Mock Auction Prices vs. Projections – Overpaid Players

Following up on yesterday’s article on “underpaid” players from the Ottoneu mock auction, today we will look at players who were “overpaid.” As with “underpaid” yesterday, “overpaid” is probably not the best term for these guys, but I think it’s the clearest, so we are going with that.

As a reminder, I am using the values from Justin Vibber’s Surplus Calculator, which you can find on his Patreon page. The values in the Surplus Calculator were updated on December 10, so reflect relatively recent Steamer Projections.

Mock Prices Higher than Surplus Calculator
Name Surplus Calculator Value Mock Price Difference
1 Mike Trout 50 64 14
2 Kyle Tucker 26 38 12
3 Cody Bellinger 9 21 12
4 Kris Bryant 13 23 10
5 Julio Rodríguez 0 9 9
6 Jarred Kelenic 0 9 9
7 Eloy Jiménez 17 25 9
8 Bryce Harper 46 54 8
9 Mark Canha 3 9 6
10 Jo Adell 0 6 6
11 Juan Soto 69 75 6

I think this identifies an issue with any projection-based values: I don’t think they do a good job of accounting for the scarcity of elite talent. There are only a small number of bats worth $50+ and having them on your team changes your team construction in meaningful and beneficial ways. As a result, those players tend to be worth at least some premium above their projected value. Spending $75 on Soto instead of $69, and making your second OF $20 instead of $26 is probably a good trade-off to make. In general, I think the top tier players should be more highly valued than a linear valuation model will spit out. That helps to explain why Soto, Harper, and Trout are all on here. I think it also explains Tucker. I went to $38 on Tucker because I believe he could jump into that $45+ tier and, while there is a lot of risk that he won’t, I am willing to pay a premium on Steamer because of that.

There is also a strategic decision that many managers make that can drive up prices, particularly on guys who are perceived as boom/bust. One of the managers that paid for Bellinger pointed out to me that he’s either a $40 player on a $21 contract or he is $21 in cap space one he is cut and picked up by another team. Projections are going to give you a weighted projection for all players, balancing their upside with their downside and the likelihood they hit that upside vs. falling to the downside.

However, in Ottoneu, you can discount that downside for two reasons.

  1. The mean projection that is used to create values includes a bunch of negative values that you can assume away as $0 instead of negative dollars. For example, if the range of outcomes for Adell runs from a .260 wOBA to a .365 wOBA and the mean projection is .312 (as it as as of today), Ottoneu managers can discount everything from .260 to .320 or so. .260 is no different from .280 or .300. So you have to account for the likelihood that he is below .320 but not for the scale below. As a result, his weighted mean value is going to be higher than what’s projected.
  2. The ability to cut a player and get back cap space limits the downside further. If I pay $21 for Bellinger and he is awful, I am not stuck with a $21 Bellinger – I get back at least $10 and up to $21 in cap space.

This definitely applies to Bellinger and Adell, but I think it is also the explanation for Kelenic.

Platoon splits can also create opportunities to break from projections. Canha had 625 PA last year and projects for 580 this year. While that is not quite a full season, it does reflect a lot of PA against LHP, and Canha struggles against LHP. In 2021, he had a .320 wOBA vs. LHP and .340 vs. RHP. That’s enough that Ottoneu managers will likely sit him vs. LHP most of the time, meaning that a bunch of $0 value PA are influencing his projected value. If you leave out 25% of his PA but drive up the average value of the remaining 75%, he is worth more than $3.

The challenge is you have to try to triangulate two things:

  1. Does the projection already assume the player will be used in a platoon role? If Canha had 400 PA in 2021 and they were 90% against RHP and his 2022 projection was for a similar 400 PA, you might assume that there are very few PA against LHP mixed in. Basically, for a player whose team uses them in a platoon role, the projection may already be accounting for that and you don’t want to add any value to the player to make up for it.
  2. Are the weaker platoon splits worth more or less than $0? If less than $0, then any weak-side platoon PA in the projection are actively decreasing the player’s projected value and they are worth a bit more than the projection suggests. If, however, the weaker platoon split is still a positive value, then there is no “hidden value” there.

In general, if you think you are likely to use a player as a platoon bat, first figure out if they are used that way by their MLB team, then figure out just how bad their weaker split is, and then figure out if you can take Steamer at face value or should make an adjustment.

Bryant and Jiménez are related cases to me. In both cases, you can understand why the projections are down compared to the mock prices – Bryant has had some struggles prior to 2021, while Jiménez had a rough and short 2021. In both cases, you can understand why Ottoneu managers are optimistic – Bryant has a ton of talent and has shown in the past he can reach another level, while Jiménez should be able to put his injury behind him and get back on track to stardom.

Players like this – projections in the middle of recent performances that has varied high and low – will almost always go for more than the projection. It only takes two managers to believe that the recent high’s (2021 for Bryant, 2020 for Jiménez) are real to bid a guy up. When you have players whose projections are near their recent highs or who have more consistent recent performances, there is more opportunity to buy low, relative to projections.

Lastly, Rodríguez. In addition to fitting the Bellinger-Adell-Kelenic group (players whose range of outcomes is huge), Rodríguez is a prospect whose debut is still TBD and is not projected for much playing time. Put simply, any player who managers have reason to believe will be good (either they are top prospects or they have top prior performance) but projections have no reason to value (prospects who may not be up; veterans who are injured), will be “overpaid” vs. projected value. This applies to someone like Glasnow, who has a $0 value by projections (0 innings is worth $0) but has long-term value far higher. For these players, the projected dollar value is near worthless, and should be ignored.

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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