Ottoneu: Help! I Need Cheap Outfielders

Is your roster a little topsy-turvy? Do you have most of your value standing on the in-field dirt, waiting out in the bullpen, or just about one season away from being in the big leagues? You know you have to fill all of those outfield spots too, right? Maybe you do have an outfielder, literally one outfielder, and he’s a good one. Well, that’s nice, but you’re still going to need at least four more. Part of the challenge of playing Ottoneu comes from the fact that much of your competition is in the same boat, they need cheap outfielders too. You’ll need to be smart about it, but you can find valuable outfielders who cost next to nothing. When it’s time to go to the auction before the season begins, mark these outfielders and hope you can sneak in and out, only paying a few dollars or less.

There’s no such thing as a playing time lock, but…

Luis Rengifo, LAA
Avg Salary: $5
ATC Projected PA: 533

This switch-hitting 27-year-old had a breakout year in 2022 when he stepped into the batter’s box 511 times and hit 17 home runs while slashing .264/.294/.429. He walked a lot more in 2023. His low 3.3% BB% in 2022 jumped to 9.2% in 2023. He repeated his .264 batting average in 2023 but improved the rest of his slash-line with a .339 OBP and a .444 slugging percentage. His approach changed, he stopped swinging so much and dropped his contact rate out of the zone. That came at the detriment of his in-zone contact rate, but getting on base with more passivity allowed him to score 10 more runs for his team in a smaller amount of plate appearances (445). Rengifo’s ATC projection suggests his slash line could regress (.256/.315/.420), but his playing time looks solid. Angel’s beat writer Jeff Fletcher reported Rengifo could be the leadoff hitter in 2024 and that would certainly bring his production up a tick:

Rengifo is one of the more expensive targets in this article, he’s rostered in 76.1% of FanGraphs points leagues. He has positional flexibility (2B/SS/3B/OF) and most of what I’ve written above has been well noticed by fantasy leaguers. If you’re lucky, and you can snag Rengifo for under the $4 average, you will have an excellent value.

Mark Canha, DET
Avg Salary: $3
Projected PA: 508

Canha has been a steady contributor for fantasy teams in the past few seasons. Last season, he finished with 4.32 points/per game and was only rostered in around 33% of leagues. In November, I calculated points league replacement level at 4.33 points per game for outfielders in 12-team leagues. Canha went over that mark in both 2022 (4.64 P/G) and 2021 (5.17 P/G) and finished the season at 5.27 points per game in the 204 plate appearances he accumulated with the Brewers. In each of the last three seasons (2021-2023), he played at least 139 games. Canha is an accumulator, so don’t get too excited about his individual stats. His batting average has outperformed his expected average in the past two seasons, and in the past three seasons, his slugging percentage has outperformed his expected slugging percentage. What can we expect from him in 2024? Regression, but only some. Here’s Canha’s ATC projection below his 2021-2023 stats:

Mark Canha Past Production and Current Projection
Season Team AB H 2B 3B HR BB HBP SB CS Points P/G
2021 OAK 519 120 22 4 17 77 27 12 2 728.6 5.17
2022 NYM 462 123 24 0 13 48 28 3 1 649.5 4.64
2023 – – – 435 114 25 1 11 49 17 11 1 601.1 4.33
2024 ATC DET 436 112 23 2 12 52 15 7 2 590.8 4.69
2024 ATC Projection

Andrew McCutchen, PIT
Avg Salary: $3
ATC Projected PA: 459

It seems odd to categorize the 37-year-old veteran McCutchen as a “Playing Time Lock”, but who else is going to DH for the Pirates? If he can rebound from last season’s Achilles tear and stay healthy, McCutchen could certainly be a reliable, above-replacement level player in Ottoneu points leagues. Ready to read something crazy? McCutchen has never, not once, slumped below the 4.33 points per game mark that I hold as a replacement-level outfielder. Ok, ok, he did record 4.34 points per game in 2022, but that was a career worst. Last season, in 473 plate appearances, McCutchen turned in a 5.24 points per game season. He’s not a lock for playing time as he heads into his age 37 season, but he certainly benefits from the DH spot and could easily hit 10 home runs while slugging close to .400. I wouldn’t count on anything more than that. The graph below clearly shows what happens to a ball player’s production as they go through the inevitable:

McCutchen career stats

If that graph scares you away, no one can blame you. Smart fantasy players aren’t betting on McCutchen taking a step forward, but holding just above the replacement level line is a realistic expectation. The full picture should be taken into consideration when someone else bids $2 during an auction draft. Going up to $3 might not be worth it.

