy Pham $ – $30.2 $30.2
SP Zack Godley $ – $24.1 $24.1
SP Brad Peacock $ – $21.0 $21.0
1B Logan Morrison $ – $19.9 $19.9
SP Chase Anderson $ – $19.8 $19.8
SS Chris Taylor $ – $19.2 $19.2
2B Whit Merrifield $ – $16.4 $16.4
SS Paul DeJong $ – $16.0 $16.0
1B Mark Reynolds $ – $14.5 $14.5
2B Jed Lowrie $ – $14.2 $14.2

These are just the top ten undrafted players, all told there were 80 players not drafted in a single league that ended up providing at least $1 in ’17 value, totaling $518 in value that went undrafted. Presumably any of these players could have been won for just $1 at auction, or acquired via 48 hour auctions for $1 or $2 early in the spring. It’s impossible for the auction market to be 100% efficient when it comes to valuing the eventual pool of worthy players, but it’s jarring to see how many really good performances could have been had for nothing.

Up next, a look at the top players who were drafted in those first year auctions, but had an average auction salary of $1 or less:

Top $1 Players
Pos Player AAV Value Delta
1B Ryan Zimmerman $0.2 $28.0 $27.8
SS Zack Cozart $0.9 $27.6 $26.7
SP Jimmy Nelson $0.0 $25.5 $25.5
OF Avisail Garcia $0.0 $23.2 $23.2
1B Justin Smoak $0.0 $23.0 $23.0
RP Alex Wood $1.3 $23.7 $22.4
RP Corey Knebel $1.4 $23.7 $22.3
3B Travis Shaw $1.1 $23.1 $22.0
SS Marwin Gonzalez $0.4 $20.3 $19.9
SP Charlie Morton $1.0 $20.1 $19.1

More of the same on this list, with a total of 85 players and $682 in value that could have been had for a minimum auction bid. Many of these players were only auctioned in 1-3 leagues, making them nearly as “free” as the undrafted players above.

Now, let’s take a look at the players that returned the most value that were auctioned for $2 or more:

Top $2+ Players
Pos Player AAV Value Delta
OF Aaron Judge $4.7 $58.5 $53.8
SP Luis Severino $2.2 $37.4 $35.2
OF Charlie Blackmon $29.6 $57.2 $27.6
OF Marcell Ozuna $10.2 $36.8 $26.6
OF Cody Bellinger $5.7 $31.0 $25.3
OF J.D. Martinez $23.2 $44.0 $20.8
OF Michael Conforto $5.2 $23.6 $18.4
SP Corey Kluber $36.4 $54.6 $18.2
OF Domingo Santana $5.4 $23.5 $18.1
SP Gio Gonzalez $5.1 $21.9 $16.8

This list is comforting in its similarity to the players that attracted the most arbitration this offseason (especially the first five names).

Here’s the flip side of the coin, the drafted players who returned the least value:

Worst Drafted Players
Pos Player AAV Value Delta
1B Miguel Cabrera $44.6 $ – $(44.6)
SP Noah Syndergaard $47.9 $10.1 $(37.8)
SS Manny Machado $52.0 $15.6 $(36.4)
SP Madison Bumgarner $44.3 $9.3 $(35.0)
SP Clayton Kershaw $67.3 $34.3 $(33.0)
SP Johnny Cueto $31.6 $ – $(31.6)
OF Mookie Betts $51.4 $26.1 $(25.3)
SS Trevor Story $26.8 $2.3 $(24.5)
OF Carlos Gonzalez $27.3 $2.8 $(24.5)
OF Jose Bautista $24.2 $ – $(24.2)

Ouch, raise your hand if you owned at least a few of these players last year (I know I did).

Those tables are interesting from a micro/player level, but what if we start to look at them from a macro/position level? First, let’s look at how the undrafted and $1 players broke down by position:

Undrafted/$1 Value By Position
Pos Count Value %
C 6 $47.0 25.07%
1B 10 $156.8 32.78%
2B 6 $51.6 17.25%
SS 7 $91.5 28.73%
3B 6 $43.3 14.87%
OF 20 $188.1 16.16%
SP 39 $300.1 23.73%
RP 51 $227.2 40.46%

Basically, this table shows how much production/value at each position was undrafted or valued at auction as replacement level ($1).

It’s often discussed among ottoneu owners that it’s relatively easy to find productive relievers cheaply, and this seems to reinforce that idea. I was surprised by how much value was lost at 1B, until I remembered the crazy number of breakouts at the position this year (Zimmerman, Smoak, Morrison, Mancini, Alonso).

Up next, a look at the return on investment by position for those players the ’17 auction market did value as above replacement level ($2+ AAV):

Undrafted/$2 Auction ROI
Pos Salary Value Net ROI
C $189.9 $140.5 $(49.4) -26.0%
1B $391.5 $321.5 $(70.0) -17.9%
2B $329.2 $247.6 $(81.6) -24.8%
SS $473.6 $227.0 $(246.6) -52.1%
3B $262.0 $247.8 $(14.2) -5.4%
OF $1,140.6 $975.6 $(165.0) -14.5%
SP $1,231.9 $964.6 $(267.3) -21.7%
RP $409.9 $334.3 $(75.6) -18.4%

The last table served as a way to show how easy it was to find production cheaply, while this table shows how easy it was to find production when you paid more for it. If you spent money on a shortstop this past year, odds are you had a bad time, while third basemen were surprisingly sound investments. Other than those two positions, everywhere else saw a -15% to -25% ROI.

The biggest takeaways for me from this data is to change my assumptions on which positions are truly worth paying a premium for (ottoneu owners place a big premium on SS, but the position was a bust last year), and which positions have freely available production and should have their replacement level baselines adjusted up (like 1B/RP).

We hoped you liked reading How Efficient Were 2017 Ottoneu Auctions? by Justin Vibber!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs

Justin is a life long Cubs fan who has been playing fantasy baseball for 20+ years, and an ottoneu addict since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @justinvibber.

newest oldest most voted

I was in one of those first year leagues, and drafted 3 of the 10 underperformers (Bautista, Story, and Kershaw) and finished 3rd.