Ottoneu and Overvaluing Prospects

Entering year two of Fangraphs’ Ottoneu Fantasy Baseball game – for those that haven’t heard of it, Ottoneu is fantasy baseball on steroids.  40 man rosters, $400 auction budget, auction drafts including the minor leagues, year round action, salary loans, dumping superstars for prospects, you get the idea – the perfect pastime for baseball junkies, especially those of us who get blue between November and February.  After each season, teams vote one player from each team “off” and back into the free agent pool, so for those folks who were smart enough to nab Matt Moore or Yu Darvish (in our league, the same owner), you don’t get to retain every bargain.

For those of you interested, our league is here.  I have been struggling with how to quantify what I consider the most surprising element of the league – namely, the wild overvaluation of any and all prospects.   In our league, Brett Jackson is gold, but at the same time major league producers (solid, if unspectacular) are largely ignored.  I certainly understand the attraction of hitting the lottery and be the owner who shrewdly picked up 62n round pick Mike Piazza in 1988 or 19th round pick Don Mattingly in 1979, but are owners doing themselves a big disservice by waiting years and year for prospects to turn into major leaguers in the hope that they become superstars?

At random, I looked back at Kevin Goldstein’s Top 101 list from 2008 – four years ago.  The table below shows the top 10, their starting level at the beginning of the 2008 season, then their total 2011 Otto points and the most comparable players at their position during the 2011 season:

2008 Top 10 March 2008 Level 2011 Points Comparable 2011 Players
1. Jay Bruce, of, Reds AAA 869 Francoeur (853), Michael Bourn (847)
2. Clay Buchholz, rhp, Red Sox AA  312 Jesse Litsch (310), Pedro Beato (309)
3. Evan Longoria, 3b, Rays AAA 808 Adrian Beltre (808), Mark Reynolds (805)
4. Joba Chamberlain, rhp, Yankees Majors 187 Kevin Millwood (187), John Grabow (184)
5. Clayton Kershaw, lhp, Dodgers Majors 1414 Verlander (1430), Halladay (1385)
6. David Price, lhp, Rays A+ 1110 CJ Wilson (1118), Doug Fister (1108)
7. Travis Snider, of, Blue Jays A+ 161 Yonder Alonso (163), Mike McCoy (159)
8. Colby Rasmus, of, Cardinals R 511 Ryan Ludwick (513), Nyjer Morgan (508)
9. Homer Bailey, rhp, Reds AAA 500 JA Happ (502), Jordan Walden (501)
10. Cameron Maybin, of, Marlins AA 637 Bobby Abreu (640), Coco Crisp (629)

What jumps out at this?  Clayton Kershaw won the Cy Young award in 2011, so if you nabbed him cheap that’s a clear win – though it is worth noting that 4 years ago he wasn’t toiling in the Sally League, he broke camp with the Dodgers.  David Price is also a clear win – a polished college product out of Vanderbilt, he breezed through the minors and played an integral role in the Rays run to the World Series.  [Though it bears pointing out that the closest pitchers to him were CJ Wilson and Doug Fister, so clearly variance is significant on the pitching side.]

Moving over to the hitters – Jay Bruce is certainly a good major league player, though his comps would indicate that waiting 4 years for him to produce like Jeff Francoeur could be time that might be better spent elsewhere.  Whether his fault or Toronto’s, Travis Snider is teetering on the brink of flameout;  Colby Rasmus is hoping a change of scenery can kick start a similarly stalling career.  Cameron Maybin provides speed and defensive value to his major league club, but as a fantasy player is waiver fodder.  Longoria is an unquestioned stud (and in this author’s opinion the best player in the game not named Pujols) but had an injury plagued season that merited mediocre comparables (and of course, he nearly broke camp with the Rays).

Obviously, this is not a statistically valid sample, and I think that there is more work to be done.  But I can’t help but continue to be surprised by the siren song of the prospect, especially given how often your prospects upside are Coco Crisp and Mark Reynolds – solid but unspectacular major leaguers.

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About Bill Porter

Bill is an aspiring sportswriter (attorney by day) born in Washington DC, raised in New York, and currently living in San Francisco with his wife Kirsten and two spazzy labs, Fletch and Bear. Follow me on Twitter at @wfporter1972
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