ottoneu Arbitration: Who’s Getting Hit?

We’re almost half-way through ottoneu arbitration and, at least across my leagues, some patterns are forming. A Cleveland pitcher and two Chicago first basemen are proving to be the most targeted players.

That probably is not much of a surprise, but does it make sense? And who else is near the top of that list?

Here are the top five most allocated to players across each of my three leagues:

Original ottoneu
Corey Kluber
Anthony Rizzo
Jose Abreu
Jose Fernandez
Jordan Zimmermann

FanGraphs Experts
Anthony Rendon
Gregory Polanco
Jose Fernandez
Johnny Cueto
Mookie Betts
Yasiel Puig

FanGraphs Staff League 2
Jose Abreu
Corey Kluber
Chris Sale
Michael Brantley
Anthony Rendon

Thanks to the tie among players in the Experts league, that is 12 players across three leagues, and for the most part, they make sense.

Kluber was practically an unknown before the season and certainly was not paid like a Cy Young winner. And this year was both great and not (at least statistically) a fluke. Rizzo and Abreu came into the season with higher hopes, but both were also underpaid in a lot of league due to uncertainty around them. Fernandez may seem like a surprise, after missing almost all season, but in his 8 starts…wow.

Rendon and Brantley were elite bats this year, after coming into 2014 as mid-tier options at their positions. Cueto was a stud after most of a year injured.

That is seven of the 12 players and leaves the five that surprise me – Sale, Betts, Puig, Polanco, and Zimmermann.

The pitchers basically did what was expected of them this year. Sale was a great pitcher – maybe the best in the AL – but has some injury issues. Zimmermann was very, very good in a rather unspectacular way. To me, nothing that happened with either of those players was surprising, which makes the allocations surprising.

In both of these case, though, those players are a) under valued in the leagues they are being allocated to and b) on teams without a ton of other great targets. It’s a reminder that you are not always allocating to the absolute most deserving players across a league, but to the players you have to target. Sale is actually the most expensive player on his team in the Staff league, yet is still the primary target on that team. That won’t be a common occurrence, but it can happen.

Puig falls somewhat into the same camp. If anything, his 2014 was disappointing. Despite playing 44 more games than in 2013, he had fewer HR, the same SB, and lower rates across the board. So what gives? Honestly, not sure. Puig doesn’t seem like an ideal target in general, and Eno Sarris’s team (Puig’s home in that league) has some decent values that seem like decent targets. Which might make Puig more like the last two on this list.

Polanco and Betts don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Both are players with high hopes, but neither has done a ton yet. They are risky propositions to target, and the allocations to those players are based more on hope, hype and upside than on actual value or production.

And Puig, to me, falls into that camp, as well. I don’t think anyone doubts that he can be a 30-20 OF with elite numbers across the board…but he hasn’t done it yet, at least not for a full season.

Like I mentioned with regards to allocating to rookies and prospects, allocating on hype, hope and upside is asking for problems. I am the owner of Polanco in that league and I am thrilled to see him getting all my allocations so far. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I bet Eno is pretty happy to see Puig targeted rather than some of his better values. Sure, Puig is established, but not at a level that justifies what he is seeing.

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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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Trey Baughn

“I don’t think anyone doubts Puig can be a 30-20 OF with elite numbers across the board…”

I think this sentence answers your own question as to why Puig is receiving heavy arbitration early on. His late season struggles are somehow making it possible for some people to underestimate him, but my assumption is that few owners “doubt” his huge upside at a relatively low cost across leagues. Saying he “hasn’t done it yet” isn’t accurate: Puig was a top 15 offensive player in Ottoneu last year, and top 7 OF overall. In other words, he’s already demonstrated bankable, well above average production. Most owners see upside because of his age, as he’ll only be 24 in 2015. The average price of the 6 OF’s that scored more than Puig in 2014 is $33; Puig’s average price is $20. His 2015 Steamer projections show an almost exact match to his 2014 production, and you don’t have to stretch them far to see a similar line to McCutchen’s 2015 Steamer projections. A player’s young age factors greatly into the “upside” equation owners are trying to calculate, which is why it won’t surprise me if Puig attracts more arbitration than a guy like V-Mart, who managed a much better season at a much cheaper average salary.