Ottoneu Arbitration Targets – Outfield

Welcome to the next installment of everyone’s favorite series, “Ottoneu Arbitration Targets!”  I am your host, Chad Young, and after we covered pitchers two weeks ago and infielders last week, today we venture out into the wilds of the outfield. In this grassiest of positions, we find one established stud, two elite soon-to-be-sophomores, and an intriguing breakout whose up-and-down season requires a little extra thought.

As a reminder, for this series, I will focus on the allocation form of arbitration, though I think these names work just as well as targets if your league does vote-offs. If you are new to Ottoneu arbitration, check out this article from Brad Johnson a few years back – it is a collection of links to all you need to know about Ottoneu arbitration.

For the purposes of this series, I will focus on players whose median salary makes them a good arbitration target. If they are a good target at their median, that means they are a good target in half of leagues, and very likely are a good target in another 10-20% of leagues where they are above their median but still relatively low priced.

I didn’t find the outfield to be flush with ideal targets, but the four names below represent a good cross-section of the types of players you might want to target. There are also a number of interesting names you won’t see here: I am not ready to continue pushing up the price on Byron Buxton; Bryan Reynolds, Teoscar Hernandez and Brandon Nimmo represent a tier of players producing well at a fair price and maybe I should have talked about them but they didn’t quite make the cut at their median salaries; I am not buying the Matt Carpenter resurgence.

Unlike with infield, I won’t go position-by-position – Ottoneu doesn’t require you to use a LF, CF or RF, just OF – although coincidentally, we will discuss two CF, one RF, and one “LF.”

  • Yordan Alvarez (HOU, Median Salary: $28) – Ah, yes, that “left fielder” very much in quotes because I think it is fair to ask whether standing in left field on defense actually makes you a left fielder. But that is not really relevant, because for fantasy purposes, Yordan Alvarez is OF-eligible. And at $28 his median salary is laughably low. Alvarez was second among players with 300 plus PA with 7.64 P/G. Not just second among OF (though he was second among OF; Aaron Judge is ahead of him), but second among all hitters. His $28 median salary is a solid $20 too low for an OF with his resumé and his talent. He could take a step back and be more than a $45 OF. He could lose OF eligibility and be worth $45. Now, if both of those things happen and he becomes something like the 15th best hitter in baseball and util-only, then he might be worth…I don’t know, $40 minimum? Probably still more than $40 to be honest. I won’t hesitate to push him to $45, but I would probably stop there. There just isn’t a ton to be gained by driving him up over $50.
  • Julio Rodriguez (SEA, Median Salary: $9) – This is where I simultaneously gush over Rodriguez and urge at least a little caution. First, the gushing. In his debut campaign, Julio Rodriguez was good. In real baseball terms, his 146 wRC+ was tied for 8th among qualified hitters (if I gave you a million guesses, I suspect would eventually guess that he was tied with Yandy Diaz but I bet it would take a lot of guesses). The list of active players who posted a wRC+ of 146 or higher in 500+ PA as a rookie includes Rodriguez, Judge, Mike Trout, Jose Abreu, and Albert Pujols. In Ottoneu terms, his P/G was 6th among OF with 300+ PA, sandwiched between Bryce Harper and Juan Soto. As for the caution? Well, it’s limited but warranted. Here are some players whose OPS over their first 132 games was similar to Rodriguez’s .853: Franmil Reyes, Garrett Jones, Trey Mancini, Kris Bryant, Yoenis Cespedes, Carlos Correa. Those are all the players this century with an OPS between .350 and .360 in their first 132 games. Now, as the wRC+ stat above shows, this isn’t exactly apples-to-apples, as Rodriguez performed in a different offensive environment than some of those players. But it is just a reminder that 132 games of success isn’t a guarantee of future brilliance. If everyone in a league drops $3 on a $9 Rodriguez and pushes him to $42, he needs to basically keep up what he has already done to be worth it. I don’t think that is necessary. I want to be clear: I think Rodriguez is great. If you made me answer, yes or no, right now, will Rodriguez be worth $40 in 2023, I would say yes, without much reservation. But I would still stop allocating to him in the $25-$30 range. If I am right, and he puts up another elite season, great, I can drop $3 on him again next year. If I am wrong, however, and he settles in at something less than a $40 OF, I am better off with those dollars going to someone else. If a team is really thin on talent, pushing Rodriguez to $40 isn’t a disaster, but I have yet to find a team where that makes more sense than leaving him in the upper 20s and spreading the wealth.
  • Michael Harris II (ATL, Median Salary: $5) – I should just copy-paste the paragraph above and see if you notice. You would probably notice, right? Plus, Harris wasn’t quite Rodriguez. He had a 136 wRC+ to Rodriguez’s 146; he put up 5.78 P/G to Rodriguez’s 6.26. He also played fewer games and finished with 97 fewer PA. He has less power than Rodriguez and walks less, but hit for a higher average thanks to a higher BABIP. Basically, Harris has less than Rodriguez to fall back on, at least in terms of Ottoneu value, which makes him a bit riskier. And I was already urging at least a little caution on Rodriguez. Because he is starting at a lower price, Harris can’t be pushed to $40, but even if he could, I wouldn’t. I think he is more like a $20-$30 OF and I would prefer to stop allocating to him around the low end of that range. To be honest, I would be happy to leave him around $17 if there are other deserving recipients on the roster.
  • Taylor Ward (LAA, Median Salary: $6) – The case for Ward could be very straightforward. His 5.69 P/G is good; his $6 salary is low. Done. But his season had a strange shape and I have to wonder how it impacts his perceived value. Check out the graph below and you will see what I mean. He started the year on absolute fire, then spent about half his season toiling in mediocrity. He finished strong, helping bring back the overall numbers, but I can’t imagine I was alone in June and July wondering if this guy was a cut. Ward blamed the struggles on an injury and it is certainly easy to concoct a narrative that Ward looked like a star because he is a star, looked bad cause he was hurt, then returned to looking like a star because he got healthy. That narrative suggests an awfully high ceiling for a healthy Ward. The nice thing, for those of us applying arbitration, is that we don’t need to buy into that narrative, at least not completely. Much like the breakout rookies discussed above, the approach to Ward should not be to push his salary as high as possible, but to bump it up at least a bit, towards or into double digits. If the injury wasn’t the issue and Ward is just a guy who took an up-and-down path to a very strong season, that price will be fair, you’ll have eaten up some of his surplus, and you won’t regret wasting all of your arbitration on him. If the injury was the issue, and he joins the elite, you can always go back and allocate more to him after the 2023.


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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