Shared Playing Time Puzzle Pieces

Willi Castro, MIN
Avg Salary: $3
Projected PA: 445

The 33 bases Castro stole in 2023 will make him a target in all formats, but if your league-mates are devaluing his uncertain playing time, you can sneak in and take a chance. The Twins have a lot of injury risks and Castro can fill in nearly any position in a pinch. Both his batting average and on-base percentage ticked up between 2021 and 2022 and then again in 2023 and that was fueled by improved plate discipline:

Willi Castro Career Stats

While his hard-hit rate did not change much between 2022 and 2023, his barrel rate did, moving from 3.5% in 2022 to 6.8% in 2023. To recap, Castro gets on base more often than the average hitter, then he steals bases. He has begun finding the barrel more often by finding better pitches to swing at. That sounds good to me. I’m buying in.

LaMonte Wade Jr., SFG
Avg Salary: $4
Projected PA: 470

Even with the ultimate tinker-er in Gabe Kapler, Wade still accumulated 519 plate appearances in 135 games. Wade, a left-handed hitter, actually hit better (.269) against left-handed pitching than he did against right-handed pitching (.254) in 2023. However, his OBP and SLG were much better against righties. Last season’s .262/.373/.417 overall slash line was far and wide better than his .221/.305/.359 line from 2022 and seeing more reps likely contributed to the advancement. FanGraphs writer Kyle Kishimoto wrote about potential playing time issues for the Giants in 2024, but it was written before Matt Chapman was signed and J.D. Davis was cut. Now, Wilmer Flores and Wade are likely in a platoon split with Wade on the strong side. 2023’s step forward was good for 4.8 points per game in Ottoneu, above replacement level and worth as much as $2 in 2024.

Playing Time Gambles

Estevan Florial, CLE
Projected PA: 284

I was excited when I read in Jeff Zimmerman’s late February “Mining the News” that Florial has a chance to become an everyday player:

It might seem obvious, but Guardians hitting coach Chris Valaika was the first to go on record this week and say Myles Straw is competing for his job this spring. Marking him in the lineup every day is no longer a given. Ramón Laureano has plenty of experience in center, but Florial is the one Vogt called “a specimen.”

As of this writing, Florial has a high spring training strikeout rate, of 42.1%, and a high walk rate, of 10.5%. This combination is typical of Florial’s profile as he has an MLB 30.6% K% in 115 at-bats. Still, he’s never been given a chance to gain consistent playing time and I am, at least, interested to see what he can do. It’s probably too little too late as many baseball fans have been waiting for Florial to show off his tools for too long and have given up. It was over three years ago that Eric Longenhagen wrote this in his analysis of Florial as a prospect in the Yankees system:

I’ll gladly eat crow if Florial ends up being a consistent big league hitter for a half decade because that’ll mean we’ll have gotten to see his electric tools (he has one of the best throwing arms I’ve ever seen), but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

However, for $1 wouldn’t you like to see if the raw power Florial has been known for can be tweaked just enough to actually connect with the bat for something like 10 dingers? 10 dingers for a dollar here! 10 dingers for a dollar! It’s a gamble, but it’s certainly within the range of outcomes should Florial out-compete his teammates in spring training.

Aaron Hicks, LAA
Avg Salary: $1
Projected PA: 373

Hicks was a 4.86 points-per-game player last season for the O’s and if he can manage another 90 games in Los Angeles, then he very well could hold that mark. Father time may be coming for his power, but Hicks is still finding the ball in the zone and has shown a resurgence in the past few seasons in both his wOBA and his slugging percentage:

Aaron Hicks Career Stats

Unfortunately, he’s already had issues with soreness this spring and his projections don’t seem to be buying that he’ll be on the field enough for steady plate appearance totals by the end of the year. To further put a damper on Hicks’ fantasy potential, he outperformed his statcast expected average, wOBA, and slugging percentage in 2023. Perhaps the right approach here is to believe the regression projection systems bake in and hope for a little more. $1 and no more.

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2 months ago

Aaron Hicks… if that guy goes for more than a dollar it’s a crime.