Ottoneu: Shopping in the Bargain Bin (Senzel, Toro)

Below replacement level. Worth zero dollars. Heck, worth negative dollars if you roster the player. At least replacement-level players are worth $1. But, below replacement-level? That’s a tough sell. Some players are expected, projected even, to do worse than any other player available at any point in time during the season. So why write about them here?

These are players who you don’t want on your team based on their projections, unless of course, the projections are missing something. I’m not in the habit of trying to do better than the projections. But, estimating playing time is more of an art than a scientific process. If you’re at least able to notice the players whose playing time projections may be off, you at least have a starting point in the long power-walk race that is identifying sleepers. In this series, I’ll look for players who are projected to be below replacement level, but who I think may still be worth betting $1 on.

Nick Senzel 3B, Washington Nationals

Despite what many fantasy managers would opine, Senzel is still a viable fantasy option. Why? Playing time. How many times have you drafted this one-time prospect in hopes of a big breakout season? Many times? Ok, so you don’t need to dig into the injury history that has haunted Senzel throughout his career. He has been unreliable from a fantasy standpoint and a real baseball standpoint. The Reds had enough and moved on, but they also had too many alternative options all over the field to continue finding space for Senzel. It took less than a month between his being cut by the Reds and being signed by the Nationals, where they promised him an everyday role at 3B. It’s a smart move on their part because that’s the only position Senzel was serviceable in 2023:

Nick Senzel 2023 Defensive Runs Above Average By Position
Pos Inn Def
3B 366 0.1
2B 24 -0.3
CF 92 -1.8
LF 119 -3.7
RF 78 -2.9
Defense (Def) is the combination of two important factors of defensive performance: value relative to positional average (fielding runs) and positional value relative to other positions (positional adjustment).

Despite all the defense and health issues, here are three aspects of Senzel’s change of scenery that tell an interesting story. First, Senzel has always been a contact hitter, and his zone-contact rates have remained above average throughout his career. For the most part, this is not something that injury has as much of an influence on. Yes, injury can hurt power, bat speed, and swing plane, but I’m willing to bet that if you’re healthy enough to step into the box, your ability to make contact shouldn’t be as impacted as power. If the power comes back and matches his steady contact rate, good things may happen.

Second, Senzel has repeatedly run low season-by-season BABIPs. The graph on the left shows his overall BABIP as below average every season besides his rookie year. The graph on the right splits his BABIP when he played in Great American Ball Park and elsewhere.

Nick Senzel BABIP

Besides 2022, Senzel fared better when playing away. The Reds play in a stadium that is friendly to home runs, but about average for singles. Now, he’s heading to Washington, D.C., where the streets shimmer in gold and cherry blossoms bloom all year round. How do they compare?

A Ball Park Comparison
Park Basic (5yr) 2022 HR 2022 1B
Great American Ball Park 105 115 100
Nationals Park 100 102 99

Heading to Nats Park may not be much of a benefit to Senzel and in some ways, it’s a shame. Senzel was just starting to tap into more power as the 2023 season went on:

Senzel Rolling SLG 2023

I still do like the idea of the two parks playing very similarly in BABIP. Between 2018 and 2023 the home teams of the two stadiums performed the same, .301 in team BABIP.

Lastly, and put most simply, Senzel has the contact rates and power potential to produce hits. It’s always been a question of whether he can consistently accumulate enough of those plate appearances. Don’t get me wrong, Senzel comes with a ton of injury risk, but if the Nationals see enough to sign him for one year at two million dollars of real money, you should feel ok drafting him for $1 of fake money.

Abraham Toro 3B, Oakland Athletics

I remember writing about Toro in 2021 when the streets were lined with gold and the cherry blossoms bloomed all summer long. A man has to admit when he was wrong. But, this time? Maybe (clap) I’ll (clap) be (clap) right! Back when he was traded from the Astros to the Mariners, I liked the fact that he might settle into a full-time role. The move, mostly, did him well:

2021 Houston ( PA) – .211/.287/.385, 6 HRs
2021 Seattle ( PA) – .252/.328/.367, 5 HRs

In 2022, the Mariners ended up sending him to the minors where he once again proved he didn’t belong in the minors, but then came back up to the big league squad and proved that he wasn’t prepared for big league pitching. Injuries and bobbing up and down between the major and minor leagues forced Toro into a utility/bench role and his overall slash line was unrosterable:

2022 Seattle (352 PA) – .185/.239/.324, 10 HRs

In 2023, he was traded to Milwaukee but spent most of his time in AAA. Now, he’s been given an actual contract and could find the playing time he needs, though Miguel Andujar, Aledmys Díaz, and Jordan Diaz are currently filling up the bench according to RosterResource. While Andujar and Díaz are arguably better defenders, Toro is a switch hitter and doesn’t have the platoon issues that Andujar and Díaz have shown.

In the very small sample of plate appearances (21) Toro accumulated throughout spot starts in 2023, he slashed .444/.524/.778 and seemed to have an adjusted approach. His strikeout rate jumped, his zone contact rate fell, and his pull rate skyrocketed. Maybe it was a focused change in approach, maybe he was just taking what he was given. Still, there’s some room to believe he’s trying to tap into his power more.

Abraham Toro Rolling HardHit%

That approach may help him bring some power but it will certainly hurt his batting average. In reality, his off-the-wall 2023 performance is based on too small of a sample to make any big claims, we’ll just have to wait and see if it was based on an approach change or not.

I don’t think drafters will have any competition when bidding for Toro in Ottoneu, but if they do, they should feel just fine about letting someone else draft him for $2. Unlike Senzel, I’m not sure Toro is guaranteed anything. By my calculation using his Steamer projections, he’s far below replacement level in Ottoneu formats, like hundreds of points below replacement level. There’s a lot that needs to go right for Toro in 2024. But, projections have him for less than 10 home runs and Toro hit 11 in 2021 and 10 in 2022 when he did not have a full-time role. If he finds himself as the everyday 3B and accumulates 350 plate appearances or more, it’s reasonable to believe he could have another 10-home run season.

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14 days ago

Anybody’s worth a dollar in the draft. Better the dollar now than $7-8 in an auction fight later if a semi-breakout is going on.